Quvenzhané Wallis, Matthew McConaughey, and How We See Our Children of Color

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose, Race4 Comments

Quvenzhané Wallis on the cover of Entertainment Magazine

Quvenzhané Wallis on the cover of Entertainment Magazine

I have a confession: I’ve never seen Beasts of the Southern Wild. As a relatively new parent, I don’t always have the time or the funds to make it out to the movies very often.

But that’s not the purpose for my essay because, when it comes out on Netflix, I know I have to watch. I, along with thousands of others, took issue with the Onion’s satirical tweet calling Quvenzhané a cunt. I “got” it. She’s such a sweet, little, innocent girl that the joke was made as a reflection of the speaker and not of Quvenzhané herself. In the context of the lukewarm Seth Farlene jokes at the Oscars and Django Unchained, this might have seemed innocuous to some.

It wasn’t. I found it disgusting.

In fact, I found it both sexist and racist, but for the purposes of this essay, I’ll speak to the race piece, especially for my fellow educators still in the sanitized bubbles of ed-tech and, now, anti-testing.

For a minute, it reminded me of A Time To Kill, where Matthew McConaughey’s character has to explain to a jury of his peers why Samuel Jackson’s character had to kill the man mainly responsible for raping his daughter. He does so by recreating the situation for the panel and ending with re-imagning the abused girl as white.

After that, the jury had no choice but to acquit. It was a perfect ending, and honestly, I smiled after having watched it for the fifth time in as many months.

Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if this also works to perpetuate the idea that the girl as “Black” is only three-fifths worth her humanity than the girl as “White.” The notion that a Black girl might deserve to get raped while a White girl should never get touched speaks volumes about where we were and where we are.

Fast forward to this conversation, with people still wondering why jokes like these still have people of color in an uproar. It’s not that people of color are humorless. If anything, we aren’t a monolith just like any other group of people, however you decide to group us.

It’s that we expect the same treatment as the next person when it comes to our humanity. We need to see the Qvenzhane Wallises, Leonard Coopers, Amandla Stenbergs, and Gabrielle Douglases of the world as well as other kids of color as fully human, fully worth your admiration, without prejudgment. Until we can embrace each others’ humanity because of our minimal differences, we will continue to have this deep-seated angst and frustration.

As the apology from The Onion came out, people wondered aloud whether this was racial at all, whether the joke had any merit in the race-o-meter. The people who did attempt at shutting down these conversations often forget that privilege is also the ability to call something not racist just because they said so. In the midst of all this, the joke doesn’t get made about child actors Dakota Fanning or Anna Paquin in their days. Maybe people don’t find jokes that aren’t actually about them very funny whereas jokes about Quenzhané are.

No amount of explaining away the race issue can take that away from people whose life experience has worked in similar fashion. Blessings to Ms. Wallis who looks strong on her own two feet. If we can all look at our children as needing our support, care, and love on their own paths to success, then humanity will come one step closer to seeing as others as equal.

Until then, I propose we delve deeply into our own understandings of the way we look at our kids, and see them for their entirety, and not the caricatures we’ve created for them.

Jose, who has had enough whitesplaining for the day …

Comments 4

  1. I just read an article about what the Onion said. I was outraged! I believe it was so easy to call her “out of her name” because she is a child of color. How horrible! I then tried to explain to my teenage son why I would react to this by emailing and posting on FB. He felt the damage was done, what else could we do? Maybe this is why it’s so easy for people to treat us this way.

    As an aside, sanitized? Edtech, yes, standardized testing, no. Standardized test scores are being used as an excuse to tear apart neighborhood schools in low-income neighborhoods. They are being replaced with charter schools which demean children of color. Our neighborhood public schools will soon cease to exist. Nothing clean about that.

  2. Post

    Lisa, thank you for your comment. My mention of testing isn’t necessary about testing itself. Much like ed-tech, testing has LOTS to do with socioeconomic factors, including race, gender, and class. Yet, some of our colleagues see plenty of opportunity to skip over those discussions in lieu of actually getting to the heart of the matter, which is sad for all parties involved. We risk losing real progress by glossing over race, gender, and class in these parts of education. Thank you for making me clarify this.

  3. Great write up and nice perspective! I definitely witnessed the uproar via twitter when the “satirical” statement went viral. I did see their tweet and I thought it was extremely inappropriate. However I can’t say that I was outraged nor surprised by it just more so disappointed for the mere fact that she is a child and as adults especially, there should just be more accountability and integrity. It’s just disappointing that we live in an age where nothing is off limits including our children. It’s really hard not to factor race into the equation no matter how one looks at the situation. But the one thing that I really do take issue with is the inconsistency blacks seem to have with the types of things we are willing to go to battle for. I saw a tweet from a friend that read “either throw the cape on for everybody or nobody at all” And to me that statement is so true. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to be angry about what was said but I’ve seen some of those very same ppl who were so adamant about defending Quvenzhané tear down Willow Smith for just simply being herself, she’s still a child right? Where was the outrage and petitions for apologies? Yes, two very different situations but if we’re going to factor in the way others see and treat our children then it definitely has to start within us.

    Are we really that desensitized of our own transgressions that it somehow becomes ok or passable as long as the jokes/criticisms are woven among are own? All i’m saying is that we all need to be more consistent with our activism.

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