The Little Black Mermaid Matters

Ryan Griffen was playing X-Men with his son and wanted to give him an Aboriginal superhero. The Aboriginal sci-fi show Cleverman was born. In series 2, the super humans, the Hairy people (who appear in many Aboriginal traditional stories) were allowed to have their DNA replace to become human. They had to use a modern name, not speak their traditional language, not have any of their traditional art or music in their lives, and become fully human.


This echoed how Aboriginal people who wanted to assimilate into white cultures in the 1960s were treated. We see Trevor in his flat, with no family, no warmth, no culture, nothing that marked him out as a Hairy or as an individual. His life was utterly meaningless.

The same thing was done with African slaves in the USA. They were given European names, were not allowed to speak their own language, not allowed to sing their own songs. It was a major part of the dehumanising process.


Fast forward to 2022. We have a Black Little Mermaid. The Little Mermaid comes from a Danish story by Hans Christian Anderson and was first published in 1837. It has since been the subject of studies by Danish academics about the meaning behind a tragic story that ended happily. The original story comes from Danish mythical spiritual beings, and Anderson’s mermaid reached spiritual being status because of the sacrifices she makes for her Prince. The mermaid at Copenhagen is renowned around the world, like the Mannequin Pis in Brussels. Race swap Ariel for a Black, non-Danish actor, and this is problematic because Danes back in 1837 were all white.


Do we gain anything from the race swap? What if a Danish studio had made the new film? It may have been rooted more in Danish folklore and understandings, and made it more of a genuine story loaded with culture and heritage that would have educated us as an audience on Danish stuff and given us a richer experience. Race swapping Ariel to be Black is just a cheap gimmick. Mermaids are not part of Black cultures as far as I am aware. I am aware they are very much part of European cultures, from Denmark to Ireland. There is one story about a mermaid in Ireland becoming a Christian and being baptised by a bishop. Mermaids were a big part of European folklore.


Now I turn my attentions to the new Narnia stage show.


Oh yes, Lucy – a child from 1930s, 1940s England – is now Black. What does this add to the story? Nothing. Absolutely nothing except wokenistas clapping at how stunning and brave it is to have a Black person on a stage, as though Black actors are a totally new concept.


For anyone who isn’t aware, the story of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is set against the backdrop of evacuations in the Second World War. England was being bombed by German planes, so children from the cities and major towns were sent to the countryside (and the USA and Canada). Some children had a great time with their hosts and went on to have fond memories of this time. Other children were physically and/or sexually abused by their hosts.


The four children in this Narnia story were evacuees, missing their parents, scared about the war and lonely in a big house with an odd professor. This is trauma that real children experienced. CS Lewis, by writing this story, was giving a gift to the children who grew up with the memories of evacuation and war. He gave them this story, a story about finding God and goodness even in a time of utter despair. CS Lewis had fought in the First World War, and he knew how vital it was to hold onto goodness and God in such horrendous times.


Now race swap the children. By race swapping the children to be children who never lived in England in the 1930s and 1940s and never experienced the horrors of that time, the stage production has taken away one of the deepest meanings of this story.


Taken away one of the deepest meanings and messed with CS Lewis’ therapy for his traumas, which is also happening to the work of his friend and fellow ex soldier Tolkien. Tolkien, in writing Lord Of The Rings, was writing of his own experiences in the trenches, and he also wanted to give a gift of folklore to the UK and Europe, to the peoples of the countries who fought so hard for liberty.


And in come the race swappers, trashing Tolkien’s writing therapy for his PTSD and trashing his gift to the people who fought for freedom in Europe. What does race swapping a few dwarves add to the story? Black people exist. I never knew that before!


Hang on, I did, because I am a human being who loves other human beings… and almost every TV advertisement in the UK features Black people and mixed race people solely. The UK is 85% white British, but almost all the actors in our TV advertisements are Black or mixed race. A few are Asian. No Chinese. Apparently, Chinese people don’t exist.


But it’s representation!


Yes, Ghana has just passed a law that bans white people from its TV advertisements. So it’s OK when an African country passes a law to genuinely represent its population, but it’s not OK for the UK to do it. We would see riots on the streets if anyone in the UK government even spoke about the TV ads race issue. But Ghana has done it – Ghana, which is now a world leader for tech and business. Go Ghana.


The race swapping only goes in one direction. In the past, white actors such as Scarlet Johansson have played BAME characters, and have since apologised for this.


We now have an Indian version of Forrest Gump. Don’t Indian people have their own stories? Yes they have. They have incredible stories that are rooted in Indian history, culture and heritage. Instead of seeing a Forrest Gump remake, I’d love to see big screen depictions of the beauty and diversity of India.


Back in the 1990s, we had a great band in the UK called Kula Shaker, named after an Indian god. The band were all white but New Age believers who covered Indian and Buddhist songs, and their videos were stunning. Anyone of my age from the UK, whatever their race, can sing “Govinda”. The lead singer Crispian Mills (son of actor Hayley Mills and director Roy Boulting) went to India’s rural areas for a documentary and showed us the beautiful temples in isolated areas. Gold temples in the middle of nowhere. Stunning, uplifting and educational.


Same with Skunk Anansie, a Black and white band who wrote tracks about mental illness, love and life in general. Their name comes from a Caribbean story. I never knew about this until I saw Skunk Anansie in an interview.


The UK learned about other cultures and other histories when we cherished other cultures. Race swapping doesn’t teach anyone anything. It’s just something for the wokenistas to talk about with their middle class, white, heterosexual friends, or to tweet about with other middle class, white, heterosexual people. I have seen young Black women or girls on social media saying they now feel good about themselves because they can see a Little Black Mermaid. Eeek. Placing your self worth in a cartoon. Not how I build self esteem, self worth and my character.


Jane Elliot, the veteran American anti racism campaigner, was on a TV talk show. A woman from the audience said to Jane that she was glad that we live in the melting pot now. Jane said hold up. When we eat a salad, do we put the pepper, the lettuce, the cucumber, the tomatoes and the cress into the food blender, then drink the sludge it creates? No! We want to taste the pepper, we want to taste the tomato, we want to taste the cucumber. And this is how it is with people. Do we want a grey, meaningless, boring, bland mess? Or do we want vibrant, diverse, different, individual people who we can get to know and love?


Culture – including stories – matter. We know this from how culture, stories, music and language were taken away from Aborigines. It resulted in drug and alcohol addictions and children over represented in young people’s prisons and then in adult prisons. Briggs, the Aboriginal rapper, addresses this in the track Bad Apples. If we take culture, stories, music and language away from people, their heart is ripped out. Their meaning is taken from them.


We have to ask why big corporations, the story telling outlets and some Black folk are so keen for white peoples to have our culture, stories and music taken away from us. Is it the over correction that Douglas Murray talks about in Madness of Crowds? Or is it something more sinister? In many comments I have seen from Black people on one facebook thread about the new The Little Mermaid, if those comments were made by white people about Black people, they would have been removed from facebook and the people who had made the comments would likely get a ban from facebook. But the several hundred comments were comments about how white people deserve x, y and z, ha ha ha, white people are evil, etc etc.


One more example is some English Morris dancers have stopped using black face paint. They did not want to be perceived as racist. The black face paint was used for three main purposes.


1) To honour Black people – Morris dancing came from Moorish dancing.
2) To honour coal miners who worked incredibly hard for us.
3) To tell a story about a raven.


Nothing racist at all. I wish people would learn about the things they criticise. If people are in the UK either for a holiday or to live here, whether they were born here or not, they should learn our culture and our history.


So, no black face paint for some Morris dance sides now. But no one has told Aborigines to stop using white face and body paint. Again, the Aborigines are not using white paint to be racist. Their paint is about hunting or spiritual stories or being sexually attractive. Nothing racist. Yet they can keep their white paint and the Morris dancers are criticised by clueless, race obsessed people for using black paint.

So again, the demand to change culture and heritage to fit 2022’s woke sensibilities only goes in one direction.


But it’s only face paint!


1) It is part of our heritage and culture, celebrating our racial diversity and our hard working men and our stories.
2) It’s the thin end of the wedge.


Sure, most white Brits aren’t into Morris dancing and don’t give a monkey’s hairy bottom about this, but most white Brits are starting to feel uncomfortable about how the traffic is one way traffic and how the anti white racism that is being thrown at us is supposed to be how we go about defeating racism against Black and brown people. Demonising European cultures and demonising white people is only going to create resentment and racism. And I am seeing resentment and racism against BAME people increase.


As Douglas Murray said in the case of race, we were doing very well and heading towards a racially equal society in the UK. Our generation grew up with friends from many different backgrounds and we saw it as no big deal. We didn’t even think about it. We sang Skunk Anansie songs, we chanted Govinda, we fancied Naveen Andrews and Sonique, it was all good. No one tried to ban white music, and no one thought they were big and clever for liking Black and Asian music. Let’s get back to happier and more relaxed times.

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About catherinehume

Catherine Hume: Writer, social care worker and a liver of a life less ordinary.
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