Why SuperHeroes Are Not Black And #Disney Princesses Do Not Rock Afros

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Someone once asked me, “Why do you draw Afro’s on all your characters and why are your Superheroes Black?”

To be honest I never really thought anything about it …. it was not like I woke up one day and said I will make a deliberate effort to draw black superhero characters rocking Afros. I just did it….part of it was to be funny … actually most of it was to be funny.

But then again I think a subconscious part of me did it, because for the most part, most of the super heroes, the princesses, the angels we see in the media are primarily one color and one look. So it is no surprise that beauty is defined primarily by that one color and that one look … which is typically a white lady with long flowing hair.

collage heroesSo everybody even in Africa aspire to this singular definition of beauty, so they wear long weaves from Brazil and spot artificially lightened skins (bleaching), all in a bid to get to that singular beauty … the white beauty. That beauty ingrained into our way of thinking right from an early age without us even realizing. The same beauty talked about in Snow White…

As a young child reading Snow White, the story made no sense to me…but I went along with it. I mean who was I to question a classic with that famous line “mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all.”

But that was the problem…the line made no sense. Basically the line and whole tale was saying that to be the most beautiful you had to be the fairest … the whitest. That the whiter you are the more beautiful you are.

Imagine a young black Nigerian kid who had never traveled outside the country reading that book. I was so confused, when I saw the word fairest because I would then picture a black Nigerian woman with white powder all over her face. That did not look beautiful to me it looked like a ghost. But somehow this book that I was made to read was telling me that I was wrong for being confused. And that fair means beautiful!

In fact if you look at the Google definition of the word fairest it says beautiful: attractive as in “the fairest of her daughters.” Now we can argue the meaning of the word and say that the word fair could mean light-skinned or it could mean beautiful. But at the end of the day to that confused African kid reading Snow White. The lady with skin as white as snow … the definition of fair was someone who was beautiful because they were light-skinned. And that is the problem.

Not that majority of the media portrays that singular beauty but that it is portrayed so so early to kids at their most impressionable and most vulnerable moments. So early that they grow up and cement this belief subconsciously that black skin and black hair are not beautiful. The belief permeates so deep in our society that when a Nigerian national TV station in 2014 tells Joy Is Bewaji a friend that the only way she could be the host of their new national televised show was if she wore weave and they actually make you do it, then you know we have a problem.

Mohammed Ali said it best here…

ali

“When I looked in the mirror I was proud of what I saw, but there were many Black people who didn’t want to be Black anymore. Little Black boys and girls had no public role models. We didn’t have any heroes who looked like us. There was no one for us to identify with, and we didn’t know where we fit in.

One Halloween, a little Black girl was trick-or-treating around the neighborhood, dressed up in a superhero costume, but her face was painted white. When I asked her why, she said that her sister told her that there was no such thing as a Black superhero. She was right.

When I turned on the television, everyone was always White. Superman was White, Santa Claus was White. They even made Tarzan, king of the jungle in Africa, a White man!”

So I guess…that’s why my super heroes are black and my princesses rock afros because I guess the subconscious part of me was tired of seeing black people painting their faces white.And maybe because I want people especially young kids to understand that beauty is diverse, that beauty cuts across all races and that you can be black and still be a hero and that you can be a princess and still rock that Afro.

Maybe that’s why I am working hard to make this story Afro: The Girl With The Magical Hair an actual children’s book! So that it could replace Rapunzel : The Girl With The Long Hair and then subsequently encourage someone to write Chocolate Brown to replace Snow White, a girl whose skin was as Brown as Chocolate … and the evil Queen would say “mirror mirror on the wall who is the most Bootylicious of them all!”

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Written & Illustrated By Okechukwu Ofili of
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Author: Ofili

Words by Okechukwu Ofili of ofilispeaks.com
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54 comments on “Why SuperHeroes Are Not Black And #Disney Princesses Do Not Rock Afros

  1. True talk my brother.
    Im seriously waiting for the “the girl with the afro hair’ children story. It would be a huge change.
    maybe it would help us to appreciate our skin colour more. I remember a friend telling me once that I was getting darker, like dark is bad. She offered me the names of many skin lightening creams. It was funny cos im very sure if my skin was lighter, she wouldn’t have offered me names of skin darkening creams.
    just saying. ……
    chidi latest post is we are all crazy, some people just seem crazier than othersMy Profile

  2. Toonna on said:

    Who is the person that asked ““Why do you draw Afro’s on all your characters and why are your Superheroes Black?””, that person deserve koboko!

  3. ‘The most bootylicious’….omg, I’m like literarily rotfl. I just love your writing style Ofili. You have this way of saying something really serious with so much humor. P.S: I can totally relate with what you wrote. Growing up, I was so dark that people poked fun of me that the only thing they could see in me were my teeth (looking back now, I guess that was an ode to my superb dental hygiene…lol). Anyways, my mum did a good job of letting me know that black is beautiful. Right now, I’m having a swell time loving my dark skin (which by the way, no amount of tanning can adulterate). Looking forward to your book. Btw, you are gradually becoming one of my literary superheroes.

  4. pamela on said:

    Really nice write up…I am one of d darkest girls of them all…growing up in Benin city was hell for me..i had to become a tom boy, you just cldnt b this black and b a girly girl…last year when when I had my son, light skinned boy like his father, everyone heaved a sigh of relief “o!!! thank God he is not black like you o!” every single person said that, including my MuM!

  5. “mirror mirror on the wall who is the most Bootylicious of them all!”. That just made my day, Ofili. Thanks for echoing the silent whispers of so many African hearts. Unfortunately, this ideology has crept into every aspect of our society. Imagine someone calling me to ask whether I know a “white-skinned” engineer with a particular certification to present a talk for a fee (and trust me, the fee wasn’t chicken change). And I have been wondering why it had to be a white-skinned guy. Is it that we do not have intelligent “blacks”?

  6. “Chocolate Brown” and “Bootylicious” Reading this article this morning just made
    my day. Please Ofili, we have to write those books, the ones that portray our own superheroes in all their black beauty and afro rocking awesomeness!
    dollipeezle latest post is Writing Through GriefMy Profile

  7. Our national television stations and radio stations make me sad with their demands. Now almost every show hosts and on air personalities speak with phonetics. Those that speak it right and those that are terrible. I keep wondering if everyone travelled out when they were young and came back to work in the media house. Because accent isn’t easy to pick up if you are older unless you are just gifted that way. I later heard that the media stations put that demand on them and it makes me sad. Are they trying to say that proper English can’t be spoken without a fake accent? I did a language challenge with some wattpad girls on Facebook l, girls from different parts of the world and they told my friend and I that they love our accent! Colour us surprised cos we didn’t think we have an accent talk less of them liking it! The media houses aren’t portraying this but rather they are making us think that we aren’t good unless we imitate the Americans. I end up putting off the radio instead of listening to terrible accents and dictions that hurts my ears and brain.

  8. Thank God for Pacesetters, Chinua Achebe’s Chike and the River, and now…Nnedi Okoroafor’s ‘Zahra, the Windseeker, ‘Akata Witch’ etc.

    No, Ofili..I haven’t forgotten you…will do you in a minute☺

    We need to write what we want to read; nobody’s going to do it for us. We also need to support those who are writing our stories…read their blogs, websites…buy or borrow their books; e- or otherwise

    We have to promote positive black images ourselves…in our speech, our choices, our money.

    And to Ofili…keep drawing, writing and Okadaring. Let’s flog the book-osphere with as many Afro Thunders, Afro Bellas and Afro Nwokoyes as possible.

    Ndi ojii kwenu!!!
    Okan’ube latest post is My Turkish DelightMy Profile

    • Ofili
      Ofili on said:

      I love Nnedi! Was really excited when we got her book “Who Fears Death” on okadabooks. Really awesome.

      • Awesome is just one adjective! Thrilling! Stunning…still ‘maizing’ it , so that it doesn’t finish! I’m reading it one page at a time and only when commuting. Then there’s Lagoon…let me give nothing away…that woman has got under my skin. I can’t remember the last time I refused to finish a book in one sitting just to make it last forever.

        Can’t wait for your Afro Bella, Ofili. I bet it will be just as exciting!!! And the pictures…in fact, you should consider illustrating them so that they can be used in schools as academic texts.

        Have a look at Quentin Blake’s illustrations, Chinye by Obi Onyefulu…to push Afrocentric books into schools, they need to be colourful, attractive and engaging.

        So there’s another assignment for you…write for our pleasure…write for our learning…

        I bestow upon you, the Od’akwukwo 1 of Ani Okada (as I no fit bribe with rice…or arrest you for looking guilty 😉 )
        Okan’ube latest post is My Turkish DelightMy Profile

  9. My primary school mind could imagine Queen Amina building the great wall of Zaria but for some reason just couldn’t imagine Jack climbing to the top of the beanstalk. I could vividly go into the land beneath the world with the brothers who drummed for the spirits and became wealthy (remember that story?) but even as a full grown adult, I still don’t understand why Sleeping Beauty didn’t turn out to be older and gargoyle-esque compared to the prince charming who kissed her awake from her slumber. Those Oyinbo super-stories just didn’t make sense abeg!

    Funny thing is we already have our Superheroes in Africa. Men and women who were courageous and valiant in the face of danger. I read about them in my history books – Moremi, Emotan, Queen Amina, Nelson Mandela, Marcus Garvey, Steve Biko etc.

    The women were heroines because it took a lot of “brains” and courage to do all they did, they didn’t just lie in bed and wait for a man to come and kiss them or rescue them. These are the real stories our children should be reading.

    So, Ofili, in addition to writing about Afro, the girl with the magical hair, please write about our indigenous heroes and heroines. Draw their cartoons and sketches, tell their stories. I shall buy the books and read those stories to my children when I have them.

    • Ofili
      Ofili on said:

      Aibeee…since you have not commented it is now you are commenting. Lawyer things..lol

      I really just have not had time. My story “Class 5” about 5 secondary school students actually culminates with them meeting their 5 guardians, Sango, Amadioha, Queen Amina, Ikenga…I can’t remember the last one. But it has to do with those heroes. But just no time =(

  10. Great aritcle Ofili, we need more people like u to encourage the next generation. I would also like to ask for ur permission to post this article on my blog. It touched me in ways I cannot describe.

    Hint on the dark chocolate ‘most bootilicious of them all (got me laughing)” story… A girl from an average family with the perfect (lol) african beauty (curvy in all the right places or in ur case ‘bootylicious’,lol) destined for greatness falls in love wit a prince from that community whose stepmother is the evil queen.The evil queen made the prince worthless;forgetting who he is and what he should be but only Dark chocolate can remind him of who he is/who he is meant to be. Hence the evil queen doing all she can to make sure her destiny(falling in love with the prince) don’t come to pass. But she(evil queen) fails obviously and dark chocolate’d destiny fulfilled….
    Hehehe,jst trying to play with a story .Thanks
    babious latest post is Who Rocked The Denim On Denim Better? Beyonce Vs RihannaMy Profile

  11. Idara on said:

    Yes, there is a dearth of black fictional characters in main-stream media, but it is turning around; I hear the next Captain America is going to be played by a black character.

    But whose fault is it that African children are being taught Caucasian fairytales? Does it happen in Asia or the Middle East?

    Ofili please, do no even attempt to do a bootylicious anything. Black women are tired of being objectified for sex. Being beautiful is about being appealing to the eye. Being bootylicious, is about being appealing for sex. Both genders can admire a woman’s beauty, but only men gain when a woman has a large backside.

    And why stop at physical qualities? Why not write stories on smart, strong women?

    • Ofili
      Ofili on said:

      If you read the story of Afro that I referenced it was about a smart girl with magical hair that used static electricity from her hair as a defribrilator to bring a person back to life.

      So when I say I am potentially writing a story with a line “who is the most bootylicious of them all” understand that that is a very rough draft and that my history of writing about female issues does not focus on body parts but intelligence.

  12. This is in part true, yet I feel, strike that, know, that things are a lot more different now. The thing is, most super heroes are white because a lot of them were crafted and created by white people; they were/are an embodiment of the minds that created them, so they had to be white. It was the reality of the time. Now we have a black president in America, yet I remember Hollywood had already created characters of black presidents: 24, Head of State etc. The truth is, I don’t care if super heroes are white or black….or green :), it shouldn’t matter. Rather, I think kids should be taught to look up to heroes beyond the colour. I think snow white should remain snow white (I don’t think fairest meant fair of skin alone); I always took it to mean she was beautiful and kind, which is the message I think kids should be taught to see. I think we can create new characters with our own originality and their own stories, not a version that replaces the white version so that black people can feel good about themselves. I like “Afro: The Girl With The Magical Hair” because it has an originality to it, but I don’t believe we should create black heroes so black kids can have heroes to look up to; I think we should teach them to look up the stories of the heroes instead. As you said, “….I want people especially young kids to understand that beauty is diverse, that beauty cuts across all races…” My point (and this advice goes to me as well); we need to stop seeing the world in colours.

    • While I get your point and totally think it’s awesome and valid, I disagree with the timing, we are not yet prepared for it. We need to tell our own stories, we need to have our own heroes. When I was lucky to have a father that loved African literature, I was surrounded by African writers, my first full length novel was the palmwine drinkard by Amos Tutuola at the age of seven. Like you, when I read the story of Snow White I didn’t think her “fairness” was about her colour. Neither did I read Rapunzel and think my hair inferior, because at the time I knew who I was, Black and Proud. I had read the stories of great people who were just like me, and knew I was awesome just being me.
      When we are finally confident in our own skins, only then can we see a world without colours.
      Adaeze latest post is No mosquitoes in heavenMy Profile

      • Adaeze,
        There’s no time like the present. It’s conditioning, that’s all. I also grew up reading a mixture of Nigerian/African, as well as European authors so I was fortunate but are our children?

        Look around you and what do you see? Every girl wants to be a Vanessa Hudgens and every boy, a Zac Effron. While that may not be necessarily bad in itself, where are the African role models to balance things out.?

        You and I may have been bombarded with Western literature and films but we also had Nigerian/African Literature to present a balanced view
        I read Things Fall Apart alongside Great Expectations and Weep Not, Child…there’s a balance for you.
        But does this generation have that luxury, nay that privilege even that we have?

        There’s no time like now, I say. We need more Samankwe and the Highway Robbers in our schools and homes, more Zahra the Windseekers.

        We would all like to see a world without colour but in the meantime, our children need to be equipped for a world that would see them as a colour…black.
        Okan’ube latest post is My Turkish DelightMy Profile

  13. Toyin on said:

    Well, it’s the effect of Colonialism and Slavery. Where we’ve been conditioned to not like anything Black / African. How many of us do practice African religions? If it doesn’t have the Colonial Master’s approval, we don’t subscribe to it. I asked my friends, why do our Lawyers where the white wig? I asked, do they know what it represents?
    The black man really needs to wake up. Take pride in our culture (Dressing, Language, Religion, etc.).

  14. I think I would go with AJ who said,”we need to stop seeing the world in colours”. Whether white, black, blue or green, we are all humans.

    Engr. Ofili, i’m yet to see that writer who always makes me want to put pen to paper after reading them. You have that effect on me.
    O
    Victor Ikeji latest post is WE ARE ONLINE; OUR BRAINS ARE OFFLINEMy Profile

  15. DameDera on said:

    In total support of Afro: The Girl with the Magical Hair!

    Ofili, great article as usual. It definitely spotlights the continued notion of “light is right” infused in our cultural subconscious. Thankfully, there is a definite upsurge in positive, inspiring examples of Afro/black role models seen in all aspects of media nowadays.. and it’s only getting better.

  16. Thanks Ofili for the constant support. I have natural, unrelaxed hair but couldn’t wear it the way I wanted until I resigned from my job cos even employers get to determine how you live your life. Since most natural hairstyles look like dreads, its prohibited.

    I wear my hair my way now and love it. I’m an afro princess for sure.

    I also support other naturalistas by providing quality hair products at reasonable prices cos even readily available products are more suitable for fair hair.

    Thanks again

    • Ofili

      You are welcome Zerlinda Naturals. Do share your company website or blog so people can check your products out.

  17. Chinyere Onyemaobi on said:

    This article made me remember about something I read in one of my academic textbooks;cultural imperialism under the mass media. I’ll like to say that maybe its not really because we don’t embrace our culture ie our being black enough,but our part of the world is still a developing world and these developed nations have better quality media and through these they dominate us and impose us with their ideas cause then that’s the only thing available to either read or watch on tv’s,in summary,wat I’m trying to say is the more we embrace our culture we should also be creative about it in terms of media,cos I know I won’t be committing a fallacy when I say that wat the little generation watch and read is mainly foreign and not local,we shouldn’t wait for them to create this ‘superheroes’ for us,we are our own superheroes and we should put it out there for other people to see and as well embrace it

    • Ofili

      lol…the Decepticon transformation make up o. Crazy! I pray we find pride in ourselves Emeka. Long way but we will get there soon.

  18. “I want people especially young kids to understand that beauty is diverse, that beauty cuts across all races and that you can be black and still be a hero and that you can be a princess and still rock that Afro.”

    One of the first few comments I made on this blog was the fact that “I want to marry your brain”. My proposal is still on the table o…lol.

    That quote deserves a hug. Great post as always!
    Monale latest post is Why are you so Masculine?My Profile

    • Ofili

      Ah…let me send my my GTB account number. One session is 1 million naira and you get free gala and pure water =D

      Don’t worry…its coming soon.

  19. Natalie Brooks on said:

    Great article, Ofili. I never thought about that line in Snow White, but have observed the lack of color in the standard story princesses. I intentionally don’t buy my daughter any princess items if there are no Black princesses (limited to Tiana when it comes to Disney) included, so that she [hopefully] never even asks “Why are only White girls princesses?”

    • Ofili

      Hey Natalie! Longest time! Hope things have been rocking with you!

      Like you I did not even catch it, but then my Mum who runs a school in Nigeria would tell me to buy black dolls and I would be like WHY! But then I will go and search and search and search and would rarely find black dolls.

      2 things I learned then was that my Mum had a point to ensure her students played with black dolls and saw themselves in positve light. And the flipside was that we did not have enough black dolls in America.

  20. Adeshina Deborah on said:

    Nice write up, I draw my insipiration from you. Concerning this article,it pains me to see how ladies bleach nowadays, my fear is dat, black skinned is on the verge of extinction and it boils down to mental colonization. We’ve come to see the whites as superhumans and ourselves as inferior to them all bcos we don’t read wide. Funny enough, they know about our history than we do. Our today’s youth don’t read again, all we do is post weather for 2. We need to see things from another angle. Ofili more grease to yur elbow

  21. Aanuoluwakiitan on said:

    Even much more than human hair and glutathione pills is fake forced accents. Nothing upsets me more. I am yet to see a non-nigerian struggle to learn the NIgerian accent(any of our accents that is, seeing that we have many). The road to “Pride in who we are” might be long but at least, we have to make an effort to take it.

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