Samantha Della Fera: Anger towards Ariel and AOC are one in the same

Wednesday, July 24, 2019 - 5:33pm

It’s been a busy July. In one of the hottest months in recent memory, it’s no surprise that tensions and hot button stories are boiling over. From Hollywood to the White House, people are getting angry. Too often, that anger has been directed at people — particularly women — of color. 

At the beginning of the month, Disney announced Halle Bailey as the actress playing Ariel in the live-action remake of “The Little Mermaid.” Many thought Bailey, a young, talented R&B singer and star on the show “Grown-ish,” was the perfect choice to play the coveted role of Ariel. Others quickly pointed out what they deemed to be an unacceptable attribute: She’s Black. Following what should have been a career-making announcement for Bailey, critics jumped at the opportunity to accuse Disney of erasing the true story of Ariel. In a since-removed change.org petition, many people signed their names in support of a recast of Ariel. Because these signators can believe that a mermaid exists and has a crustacean best friend, but having to watch a movie with a Black woman in it? That’s asking just a bit too much of them. 

Of course, the criticism of Ariel’s casting is coming from a place of racism. Unlike the stories of Pocahontas or Mulan, Ariel’s race is of no importance to her story. Her story is about having your voice stripped away from you, being misheard and misunderstood. Coming from that angle, there is no one better to play that role in 2019 than a Black woman. Thankfully, most of the backlash to the casting was discovered to be trolls, and it has mostly died down. 

That brings us to now. It’s the middle of July, in the midst of a noticeable chasm in Democratic ideology, and all eyes were on a publicized spat between Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and junior Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The trouble started after AOC and “The Squad” — the nickname given to the foursome of AOC, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib — voted against a House bill to send funds to the border that they saw as writing Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Border Patrol agents a dangerous blank check. Never one to stay out of the spotlight, President Donald Trump tweeted that “Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all)” should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” 

Though the women were not named, it is clear that Trump’s tweet was directed at “The Squad,” a group comprised of all women of color who have been vehemently outspoken against Trump since the beginning. The tweet obviously caused a storm of backlash, as the “go back to where you came from” trope has deep, racist roots. Since then, Trump has tweeted more disgusting things, and the House voted to condemn his words, though many Republicans were appalled that Pelosi called the president’s words racist. 

So what do these two things, Ariel and Trump’s tweets, have in common? The fury at a Black Ariel and the racist language of our president, coupled with the support of his party, are one in the same. It’s an anger that has manifested in parts of America towards seeing people put in positions where they allegedly don’t belong. It is no surprise that Donald Trump is a racist: He has been proving it since the 1970s. Yet people are constantly surprised that the people who back him just don’t care. But of course they don’t care, because they agree.

Trump was recently asked if it concerns him that people saw his tweets as racist and white nationalist groups are standing by him. He said, “It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me. And all I’m saying — they want to leave, they can leave.” 

Republicans didn’t leave in the eight years they spent hating Barack Obama, questioning his citizenship and blocking every action he tried to take, and Democrats aren’t going to leave now. It drives Trump and his backers crazy to see Hispanic, Black and Muslim women in Congress, because they don’t think these women have a place in the government. People don’t want a Black Ariel because it feeds into their white supremacist narrative that they are being replaced or cast aside. We have to stop dancing around these outbursts by labeling them as “racially charged” or “politically motivated” — they’re just racist. To beat around the bush is not to declare that the problem exists, which only allows it to grow and hide behind the cover of politics as usual. Call it out — on the House floor, in movies, wherever it needs to be heard. The Trump presidency will end, but the stain he left on this country and the fires he’s reignited will burn on. Now’s the time to start stamping them out. 

Samantha Della Fera can be reached at samdf@umich.edu.