Category: racism

When Disney Movies Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong

I watched Babes in Toyland once growing up, and I’ve had it in my head for a long time under the “good movies I’d like to watch again sometime.” Netflix added it to the collection a few weeks ago, and I so I sat down last night to watch it with the kiddos.

Oh. My. Golly.

It starts off light and fun enough. Fairy tale people having fairy tale problems. Annette Funicello is always a plus, and the songs weren’t too bad. About what I expected from a movie I’d watched once as a kid and remembered being good. The plot is simple: two fairy tale characters want to get married, and a villain wants to derail that. And how does he do that? By hiring two goons to drown the boyfriend. Fair enough. And true to plan, they knock him over the head with a  mallet and cart him off to throw him into the ocean.

Until . . .

They notice there’s a “Gypsy Camp” on the way to said ocean. And since Gypsies like to buy children, why not sell the guy to the Gypsies? Nothing like reinforcing a stereotype for kids watching the movie, right?

And then Annette–now without a fiance–must face the awful truth: she’ll be without someone to take care of her. Cue the musical number.

Cursed addition and subtraction! How ever will a woman be able to handle it all without a man to help out?

And then the Gypsies show up for a song and dance number:

Followed by this “gem” sung by the fiance dressed in drag (sorry–couldn’t find the video clip):

And why stop there? We finish our traipse down cringe-inducing clips with this great song about how girls are essentially toys created for guys:

You can’t make this stuff up, people. I recognize that a lot of this has to do with culture shift, and what was acceptable in 1961 is definitely UNacceptable today. But still, it’s amazing to me what was so commonplace at the time, and how it can really undermine a society on a fundamental level.

Some of you might be rolling your eyes and dismissing this post. I get that. “It’s a kids’ movie. Lighten up.” And honestly, the bit with the Gypsies is something I can understand for the most part. I mean, here we are 50 years later, and it’s not really any better. (How sad is that?) But the songs about women? Really?  I don’t consider myself a foaming-at-the-mouth feminist, but how can you not watch those today and wonder what in the world they were thinking?

DC was watching the movie with me. Do I want her growing up thinking that unless she’s got a man around, she’s hopeless/useless? Of course not. But that’s the underlying message of those songs, and there isn’t even any wink winking about the subject matter like you get in A Secretary is Not a Toy (done 6 years later):

Anyway. Don’t think I’ll be adding Babes in Toyland to the yearly Christmas rotation. Ugh. And I’ll get off my soapbox now and let you resume your normal Monday routines.

America: Troubled, Just Like Everywhere Else

I’ve been watching the events in Ferguson unfold, and my jaw has dropped further and further to the ground. That this is happening in 2014 is a reminder to me that no matter how my life might be sheltered from racial tension, it’s a very real thing elsewhere in the country–and not just “the South.”

Of course, I need to throw in my continual disclaimer that I don’t know what actually happened in the original act that set current events in motion. Police tell one story (that Michael Brown was in a physical altercation with an officer, and that he was trying to get the officer’s gun) and witnesses tell another (that police accosted Brown for no good reason, then shot at him when he tried to run, then continued shooting when he tried to surrender.)

This isn’t a post about who was wrong and who was right in this case. Currently there’s no way of knowing until more facts come to light. But what isn’t under dispute is everything that’s happened since. The public protests of the shooting that started non-violent and escalated into riots. The police response to those protests, including rubber bullets, tear gas, arrests, riot gear, and the like. Arresting journalists? For being in McDonald’s? Things are spiraling out of control, and it’s bringing out the worst in some people (police included), as out of control events are wont to do.

You can read about all of that on the news–no need for me to go over all of it here. No, what I wanted to type up today was a thought I had that this situation sparked in me. Often America is insulated from the events happening elsewhere in the world. We read about what’s happening in Egypt or Ukraine or Russia or Iran, and it’s easy to think that those countries are completely out of control. That life in those places is one continuous scene from Black Hawk Down.

Growing up, I was sure–sure–that life behind the Iron Curtain was nonstop drudgery. It was awful, gray, and gloomy, with the secret police waiting around every corner to whisk people off to prison. Every single person over there was unhappy, and they all wished they could be happy capitalists. Imagine my surprise when I lived in East Germany for a few years and met many people who missed the former Communist days. Or when I married Denisa and heard stories about what it was like growing up behind the Iron Curtain. Yes, there were lines for toilet paper. Yes, there were conversations you couldn’t have. But there was also a lot of regular life going on. School. Sports. Everyday living.

Before I went to Jerusalem for study abroad, I was a bit apprehensive. This was the place where they had riots and suicide bombers, after all. It had to be dangerous on a daily basis, right? But again, once I was there, I saw firsthand how that wasn’t the case. (No comment on the current violence in Israel. There were certainly no rocket attacks when I was there in 2000, so I’m not sure how that compares.) But while I saw a large military presence and plenty of guns, I also saw a lot of people just living life. Palestinians and Jews getting along, going about their business without constant violence.

This is a roundabout way of coming to my topic (sorry). But imagine for a moment (if you’re American) what it must be like for a person outside of the country at the moment, reading about these events. Combine that with all the other pop culture depictions of race relations in America, and it wouldn’t take too long to jump to the assumption that people of color in America are under constant assault. That it’s riots and rubber bullets from sunup to sundown.

Unfortunately, these things do happen. America has a real problem with race, and I’m not sure if it’s a problem that will ever be fixed. But at the same time, these events do not represent what’s happening in the entire country. Ukraine has had a lot of unrest recently, but I imagine most of the people in Ukraine continued living their lives as normal, unaffected by the events beyond how I’m currently affected by the events in Ferguson: they read about it in the news, form an opinion about it, worry about it in an abstract way, and then go back to their life. Again, I’m not trying to dismiss these events. They’re serious–wherever they take place.

But my main point (here at last!) is that America is no better than these other countries. We have our own issues that–when taken in isolation–can lead foreigners to form certain opinions about our country in the same way some Americans like to jump to conclusions about how life is abroad.

Man. After all that build up, maybe my conclusion isn’t all that earth shattering after all. Then again, I imagine there’s a fair number of people who would bristle as soon as they read “America is no better than these other countries.” America is teh best!1!! Freedom. Bald eagles! Rawr!

And I suppose that’s all I have to say about that for the moment.

We Need Diverse Books Because

Some of you following my Facebook or Twitter feeds probably saw me post about the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign yesterday. I’ve been really pleased to see so many people retweeting the topic and spreading the word. As an author of a book published by Tu Books (an imprint of Lee and Low, one of the publishing leaders in diversity), I’ve watched the conversation about diverse books with no small amount of interest over the last few years. I’m not particularly good at coming up with pithy statements that can summed up in a photograph–lengthy blog posts are more my cuppa. So going on the “a picture is worth a thousand words” maxim, here’s my picture’s worth of words for the campaign.

I’m continually surprised and disappointed that campaigns like #WeNeedDiverseBooks need to exist in this day and age, though I suppose I shouldn’t be. It’s just too easy to sit back and let the status quo stay right where it is.

When Vodnik was published, I’ll admit I had high hopes. Not that it would smash records in the US (though what author wouldn’t like to give JK a run for her money?) but that it would get published where it needed to be: Europe. Americans read the story of a part-Roma boy who moves to Slovakia and encounters racism first hand, and they have an easier time dismissing it. The sad truth is that for many Americans “Gypsies” are characters in fantasy books, not people in real life, and “Roma” might possibly be people from Romania? Maybe? (Then they go looking for a map.)

Why do we need diverse books? Because there are still plenty of people out there who are unable or unwilling to realize that we’re all the same at heart. That we’ve got the same desires and aspirations. The same dreams and the same nightmares. It’s ironic that we need diversity in literature to prove to people that we’re the same–and I recognize that we’re not all the same. But this was an issue as far back as you can go. I’m continually reminded of Shakespeare when Shylock says:

He hath disgraced me

and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses,

mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my

bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies—

and what’s his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew

eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions,

senses, affections, passions? Fed with the same

food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the

same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed

and cooled by the same winter and summer as a

Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If

you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do

we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not

revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will

resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what

is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a

Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian

example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I

will execute—and it shall go hard but I will better

the instruction.

It’s the same thing, played out again and again over the course of history. The Other is less. The Other is wrong. The Other is Other. But one of the wonderful things about literature–something that sets it apart from other arts like film or music or painting–is that it can throw us into the point of view of someone other than us. You can try to get the same effect in other ways, but books help us see the world through someone else’s eyes.

If books let down diversity, then what else do we have?

I was disappointed by the response to Vodnik. Not disappointed by readers. You’ve all be genuinely lovely. The book has garnered great reviews from established institutions, book bloggers, and Goodreads alike. It’s won awards, and many people have written me to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Kids have sought me out at signings, coming just to see me and to talk to me about writing the book. I couldn’t possibly be disappointed by that.

But my agent’s taken Vodnik overseas. He’s gone to publishers in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Spain, France, England–and he’s been told the same thing. They see the reviews, they see the awards, and they get interested. Right up until they find out it’s about a Roma. Then the interest switches off, and that’s that.

“People won’t read a book about Roma,” is what they’re told. To which I say, “They won’t if no one will publish it.” That’s the only 100% foolproof way to make sure no one reads a book. Smother it. Stifle it. Never let it get out. Could I self-publish in Slovakia or Spain? Sure, if I could find someone to translate the book well. Publishing abroad is a fair bit more difficult than publishing here in America.

Vodnik might be a more extreme example than what you typically encounter in America, but I think that by going to that extreme, it illustrates the point more quickly and more effectively than it would by using some of the American examples. Because the same thing is certainly still happening in America. It might not be so blatant at times (or at times it is), but it’s still here. And that’s why campaigns like this are so important.

But do you know what’s even more important? Your pocketbook. I don’t mean to be crass, but it’s true. The publishing business is just that: a business. You vote with your wallet. Before JK came out with Harry Potter, common consensus was that school books were dead dead dead. People didn’t read them. And then came the Boy Who Lived, and suddenly you couldn’t print enough of them.

There are a ton of great books with diverse characters out there. A ton of fantastic authors from diverse backgrounds. But until we as a people start buying those books and sharing them with our friends, they’ll never be heard. Literature might have the power to equalize things, but it can’t do it if it isn’t read.

I’m not saying we all should read things just because it’s diverse or supports a cause. These books are awesome books. If you put one of them into a cage match with a “non-diverse” book, they’d totally go the full number of rounds. I’m a librarian. I don’t have time for bad books. But I also can’t afford to ignore good ones. Neither can you.

I’ve already gone above and beyond my thousand words, but I wanted to end on a positive note. A few months ago, I got a review on Goodreads that I really loved. It’s in Slovak, written by a Slovak, so I’ll just quote a snippet:

No jedna vec bola možno trochu moc. A možno to tak vnímam len ja. Rómska problematika bola podaná dosť drsne. Ja viem, že to je drsné, a viem, že ako našinec to inak vnímam, ale dve či tri scény boli fakt trošku moc. Otázka je, či by sa to tak mohlo stať aj naozaj. A najhoršie je, že by to nemuselo byť také neuveriteľné. A to ma dosť desí. A pre cudzincov to musí byť ešte horšie, keď netušia ako to tu je naozaj. (read the whole thing)

TRANSLATION: (Thanks to Google Translate. It’ll give you the general idea) But one thing was maybe a little too much. And maybe this is just me, I see. The Roma issue was made pretty rough. I know it’s rough, and I know how our people perceive it differently, but two or three scenes were really a bit much. The question is whether it could happen so i really. And the worst part is that it might not be so incredible. And it scares me enough. And for foreigners it must be even worse when they have no idea how it really is here.

Don’t get me wrong: my main goal isn’t to change the world. It’s to write a great book. One that entertains and captivates. But a review like that, by a Slovak, about a book like Vodnik?

It made the disappointment about the book not coming out in Europe a little easier to bear.

I’m Bryce Moore, and I believe #WeNeedDiverseBooks

Facing Controversy Head On: A New Approach for

A few days ago, I read about some new articles being posted on, the church’s official website. One article in particular was generating a lot of interest–an official church account on its history with racial issues. I read the article with interest and was encouraged to see how open and forthright it was. It didn’t seem (to me) to pull many punches–it’s a clear account of how the church started banning people of African descent from holding the priesthood, the various misguided justifications of that ban, how the ban was lifted, and where the church stands today in relation to that ban. If you’ve got Google and some search skills, none of this information was really earth shattering–but what was impressive to me was the fact that it was now neatly and succinctly on the church’s own site, as opposed to being sprinkled who knew where online.

I read this morning that this is part of a push by church leaders to have more comprehensive information about the church on its website–including areas that have proven problematic for members. (As another example, see this article on the various accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision.) I’m very encouraged by this new approach. Over the years, the church would publish isolated articles in The Ensign (the official church magazine) on such topics, but actually finding official church teachings on some issues could take even trained researchers a fair bit of effort. It makes sense to me to bring it all under one easy-to-find, easy-to-use umbrella. Why?

Because nothing is to be gained by trying to brush issues aside or ignore them. In fact, a great deal could be lost. There have already been numerous articles written about Mormons losing their faith as they turn to the internet to answer their theological problems. Do a search for “Joseph Smith’s First Vision” on Google right now, and the first result is Wikipedia. Speaking as a trained information professional, a wiki is most certainly not the place you want to be going to for answers about the meaning of life or the existence of God. And yet the first result is almost inevitably where people click to go for those answers.

So the church is now beginning to take ownership of some of these sticky points. That’s good. They’re able to present their history and logic in a manner that doesn’t alienate faith. For a religion that’s founded on the principle that people can find out for themselves what is true, I think it’s vital we put the truth out there. There were very racist statements made by church leaders. Joseph Smith gave multiple accounts of the First Vision, and those accounts didn’t all exactly line up. These are incontrovertible facts–shoving them into a hole and ignoring them isn’t an approach that will work, and it isn’t an approach that should be tried. If the truth can’t stand the harsh light of day, what sort of truth was it?

Anyway–not much more to report on this. Just saw these few articles, and thought I might highlight them for those of you out there who haven’t already seen them. Anyone have any thoughts to add? All I ask is that you keep things civil. I can, have, and will delete comments that get out of hand.

The Ever-Churning News Cycle

I’ll be the first to admit it: I forget things. I have a fairly busy life, and a to do list that just won’t quit. I do my best to stay on top of what’s happening in the world. Why? Because I think an informed populace is far preferable to an uninformed one. But as I was looking over news stories this morning and saw that they’d finally released a death toll “total” on the typhoon that hit the Philippines (5,200), I had to stop a minute and really try to put that number into perspective. 5,200. (The September 11th attacks killed just less than 3,000. And that’s only comparing deaths to deaths.) Not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people affected by the storm. The houses lost. Lives destroyed.

That was two weeks ago.

When I think about how much 9/11 affected our country and how far reaching its effects have been, I’m all too aware that the coverage of this current disaster has been paltry in comparison. Why is that?

There are a number of reasons I can think of. First off, our news system is geared toward a “what’s happening now” mentality. We have the build up coverage in anticipation of the next disaster, and then coverage of the disaster itself. There’s a few days (maybe) of follow-up coverage on the aftermath, but then it’s on to the next disaster. The next crisis. Because disasters sell news. Warm fuzzies don’t.

But I think it’s more than this. I’d say some of it has to do with the pop culture we consume on a daily basis. The disaster movies. The horror films. The sordid dramas. We are conditioning ourselves, slowly building up an immunity to real tragedy as reality struggles to live up to the way its portrayed on screen. When Michael Bay can destroy an entire city on film, what’s 5,200 people? And think about how movies handle it: it’s identical to the news coverage approach. The film starts with the first portents of a disaster. It follows that disaster to its culmination, and then it sticks around just long enough to give us some pithy “there’s still hope” message before the credits roll and it’s on to the next movie.

We don’t deal in aftereffects these days. We just focus on the here and now and next.

At least–we don’t deal in them until they happen to us. The news cycle churns on for everyone except the families and individuals directly involved in a catastrophe. For them, those aftereffects can’t be avoided. And it shouldn’t really surprise me, I suppose, if places that are farther away receive less coverage than places that are near to us. If a disaster strikes in the states, that’s going to account for weeks of programming. A disaster in far off reaches of the world? A few days.

As much as we like to think of ourselves as free minded and just thinkers, there’s just no escaping the immediacy of the Other. Stuff happening to people we don’t know and have no connection to just doesn’t matter as much to us as stuff happening close to home.

I don’t mean to be wholly critical of this tendency, because I think in many ways, we need it. If I got as upset about a stranger’s death as I got about a family member’s, I’d be in a constant state of depression. There’d be no avoiding it. And with how good the news coverage has gotten at telling us all about all the tragedies that are happening every minute of every day across (almost) every inch of this globe, how in the world could anyone go on with their lives?

Not that I have any immediate solutions here. I’m just thinking on virtual paper. I don’t know that there is a solution. I do know that it seems to me lately that the tragedies just keep on coming, and I feel bad as they roll across my computer screen, and I send money to the various causes, but then it’s on to the new and the next.

And what is the news supposed to do, exactly? If they followed all the cleanup efforts of all the disasters, soon there’d be no room for new news.

Bah. I started this post hoping I’d come to a nice tidy conclusion, and I’ve ended up more confused than I began. And now I have to end, because I’m out of time, and there’s a new blog post to start working on for tomorrow.

Which kind of proves my point and indicts me at the same time.

And on that cheery note, I hope you all have a nice Monday.

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