Just as art might be used as a tool for educating people (and specifically children) to adopt a holistic and inclusive view on their society, it’s important to remember that by the same token, the artistic medium might be utilized to create racist, offensive, or problematic worldviews. Many literature, television and film texts preach messages to children promoting violence, narcissistic biases, and wholly defective worldviews.
“Orientalism” is a term coined by scholar Edward Said. His theory critiques the way in which Western people perceive everyone living outside of Western countries. Such perceptions formed the image of the “Oriental” person. A person living in Asian, African, or Latin American countries, to fit the way they wish to perceive them. The Oriental person is savage, uneducated, holds mysterious and dangerous beliefs, is immoral, unintelligent, and in many cases lacking any value as a living person.
Art, literature, and film were utilized as tools to educate the masses that this notion of the “Oriental,” the “Other,” as inferior to the white race, is natural and necessary in order to preserve the racial hierarchy (placing the white man at the head of the pyramid). When it comes to reality, these popular texts translate into racist perceptions, and practices of overpolicing and profiling.
Since these practices are often invisibilized and well-embedded within people’s minds, they can also be found as part of inner-community discourse. For example, this includes the comic book “The Journey to Ethiopia Following Beta Israel” (written by Haim Eckstein, illustrated by Elhanan Ben Uri, researched by Yossi and Ruthi Antehun Toretzky). The story is told from the point of view of Joseph Halévy, a Jewish-French scholar and linguist who traveled as an emissary to Ethiopia in 1867 – depicted on the comic’s cover as a foreigner dressed in a colonial European uniform, despite his Mizrahi ethnicity. Halévy is described as an explorer going on a “daring” mission to the savage and exotic Ethiopia. The people of Beta Israel, on the other hand, are described as “special people,” as well as using stereotypes that bear the familiar scents of patronization and superiority.
The comic, which is no doubt full of good intentions, is told from a white point of view, unrelated to the collective story of Ethiopia’s Jews. The white gaze produces a distinction between the Ethiopians – the Others, and the white – normative – society. The story’s presentation and the book’s cover are intended to satisfy the white gaze. It raises feelings of warmth and romanticism among white audiences, and therefore it is no wonder that it was widely embraced and endorsed by the religious Zionist movement, and even the Prime Minister.
The problem with creating contents speaking to the experiences of Ethiopian people but not addressing them is that of estrangement (alienation), and the confusion it might create for children within the community. The love of tradition or the empathy felt by the scholar to his hosting community do not negate his being a guest in a foreign country, or the power relations between the scholar and his subjects. In fact, they reflect power relations within Israeli society. Yet another difficulty presents itself as parents or educators approach texts preaching problematic worldviews: some of these creations are highly sophisticated. In many cases, texts that seem to be promoting a positive and ethical worldview, a bridge-building friendship between people from two different worlds, turn out to be problematic and harmful.
Unfortunately, there’s not enough space in this short text to get into more examples about the ways in which Black people are cast as secondary to white people in popular culture. Such one-directional relations affect the way in which inner-community discourse is formed within Black culture, as whiteness is perceived as a coveted social status, high levels of melanin are perceived as a defect, and mixed children are subjected to fetishization from the moment the come into this world.
The attachment theory, created by scholar John Bowlby, refers to the attachment process between the infant and their most significant caretaker, but it might also be analogized to Black people’s relationship with white society – just like the infant’s anxiety causes them insecurity, and prevents them from freely and independently exploring the world, so do expressions of racism and biases narrow down people’s existence, and prevent them from freely advancing in the world. Racism is a natural part of Black people’s lives, not a hidden powder keg lying in wait. The mental difficulty in the experience of Blackness crosses countries, ethnicities, and religions.
In short, in an era where children are connected to screens – how can we truly teach them that their physical difference in the white space is an asset? What is important to emphasize while creating content for children, that doesn’t reproduce the same cliches and stereotypes? How can we raise Black children to be personally and culturally empowered? How the hell might we raise our children here?