Isaiah 41:10, 43:1b-2/ Galatians 3:29-29/ Acts 10:34-43
No Longer Jew or Greek
Disney’s Misjudgment and the Challenge of Racism
Recently, Disney has made a live action remake of their animated movie The Little Mermaid from the 1990’s. This movie was so hated that Disney lost a lot of money. The most infuriating thing about it is how Disney called Koreans and Chinese racists just because they didn’t like the movie featuring a black mermaid. I do not deny that there is racial bias among Koreans, like any other people, but my people rejecting the black mermaid was only the tip of the iceberg. People keep saying how bad this movie is.
But today, I will only focus on one issue: the problem with making the mermaid black. Blackwashing is something Disney has been overdoing recently to make themselves look like they honour racial diversity. There is no reason a mermaid character should not be black, but the problem is that this movie is the remake of their own animated movie in which the mermaid was a redhead.
My criticism of Disney blackwashing their classical characters is that it is the laziest way of honouring black people. And if they really do honour ethnic diversity, how come they haven’t done any “yellow-washing,” replacing traditionally white characters with Asian actors? What they should be doing is writing original stories about black people and other ethnic minorities instead of putting us in white people’s stories, which is not truly empowering. The black mermaid made a lot of black American young girls happy, but that’s not what black girls really need. They need movies that tell empowering stories of black people.
I started with a bit of a rant about the black mermaid because, after over 100 years of black people being emancipated, they are still not truly free. The blackwashing of the little mermaid feels like crumbs falling from the table. Should black people feel grateful that they can feed on crumbs, which is better than nothing? White people who have previously perpetuated slavery and racism have changed a lot. However, they are still not free of racial bias and don’t know how to honour their black siblings, even with good intensions. Blatant racism is now condemned, but prejudice is still strong.
Today’s greatest challenge in fighting racism is microaggression. It is so subtle that only people of colour can notice it. Ever since I started working for the United Church of Canada, I have met a lot of white siblings inside the church reading, studying, and trying to listen to people of colour to become anti-racist. For some of them, they study too much with little reality. For them, racism is an academic subject: for us, people of colour, it is life.
Peter Learns a Lesson on Prejudice
We learned today during story time about how Peter overcame his ethnic prejudice and learned the “error of his (Jewish) way” in how to perceive and treat Gentiles. His change of ideas is reflected in the sermon that he preaches to Cornelius’s family.
“I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all,” he confesses.
Jewish people have believed from the ancient times that they were God’s chosen people, but even from then, they believed that God had called Abraham and his descendants to eventually bless all the nations.
God Does Not Discriminate
Just like Peter who learned that God doesn’t discriminate different peoples, Apostle Paul taught the same idea. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
We are all God’s beloved and Abraham’s offspring. We are all equal in God’s eyes. We are all siblings because no one is higher than others. Therefore, the comforting message of God in Isaiah that was originally given to the people of Israel is a message for all of us, who accepted God’s invitation to be God’s beloved children.
Listen to what God says to us: “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” We are all God’s beloved, and deserve the same respect.
Emancipation Day and Anti-Racism
We celebrate today as Emancipation Sunday. Emancipation Day, which is August 1st, commemorates the day in 1834 when the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 came into effect for most British colonies, freeing enslaved children under the age of six.
At the beginning, I told you that black people are still not truly free. One is not truly free if one does not receive equal treatment. One is not truly free if one has to fear going to mundane places or encountering police officers. One is not truly free if one has to compete with others who have advantages that one does not have. Systemic racism hinders black people from thriving. It is extra difficult for black people to sever the chain of suffering and not live like their parents and grandparents.
We may never fully understand the experiences of our black siblings. But we can still acknowledge their continuous experience of systemic and personal racism, their suffering, and challenges. On this day commemorating the emancipation of the formerly enslaved black people, let us remember, over and over again, that God does not discriminate.
We are all God’s beloved. Let us pray for compassion and understanding. When we see other people, let us remember that they are God’s beloved and our siblings. Let us pray that God will guide us in what we think, say, and do. Let us remember God’s call to heal our suffering world. Standing with our suffering marginalized siblings is at the centre of this mission. Let us pray to become God’s blessing to our black siblings.