Growing up, my family owned a lot of Disney movies. And while I feel a strong connection to Aladdin, I used to watch Pocahontas just as much. I don't really know the exact reason why I did or what initially drew me to watching the movie so much but I did. And for the longest time, I thought this movie was just a piece of pop-culture that didn't influence me at all.
But I was wrong. There's something wrong about Pocahontas that has affected me throughout my whole life and influenced my own insecurities. I'd like to set aside the catchy songs and the beautiful animation as well as the giant issues with the film's narrative for a moment to really unpack the relationship between John Smith and the titular Pocahontas.
And yes, I'm aware of the "oppressor/oppressed" subtext lodged within the way they meet, etc. But that wasn't the issue that helped increase my insecurity about my appearance and identity.
I remember the way I'd watch this movie at an age where I was young enough to not know what love was but old enough to understand that John Smith was a white man and Pocahontas was not a white woman. Their relationship, if memory serves me properly, is one of the only interracial relationships that have been shown on screen in a Disney movie.
While, yes, this is great because it reflects and solidifies that idea that it doesn't matter what your race is you can fall in love with anyone. But there was something about this that made me feel less secure about being a person of color. Even though I was in Secondary school, it seemed like everywhere I looked I saw images of white men dating outside of their race but it never happened the other way around.
And when I finally got to the dating age, I was overcome with feelings about the way I should approach people I considered dating because I -- like the kids in my graduating class -- have also been inundated with images of white men dating women of every race. I was in a situation where it was inconceivable that I would be attracted to anyone outside of my race.
I remember one of my first girlfriends, she was white, and I was very much enamored by her presence. I loved being around her. I didn't feel like I there was an issue. A couple weeks into our relationship, one of her best friends (a white male) had a conversation with me. He asked me if I was really attracted/into his friend. I told him I was. Then he asked me if I would rather be dating any one of the Asian females in our grade. I didn't understand this question but I answered him honestly, no. He proceeded to ask me a bunch of invasive questions that ended in him telling a very different story about my answers to the person I was dating, which led to our break-up.
This wasn't the only time my race has been a focal point of the relationship I was in. Another white female I spent the night with was astounded that I was "so much browner" that she was, she never saw me as "brown". And even now, I'm unsure how to take that. I don't know what she meant. If she meant it as a positive thing, I don't know how separating me (Paul) from my racial identity (brown, Filipino, American) is a compliment.
In the world of Love & Relationship under the lens of mainstream media, it seems like white men have some kind of pass to date anyone under the sun while everyone else has strict guidelines to abide by. And even now, it leaves me feeling like I will not be "good enough" if I decide to date outside my race. Pocahontas (and most on-screen interracial relationships) have made me this way. There will always be someone better than me, I'll think when I'm in a relationship, and that someone better is a white man.
I know I'm coming off as an upset, angry boy complaining about how women have treated me but the point I'm trying to make is about representation and how it affects young people of color. And even though my experience has been somewhat troubling (as in, I tend to feel inadequate around white men), I know that women of color go through something much different than I do.
And as much as I want to write about the fetishization of women of color in the media and how it affects their daily lives, I can't. I don't think I have the experience (having lived most of my life as male) and I also don't think I have the right to talk about an issue that isn't mine to take up.
That being said, I do believe it's time someone does bring it up. I feel that it is important that women of color write/talk about their experiences so we (we as in all people of color) can learn and work through our problems together.