One of the many reasons that it took several months to get this project up and running was the difficulty of creating a title. Sarah and I knew from the beginning that we wanted to reference whiteness and privilege, but it wasn’t until after refining our objective and reminding ourselves to utilize the fairy tale framework that a title – this title – came into focus (Sarah shot down White As Snow, Privileged As F*ck – she gets the credit for keeping things classy here). So, what does the title mean to me?
In modern day re-tellings, Snow White tends to not only be beautiful, but also fierce, strong, and victorious in finding her happy ending. At the same time, she has a rough go of it. In most versions of the story:
- Her Mom dies when she’s young
- Her Step-Mom is a piece of work (hates her, is jealous of her, has a weird relationship with a talking mirror)
- Her Dad dies when she’s a teenager
- She’s forced to leave home because her step-mom tries to kill her
- She goes from having everything – a castle, wealth, status – to living in the forest cooking & cleaning for a bunch of men
Snow White doesn’t always have it easy, but she carries with her unearned privileges that give her some advantages as she overcomes her trials and tribulations. For example:
- Beauty. In every version of the fairy tale, Snow White is described as beautiful, and much has been written about the unearned privileges that pretty people get in their personal and professional lives. See e.g., Who will fight the beauty bias? “A drumbeat of research over the past decades has found that attractive people earn more than their average-looking peers, are more likely to be given loans by banks, and are less likely to be convicted by a jury. Voters prefer better-looking candidates; students prefer better-looking professors, while teachers prefer better-looking students . . . . [s]tudy after study has shown that we judge attractive people to be healthier, friendlier, more intelligent, and more competent than the rest of us, and we use even the smallest differences in attractiveness to make these judgments.” See also, The ‘Beauty Bias’ at Work, and What Should Be Done About It. But see, The Beauty Bias: Good-looking women may actually have a harder time landing some jobs.
Sure, Snow White’s beauty causes her problems (victim of jealousy and attempted murder), but it also helps to save her. Consider for a moment: Is it possible she is spared by the huntsman because of her beauty? Are the dwarves more likely to take her in, and the prince more likely to kiss her, because of it? What if Snow White was just as kind, generous, and strong – and still hunted – but also happened to be considered “ugly”?
- Health. Snow White is generally described as able-bodied; actually, it’s just assumed and never stated. There’s no issue of dealing with a wheelchair while running away into a forest (no story lines of wheels getting stuck in mud) or the added layer of concern of losing access to regular doses of needed medication. Would Snow White have survived in the forest if she suffered from an autoimmune disease?
- Education. It’s not too much of a leap to assume that growing up in a castle = wealthy (another privilege) = access to a good, quality education. This gives Snow White a lifetime of learning to fall back on when trying to make her way in the world.
Acknowledging Snow White’s privileges doesn’t belittle her accomplishments. She still fights to stay alive. She still learns to “rough” it in the forest after growing up pampered in a castle (spiders & bugs, no thanks!). And, her happily ever after still includes a more than full-time job of leading a kingdom. All of this is why Snow White has always been one of my favorite fairy tale characters (so much so that my Mom had the best Snow White costume made for me one year for Halloween).
Like Snow White, I have worked hard in life. I regularly stayed up too late to finish my homework, I chose to attend grad school, and I now juggle full-time work hours with parenthood. But it would be disingenuous of me not to acknowledge the unearned privileges that I carry that have helped me along the way. These include, but are not limited to, growing up in an upper middle class neighborhood, access to a great education, and my white skin. My skin color has given me advantages in life that have largely been invisible to me, but are there nonetheless. Unpacking these privileges is one of the long-term goals of this blog, but to mention just a few:
- I have never felt unwelcome or unsafe in the predominantly white neighborhoods and schools I’ve lived in and attended.
- I have never lacked for role models of people that looked like me on TV and in books (real and imagined). Snow White – like most princesses – has white skin (much remains to be said about this).
- I have never been asked to speak on behalf of my entire race.
- My successes and failures have always been my own – not a let-down or credit to my entire race.
- I have always had access to financial assistance when needed – either from family or a bank.
- I have never feared for my life when pulled over by the police (just a few speeding tickets, Mom and Dad . . .)
Snow White – like many fairy tale heroines – not only illuminates the invisible knapsack of privileges that I carry as a white person in America, but she also highlights the issue of representation. As noted above, I have never lacked for role models or positive images of people that look like me. When I dressed up like Snow White for Halloween as a little girl, no one told me that I couldn’t do so. My toys regularly looked like me, as did characters on TV, and leaders on the news. Representation matters, which is why we plan to talk about it a lot here on the blog.
In a similar vein, Snow White also highlights the issue of whiteness problematically often being associated with beauty and goodness, while blackness is portrayed as evil and ugly. The impact that these images have on us have real life consequences that we also hope to explore.
And, there’s the issue of class. Hence, “privileged as queens.” There’s no way we can blog about race, whiteness, and privilege without constantly referencing the intersectionality of class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and more. (This is why Sarah insists that this is really a book project or PhD dissertation – we love theory!).
There’s also no way we can grapple with these issues without acknowledging the responsibility that comes along with being in a position of power and privilege. A (good) queen not only has power over her people, but also the responsibility to care for them. Although I don’t know who said it first, we have all heard the too-true phrase: with great power comes great responsibility. As privileged white women, then, we have a responsibility to learn and grow in an effort to become better allies and advocates.
In sum, there’s a lot to tackle. White privilege, representation, the intersectionality of race and other identities, and ultimately, how to contribute to a better and more just world. Every fairy tale happy ending comes after a book’s worth of characters fighting for it – we need to fight for our happy ending. For me, a small step in that direction is this blog.