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Diary of a mad brown student: Racism in Disney World

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This past winter break I went to the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Being a huge Disney fan since my conception, I had always hoped and dreamed of visiting the park, but Disneyland’s closer proximity to my home always made it the most realistic vacation option. The grandness of the Disney park surprised me and exceeded my already high expectations. 

I felt as if I had just met Disneyland’s big sister, and I was falling in love. Actually, the city of Orlando as a whole was thrilling to experience. From what I experienced in the city, I felt as if Orlando were built as a city completely dedicated to fun and good times, or maybe to making money off providing fun and good times? 

Anyway, the overall mood of Orlando and the parks within it made knowing of the Orlando night club shooting at Pulse on June 12, 2016 even more eerie and confusing. I couldn’t understand how places that are meant to be enjoyed are often the first to become scenes of crimes or tragedies. I assumed bad people avoided good places.

I’ve learned that these assumptions are completely wrong and misleading. Racism and bigotry is all around us, at all times, and in all places. Hate is everywhere. Love is everywhere. It is impossible for one to pinpoint who they believe is racist, judgmental or hateful just by looking at them. It is impossible for one to pinpoint who they believe is accepting, inclusive and loving just by looking at them. It is impossible to assume certain people have to believe in certain ways, just by the way they look. 

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Looks do not warrant specific beliefs or qualities. Everyone has the right to their own different opinions. Everyone is free game for any of belief. That’s something we all know. We can’t assume certain traits to certain groups, places or institutions.

Having said that, the last thing I thought I would witness on my recent trip to the Magic Kingdom was a racist situation or microaggression. I, like most people in this country, immediately correlate the word Disney to happiness. And, don’t get me wrong, I loved the park. The Disney Company was not involved in the racist and hateful experiences at all; the park’s guests were. 

Immediately walking onto park property, I noticed it was very different from Disneyland. Longer wait times, longer distances to cover, way more people—the Magic Kingdom is a lot to take in. I noticed that the park guests were extremely diverse, even more so than in Disneyland. I also noticed that the people visiting the park were slightly more irritated, frustrated and rude than the Disneyland guests I encounter every year. 

One instance, while waiting in line at Splash Mountain, a mother seemed to be looking for her child who had wandered further on through the line without her. The mother was calm but focused on finding her child, whose name she shouted while trying to ask people to allow her to advance through the line to find her child. 

She didn’t speak English. I immediately heard people yell back at her, telling her to go to the back of the line. I heard people complain about her shouting. I saw people avoid her questions. 

Yet, I believe she managed to find her child and went back to the end of the line, which had surely grown during the search. While waiting to board the ride, I wondered if the line’s general rudeness was caused by tiredness and stress from having to cover the park or if her lack of English proficiency and diversity was seen as threatening. 

In another situation, while in line for It’s A Small World, I heard people complain about another group of people who were speaking a language other than English. They rolled their eyes, almost as if hearing a different language was like being pierced by pain. This was extremely ironic and somewhat sad to me. 

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It’s A Small World is literally a ride about the diversity of the world, and the common traits shared across countries and languages. If hearing a different language was painful for them while waiting in line, I wonder how having to sit in a ride and having different languages sung back at them must have felt. I hope they made it out of the ride okay. Hopefully the pain wasn’t too much. 

These were just two small, non-confrontational instances of racial microaggressions I witnessed in the Magic Kingdom. Two of probably many experienced within the park’s gates. Two instances of minor retaliation against diversity in a park that earns lots of money in attempting to spread a message of acceptance and love to its guests. These are situations that happen everywhere, and we should not think that visiting a theme park will somehow change the opinions of its guests. 

However, it’s ironic to witness these microaggressions in a place dedicated to making dreams come true. If Disney’s guests were as dedicated to that cause as much as Disney is, perhaps then the world might actually be a small world after all.


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