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Pedagogy, Culture & Society

ISSN: 1468-1366 (Print) 1747-5104 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rpcs20

Black Cinderella: multicultural literature and


school curriculum

Vivian Yenika-Agbaw

To cite this article: Vivian Yenika-Agbaw (2014) Black Cinderella: multicultural


literature and school curriculum, Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 22:2, 233-250, DOI:
10.1080/14681366.2013.819027

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14681366.2013.819027

Published online: 12 Sep 2013.

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Download by: [Open University of Cyprus] Date: 23 January 2017, At: 14:53
Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 2014
Vol. 22, No. 2, 233250, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14681366.2013.819027

Black Cinderella: multicultural literature and school curriculum


Vivian Yenika-Agbaw*

Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Penn State University, University Park,


Pennsylvania, USA

This article discusses diversity issues evident in fairy tales and explores
the pedagogical implications for adding counter-narratives in the school
curriculum. Critical Race Theory is employed. In order to uncover
contradictory discourses of race within Black cultures, four Africana
(African, African American, and Caribbean) Cinderella tale types are
analysed. The conclusion is that although the tales are racially similar
and full diversity requirements in a literature-based curriculum, such
tales are not necessarily interchangeable. Rather, there are ample differ-
ences that warrant further attention. It is important that schoolteachers be
aware of this, as they develop criteria that may enable them to make
informed decisions about childrens books for their classrooms.
Keywords: fairy tales; Cinderella; multicultural literature; childrens lit-
erature; Critical Race Theory; race/ethnicity; Black cultures; African;
African American

Introduction
Contemporary childrens literature, to some degree, has now begun reecting
the myriad of cultures that permeate our diverse global community. While this
is so, it is no indication that all voices are represented equally, or that the
same attention is given to issues of quality, accuracy, and/or authenticity.
Culture, however, is revealed in many ways in childrens books. In novels,
the dense or elaborate descriptions of characters and settings in the plot attune
readers to a particular culture. In picture books, the pictorial representations
provide a concrete image of these characters perceived physical features,
their surrounding environment, and how these shape their daily reality as a
people. But culture in childrens literature can be unsettling to those who want
to retain certain hegemony, especially when the culture in question contradicts
the stereotypes we already have of others. However, this should not be so; for
if we adopt the Intercultural Education perspective of respect instead of mere
tolerance of all cultures as has been advocated in the past in some
multicultural discourses (Portera 2011), this may enable our classrooms to
become spaces for democratic practices.

*Email: vxy102@psu.edu
2013 Pedagogy, Culture & Society
234 V. Yenika-Agbaw

This paper, therefore, examines four Africana (African and African


diaspora) Cinderella stories as counter-narratives and/or multicultural
adaptations to divulge the subtle ways cultures (across global settings) can
problematise race as a generic category (in this case, Black people). I argue
further that including literature to the ofcial school curriculum, that
explores diversity in its complex forms and by this, I mean literature that
reveals cultural nuances that exist amongst racial/ethnic groups, would not
only enrich childrens experiences in the classroom but may also provide
ample opportunities for a rich conversation on books, cultures, and life in
general. Additionally, it could also empower schoolteachers to take more
risks, as they strive to expand their classroom libraries to mirror the compli-
cated nature of our human experiences. In this article, I rely on tenets of
Critical Race Theory (CRT) to guide my analysis of the four fairy tales.

Theorising race and childhood in childrens literature


CRT, Tara Yosso (2006,172) observes, is a theoretical and analytical frame-
work that challenges the ways race and racism affect educational structures,
practices and discourses. Race, Ladson-Billings and William Tate IV (1995)
argue, remains an important variable in education discourse, for racism is
not only pervasive in the United States (Bell 1993), but is deeply institu-
tionalised. Camara Jones (2002, 10), goes further, adding that this racism
[dened] as the structures, policies, and norms resulting in differential access
to the goods, services, and opportunities of society by race is norma-
tive, sometimes legalized, and often manifests as inherited disadvantage.
Racism perceived as normal then legitimises exclusive practices.
Furthermore, as a social construct, race, Delgado and Stefancic (2001)
posit, can never be separated from issues of power and social injustice. Bell
(1993) conrms this, arguing passionately that Blacks in the United States
have always received the worst end of the deal in matters of education and
in their overall quality of life. I would add that this is also the experience(s)
of Black people across the globe whose educational reality is embedded in
Western traditions and whose curriculum, particularly those of Black Africa,
has led to the coinage of the phrases literary colonialism (Altbach 1975,
226) and intellectual dependency (Altbach 1977, 195). This predicament
many have attributed to their oppressive histories with the White Western
world through slavery and colonialism (Hickey and Wylie 1993). No doubt,
responses to institutionalised racism amongst children within the global and
US contexts may vary, for in the latter it is a daily experience (within
private and public spaces) in and out of school, whereas in other parts of
the globe, this may be more obvious in the public sphere through govern-
ment policies that are dictated by or inherited from the west. My drawing
attention to this does not mean that I am perpetuating what Karen Pyke
(2010, 563) refers to as racial essentialism, a concept where by we tend to
Pedagogy, Culture & Society 235

regard members of racial groups as unied around some trait, behavior, or


attitude, such as having a shared, monolithic experience or race and racism.
Regardless, one needs to be wary of how ofcial educational policies in
general may reproduce hierarchy of racial superiority (Pyke 2010).
Two themes Ladson-Billings (1998, 14) identies as crucial in CRT, which
are applicable to this article, include voice and the ability for individuals to
name their own reality. These themes are of utmost importance to me, partly
because the world of childrens books continues to be white even in the
twenty-rst century (Bishop 2007). This is compounded with the fact that the
ofcial school curriculum is a white supremacist master script that
excludes African American stories (Ladson-Billings 1998, 18) as well as
stories about other minority cultures. As a white supremacist script, the
curriculum is therefore informed by Anglo-Saxon texts and cultural ways of
knowing, with few texts by people of colour. Thus, it undermines the
practices of other groups and renders their histories invisible.
While Ladson-Billings (1998) acknowledges that CRT has its roots in
legal studies, its anti-racist mission is urgently needed in childrens literature
studies, for a story, as she rightly observes, provides the necessary context
for understanding, feeling, and interpreting [just as they] serve as
interpretive structures by which we impose order on experiences and it on
us (1314). The on-going debate over the absence of a variety of quality
multicultural literature from publishers book lists (Taxel 2002), or the
increasing commercialisation of texts regardless of their quality within our
global community (Taxel 2010) is legitimate. Although these debates are
about books, they are very much about how American childhood is
constructed, and who is behind this construction. It is the who and the
what that has led to my use of the label racialised childhood in this
article, a process whereby the quality of ones childhood is shaped by racial
characteristics attributed by the dominant group to the individual at
different points in history (Lois Tyson 2006, 375).
Childhood has always been (and continues to be) racialised in childrens
literature in so many different ways. To name a few: Black children are
primitive/ugly (Little Black Sambo, Ten Little Niggers, Out of Cameroon: A
Picture-book for Children, Little and Big); are violent (numerous books on
child soldiers, gang- and drug-related crimes); and despite their constant
struggles with poverty and injustice, they can be spiritual and forgiving
(Words by Heart also see Taxel 1986). Such racialised images, ironically,
seem to be perpetuated by some social institutions that cater to the welfare
of children. Therefore, following Ian Haney Lopezs (1995) model of how
Mexicans were racialised in American consciousness, the rst place to begin
to understand this phenomenon is by identifying two important sites of
constructions: the publishing industry and the schools.
236 V. Yenika-Agbaw

The publishing industry


Publishers control who gets published and what gets published for particular
audiences (Taxel 2002, 2010; Yenika-Agbaw 2008); and most certainly this
decision, as Taxel (2002) attests, is driven primarily by prot. Nancy Larrick
(1965) drew attention to this exclusionary practice several decades ago when
she disclosed the ndings to her study in the Saturday Review. Out of 5000
childrens books, she revealed, less than 1% were about children of colour.
Similarly, Judy Isaksen (2000) asserts that,

Because of reigning social norms within our white supremacist society


whiteness holds the position of colorness, and the very ubiquity of that
position constitutes not only automatic privilege for white people but also the
established norm against which all else is measured. (701)

This statement echoes Nancy Larricks (1965) research ndings demonstrat-


ing how racialised American childhood still is. Black children are now
evident, to some degree, in texts but continue to appear as stereotypes for
the most part, although recent authors have begun lling this gap with
books that depict alternative realities (Taxel 2010).
In regards to the representations of African Americans in particular,
Bishop (2007) observes that

In spite of major increases in the number of childrens books about Black


people since 1965, African American childrens literature continues to exist as
a very small subset of the estimated 5000 new childrens books published
each year in the United States averaging about 3.5 percent between 1994
2001. (xiixiii)

But like Taxel (2002), Haney Lopez (1995) explains that the economic
interests of various stakeholders of white supremacy play a signicant role
not only in the publishing industry, but also in racialising groups of people
in general. In this case, then the prot margin usually trumps everything else
from the publishers perspective, and thus enables authors to serve the
psychological necessity (Haney Lopez 1995, 197) of white supremacy in
our institutions. Are authors of colour now co-conspirators? Perhaps so, but
this question is beyond the scope of this article. Has this reality also been
complicated by the business model of schooling that politicians now
pressure public schools to adopt (Pinar 2012)? Maybe so, but more research
needs to be done on this as well.

School
Another site where racialisation of childhood occurs is the schools, for they
are involved in framing ideas about race [serving] as a sorting
mechanism, providing different students with access to different kinds of
Pedagogy, Culture & Society 237

experiences, opportunities, and knowledge, which then shape their future


opportunities (Lewis 2003, 4). As mentioned earlier, the ofcial curriculum
usually omits the stories and histories of African Americans and other
people of colour, a phenomenon that dates back to when schools were
segregated (Pinar 2012). This in itself may be construed as a deliberate
attempt to inculcate white dominant values in childrens consciousness,
perpetuating the myth of American culture as homogenous. This kind of
curriculum tends to create Black children who experience double conscious-
ness (Dubois 1903 as cited by Tyson (2006, 362)) children juggling two
conicting cultures (Tyson 2006, 362). It may also lead to internalized rac-
ism (Pyke 2010, 557).
In 1947, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, respected sociologists, performed an
experiment with dolls to illustrate the impact of racism and segregation on
elementary school-aged Black children (Library of Congress Exhibit 2010).
While this facilitated the process of desegregation, more recently similar
experiments continue to reveal the damaging effect of institutionalised
racism on children (Ahuja 2009; Doll Study Research 2010).1 There is no
doubt that the school as a site is partly responsible for this (Lewis 2003)
and should be held accountable for its Eurocentric curriculum and for its
omission of literary and cultural histories of people of colour.
A sub-genre of childrens literature that needs to be probed further, partly
because of its inuence on school children, is fairy tales. According to Doro-
thy Hurley (2005), they have a tremendous effect on how children of colour
perceive themselves, since these children are exposed for the most part only
to European tales, which are inherently a visible part of the ofcial school
curriculum. It is imperative then that we examine picture book versions of
Black Cinderella to understand how these stories are culturally situated to
reect the geographical space, socio-political context, and history of the
group of Black people whose story is being told; and what new conceptions
of Blackness they introduce to the fairy tale discourse as counter-narratives
or/and adaptations. Additionally, it provides us with an opportunity to show-
case to an extent the cultural wealth community, family, language, hope,
spirituality, tenacity and culture that permeates Black communities (Yosso
2005, 70/78), further demonstrating the complexity of race as a social cate-
gory. So the overriding question I attempt to address here is: how do these
books recreate cultures of Blackness in Africa, America, and the Caribbean?
I insist on recreate as opposed to represent, for in CRT voice and the expe-
riences of individuals are of great importance. While I am aware that one can-
not necessarily learn too much about a culture of a people just from picture
books, as Eliot Singer (2011) posits because they may be fakelore, the
cultural perspectives authors construct still warrant critical attention. There-
fore, analysing these tales from a critical race theoretical stance has the poten-
tial to disclose cultural nuances that exist amongst Black folks, arguably
demonstrating that race may only be skin deep, for the repertoire of cultural
238 V. Yenika-Agbaw

experiences depending on several variables may differ from individual to


individual even within the same settings. However, Recognizing that racial
meanings shift across time and space does not mean that they matter
less (Lewis 2003, 7). On the contrary, these shifts and how they shape
characters realities in literary texts are what intrigues me.

Cinderella and Black communities


To this day, when children think of fairy tales they immediately imagine
stories with white princesses, stories with girls who are either eaten up by
big, bad wolves and/or stories where girls marry handsome princes. These
images of white, vulnerable girls whom in some tales become princesses
remain xed in the minds of female children regardless of their race. One
image that seems to persist more so than the others is the dream of marrying
a prince charming someone who would whisk them off to a castle far
away from the drudgery of their daily lives. But this dream, as unrealistic as
it is, seems possible only for white girls, as most Disney movies have
demonstrated (until the recent release of The Frog and the Princess). This,
nevertheless, has not deterred girls of colour to fantasise about a happily-
ever-after life just like their white peers.
Feminist scholars abhor the fact that girls are constantly exposed to such
sexist images (Marshall 2004; Parsons 2004; Paul 1987; Trites 1998). While
some criticise fairy tales and Disney for perpetuating these images, Dorothy
Hurley (2005) is doubly concerned about the messages these white cultural
products are sending to Black girls, since these artefacts contribute in
dening the standard of feminine beauty in Anglo-American cultures. For
Hurley (2005), fairy tales exclude girls of colour, ignore them as a people,
and may inadvertently perpetuate self-hate tendencies. Regardless of these
scholars apprehensions, fairy tales are so pervasive that some authors of
colour reference them in otherwise contemporary tales about Black families
living in Africa, as is evident in Mary Hoffmans (1995) Boundless Grace.
The authors whose stories are examined in this article have constructed
tales whereby discourses of race and/or culture shift to reect the histories
of African peoples in the continent [John Steptoes (1987) Mufaros
Beautiful Daughter: An African Tale; Obi Onyefulus (1994) Chinye: A West
African Folk Tale], and in the African diaspora [Robert San Soucis (1998)
Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella, and Joyce Carol Thomass (2004) The
Gospel Cinderella]. Each tale is rooted supposedly within a specic
Africana tradition (or traditions) reecting its socio-cultural history and
geographical landscapes, and (re)told either by insiders from the region or
by outsiders writing from research. They are labelled Cinderella tale types,
partly because the plots deal with girls who are persecuted; assisted by a
supernatural being; whose beauty and goodness are recognized; and who
nd a signicant other (Sloan and Vardell 2004) (though not the case in all
Pedagogy, Culture & Society 239

four). Some of them also have a rags to riches motif, with a heroine who
ascends rapidly from the hearth to a throne (Tatar 1987/2003, 222). In the
introduction to The Classic Fairy Tales, Tatar references two Cinderella tale
types: AT510A (Cinderella) and AT510B (The Dress of Gold of Silver, and
of Stars (Tatar 1999, 102; as cited from Aarne-Thompsons index). The
plots of Cinderella, she adds, are driven by the anxious jealousy of
biological mothers and stepmothers who subject the heroine to one ordeal of
domestic drudgery after another (102). If this is so in Eurocentric versions,
there are no guarantees that Black Cinderellas (or tales reminiscent of this
tale type) may conform to this plot prototype. Thus, as multicultural texts
they also exhibit a level of diversity with which teachers should be familiar
in order not to essentialise Black people. I discuss briey the four tales,
highlighting their inherent diverse approaches to transform the classic tale
type, and conclude with a discussion of their signicance as multicultural
texts in the school curriculum. In particular, I focus on the power structures
in these narratives, looking closely at the family, gender, class, and/or racial
dynamics, and noting how the authors constructions of the characters rela-
tionship are situated within their socio-cultural reality and the geographical
settings of the stories.

Black Cinderella, multicultural tale


I begin with a brief discussion on how I use counter-narratives here. For
me, it is a way to rebuff the idea that Black Cinderellas are interchangeable,
for each retelling, whether as a version or as narrative that counteracts
existing White versions, is informed by the storytelling tradition of the
Africana region. While race, gender, and class issues remain constant in all
four Cinderella stories discussed in this article, each author in some way
illuminates the regional and/or national differences that set the Black com-
munities apart. Further, these tales, whether the authors intended them as
versions or counter-narratives of their European counterparts, reveal subtle
ways cultural ethnocentricism, colonialism, and institutional racism inter-
twined with classism and sexism may manifest themselves in the different
ctional Black communities. In so doing, they disrupt notions of racial
essentialisation. These stories about the character type Cinderella, retold as
Black stories and set in the continent, Caribbean, and the United States,
offer new spaces within which educators can engage children in social
justice discourses. My analysis of the four picture books follows, starting
with the oldest.

Counter-narratives or versions?
Admittedly, Mufaros Beautiful Daughter: An African Tale is considered one
of the most popular Africana Cinderella tales in the United States, but
240 V. Yenika-Agbaw

nowhere in the book does John Steptoe refer to it as such. Set in a Shona
village in Zimbabwe, Mufaros Beautiful Daughter revolves around the lives
of a father and his two beautiful daughters, kind Nyasha who eventually
marries the king, and unkind Manyara whose ill-temperedness alienates
everyone. To be worthy of the king, the girls must face a series of cultur-
ally specic challenges, all of which the ill-tempered sister fails. First, she
refuses to share food with a hungry child, and secondly, she is impolite to
an elderly woman. For her negative attitude toward both the young and the
old, and her excessive self-centredness in a culture that values community,
Manyara meets a ve-headed monster instead of the king.
As African females, Nyasha and Manyara are racialised types; one of the
girls is perpetually seless and the other is vain, aggressive, rude, and
manipulative. Racialised consciousness can be traced back to travel logs of
early European and American explorers (Hickey and Wylie 1993). These
travellers, Hickey and Wylie (1993) add, successfully implanted binary
opposite images of Africans and Africa into the consciousness of their
Western readers. On the one hand, Africans are primitive, barbaric, and live
in a capricious jungle; conversely, they are noble savages who live in an
untainted paradise of which they are a part. If we agree that these colonising
images of Africa do exist and might have inadvertently impacted the works
of contemporary Western writers Steptoe included then his constructions
of these girls accentuate their otherness. Beyond the pastoral settings that
localise Mufaros Beautiful Daughter within this colonial discourse, the
verbal text itself could be construed though as a form of counter-narrative. I
will return to this later.
Onyefulus (1994) Chinye: A West African Folk Tale brings another
perspective to the tale type. Set in an Igbo village in Eastern Nigeria of long
ago, the story dwells on the experiences of an impoverished orphan girl,
Chinye, who is mistreated by her stepmother, Nkechi, and stepsister,
Adanma. Like some popular traditional versions, the rags to riches motif
drives the plot. However, in this variant the material success is not
connected to marrying a prince, a king, or an important male gure. Rather,
it revolves around the desperate need for material independence to free one-
self from the indignities that are usually attributed to, or that emanate from
poverty, but not necessarily through marriage. In this regard it could be
conceived as a counter-narrative.
Conrming the verbal narrative, the illustrations depict Nkechi, Adanma,
and Chinye as three desperate females living dangerously on the edge:
physically close to a precarious forest, psychologically traumatised by the
lack of basic material needs, and emotionally distraught by their social
responsibilities within their family unit and the village community. This
image contradicts in many ways the account that readers encounter in
Mufaros Beautiful Daughter, a tale that is also set in an African (Shona)
village.
Pedagogy, Culture & Society 241

Unlike the rst two Cinderella tale types, Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cin-
derella is set in the Caribbean. Robert San Souci, known for his adaptations
of Creole tales, asserts in the authors note that, Cendrillon is

loosely based on the French Creole tale Cendrillon in Turiaults nineteenth-


century Creole Grammar. That version follows the basic outline of Perraults
Cinderella, while incorporating elements of West Indian culture and costume
The decision to tell the story from the godmothers point of view arose
over the course of rewriting. She seemed a natural storyteller for a narrative
that grows out of Creole oral tradition, and her unique perspective allowed me
to add a fresh wrinkle to this timeless tale.

From this statement, it may be prudent to classify Cendrillon: A Caribbean


Cinderella as an adaptation of a French version with a counter-narrative
twist. What this means is that San Souci is actually attempting to recreate a
tale that is both reective of Perraults tale but at the same time is both
mindful of Martinique reality and is subversive. In so doing, he constructs a
hybrid tale that acknowledges the islands colonial connection to France and
how this complicates their history. Bhabha ([1994] 2007, 213) posits:

Counter-narratives of the nation that continually evoke and erase its totalizing
boundaries both actual and conceptual disturb those ideological manoeu-
vres through which imagined communities are given essentialist identities.
For the political unity of the nation consists in a continual displacement of the
anxiety of its irredeemably plural modern space representing the nations
modern territoriality is turned into the archaic, atavistic temporality of
Traditionalism. The difference of space returns as the Sameness of time
turning into Tradition, turning the People into One.

One gets a sense of this complexity in San Soucis narrative that at once
blends the old and the new, discourses of colonialism and traditionalism in
the form of Creole dialogue but not as though in competition with each
other. He integrates narrative discourses that conrm the hybridity of the
culture to recreate a unied entity, albeit the contradictory cultural reality of
the people of Martinique as local, foreign, ancient, modern, and a
combination of these and more.
Identities are problematised beginning with Cendrillons stepmother who
is part French and part Martinique; consequently, she was a cold woman
[who] puffed up because her grandfather had come from France. In
contrast, the godmother to whom Cendrillon is attached, while signifying
old Martinique, is mythical and powerful even as she is constructed as an
antithesis to Cendrillons stepmother and new family. As the focaliser of the
story, Martinique voice is ever present in this cultural mesh; but she also
reminds us of this Caribbean islands ambiguous subservient status
vis--vis the supposedly French superior colonial heritage. This subversive
narrative technique perhaps bets the theme of hybridity that runs through-
242 V. Yenika-Agbaw

out the tale. San Souci takes artistic liberty, making the narrator an eyewit-
ness to the account. Thus, the experience seems to immediately echo CRTs
basic belief that alternative narratives from a minority point of view are of
extreme importance (Fletcher 2008).
What sets the story apart from the Perrault version are references to the
local fauna and ora, and the allusions to Martiniques colonial ties to
France, and thus the characters colonised consciousness (Fanon 2004)
whereby people in the colony mimic lifestyles typically credited to the col-
onising country. In addition, social hierarchies that position those closer in
skin colour, education, and class to the coloniser are intricately interwoven
in the dialogue, prose, and illustrations.
San Souci (1998) juxtaposes this French colonial tradition with other
traditions long established by Blacks to whom Martinique now serves as
home. This blending of history reconstructs a new culture and value system
that sets this Black community apart from the communities readers encoun-
ter in the Shona and Igbo villages of Steptoe and Onyefulus recreation
where conicts remain at the local level in settings that may be perceived as
pre-colonial. To complete the colonial legacy and discourse, San Souci
(1998) exits with a wedding that is attended by the Queen and King of
France. The celebration of French patronage remains a footnote to the story,
however, as Cendrillon and Paul dance the night away.
Joyce Carol Thomass (2004), The Gospel Cinderella, like San Soucis
tale, reminds readers of the European variants of Cinderella. The author
declares early that her story is a variation on the traditional Cinderella
story, although it is not immediately clear if by traditional she is referring
to the German (Brothers Grimm) or French (Perrault) versions.
Notwithstanding, by acknowledging this fact, she establishes a subjectivity
that intimates a counter-narrative. In regards to the setting of the book the
southern swamp that she mentions we may infer this as her town of
origin, for Bishop (2007, 228) postulates that,

Thomas grew up in Ponca, Oklahoma and much of her work is rmly


anchored in her home place. This southwestern setting with its elds and
ranches, is uncommon in African American childrens literature her love of
Black gospel music has inspired her to write two versions of a gospel Cinderella.

Unlike Nyasha, Chinye, and Cendrillon, Thomass Cinderella would like to


be recognised for her talent. This desire is so strong that through sheer grit
she makes it to the Gospel Convention where her powerful voice is heard
and enables her to take her rightful place besides Queen Mother Rhythm
and the Prince of Music, singing and leading the Great Gospel Choir. This
is the only variant of all four where the biological mother reunites with her
daughter. The tale also uses voice both in a literal and symbolic sense.
Cinderella knows she has a strong lyrical voice that produces good music,
Pedagogy, Culture & Society 243

but her oppressive foster mother, for fear of what Cinderella may do with it,
attempts in vain to silence this voice. As a counter-narrative, Cinderella
reclaiming her voice in the end is of particular interest to potential young
readers, since it may enable them to see themselves not as victims of fate/
circumstances but as human beings who can actually overcome unjust
institutionalised social practices (racism, sexism, classism, etc.).

Cultural complexity
The four Cinderellas in varying degrees reect the complexity and diversity
of Black cultural experiences within continental Africa and the African dias-
pora. For example, though Mufaros Beautiful Daughter and Chinye: A West
African Tale are set in African villages, the local traditions of these distinct
settings impact the events that drive the plots and the resolutions of the
ensuing conicts. Likewise San Soucis Cendrillon: A Caribbean Cinderella,
though representative of Black customs of a particular island in the
Caribbean, is heavily inuenced by Martiniques French colonial heritage.
Readers read about these Black characters whose experiences in Martinique
tie them to Africa, France, and the Caribbean island that serves as their
current home, and whose social positioning within their communities and
families affect their overall quality of life and the opportunities opened to
them. They may be of African descent but are now culturally situated differ-
ently from their counterparts still residing in Africa, and those residing in
the United States, primarily because of their unique trans-Atlantic and
French colonial histories.
But on a closer look at characterisation in all four tales it is obvious that
the authors grant agency to their Cinderella-like character in subtle ways,
with Thomas (2004) going the furthest. The protagonists suffer some form
of oppression that is consistent with their respective socio-cultural histories
and are constructed as such. Nyasha and Chinye are simpletons who easily
forgive the wrongdoing of their selsh stepsister (Manyara and Adanma),
and depend on divine retribution for the injustices they might have faced at
the hands of their selsh sister(s) or exploitative/abusive parent (Nkechi).
This basic stereotype can also be traced back to imperial and colonial narra-
tives on Africa that portray Africans as noble savages (Hickey and Wylie
1993). Cendrillon, a simpleton at some level, on the contrary, makes strate-
gic decisions about her life. She wants no more spells to earn the love of
the prince, and when the story ends it seems she has forgotten about her
stepmother and half-sister and perhaps is ready to move on as Paul
Thilbaults bride.
The illustrations of the settings as counter-narratives, especially of Africa,
refrain from displaying half-naked characters though both books have char-
acters sharing space with animals, another popular stereotype. If one consid-
ers Mufaros Beautiful Daughter a counter-narrative, it becomes necessary to
244 V. Yenika-Agbaw

examine the source of Steptoes tale: Kafr Folktales. Folklorists have


ascertained that the actual title of the collection to which he is referring is
Kafr Folklore published in 1886 by Theal, a Canadian-born South African
historian, who was also notorious for being whimsical, constantly changing
his views/positions/texts to suit the political climate of the South African
space he occupied (Theal 1886; Saunders 1981). Additionally, the tales in
the collection are from South Africas Xhosa culture and not from
Zimbabwe. Does this error in source citation compromise the counter in
the narrative? I doubt it, especially if Steptoes aspiration (I would not know
for sure) was to tell a story that revises images of Africa with which he felt
uncomfortable. The same question can be posed about Cendrillon: A
Caribbean Cinderella, for if one believes Singers (2011, 5) assertion that
Standards for documentation only developed around 1900, and [that] most
collectors prior to that time felt no qualms about rewriting and combining
stories they heard according to the literary and moral preferences of their
time, then one may have to rethink the credibility of San Soucis source.
However, as a tale that may be regarded as an adaptation and/or a counter-
narrative, the cultural discourse of hybridity serves my purpose in this
article. Onyefulus and Thomass tales indicate no sources one is linked to
the generic practice of oral tradition in Nigeria, whereas the other is a
variation of a traditional tale.
Nevertheless, Thomass The Gospel Cinderella is impacted by the
Southern African American spirituals culture in the United States. Cinderella
is able to construct her own identity through her voice even in servitude.
Thomas (2004) taps into what Monica Evans (1995, 502) refers to as

escape songs [that] present a dialectic power, deceit and identity [whereby]
[b]y appearing to live out the identity of beasts of burden, loyal and unintelli-
gent, slaves were able to carve out time and space for resistance and could
formulate their escape plans in the very presence of their captors.

In so doing, Thomas (2004) evokes an outlaw culture (Evans 1995, 502),


demonstrating that while of African descent, African American socio-
cultural histories in the United States set them apart from Blacks in the con-
tinent and in other regions of the African diaspora. Living in a racialised
society, their fate oftentimes is determined by institutions that perpetuate
social injustice or which many may exploit for their own personal benet as
the crooked foster mother does. Scholars involved in this struggle for social
justice may be seen as complicit in this discourse of exploitation, as we
observe in the next section.

Oppressed Black female characters: agency and resistance


Pyke (2010) postulates that in identity politics research oftentimes agency is
accorded the strong Black female, who though dominated is seen as
Pedagogy, Culture & Society 245

transcending her oppressive reality. For Pyke, domination should not be cel-
ebrated in any way as something positive, for there is always some damage
done to the oppressed individual regardless of the effectiveness of his/her
coping strategy. On this note, I would admit that while some characters in
the four books I analysed are clearly granted more agency than others, and/
or are able to resist family (Manyara, Nyasha, Chinye, Cendrillon, Cinder-
ella), class (Cinderella, Cendrillon, Chinye, Manyara), patriarchy (Manyara,
Cinderella, Cendrillon), and colonial (Cendrillon) domination(s), I do not
want to recast domination as a positive force (Pyke 2010, 563) in these
stories. Rather, like Pyke, I agree that these female characters feel pain, even
as they struggle to liberate themselves from family tyranny that may be
interwoven with institutional power structures within their local, national,
and international communities, and students must be guided to understand
the intricate nuances of social injustices that undergird such practices within
text worlds and their real world. Pyke (2010, 564) writes: If the oppressed
feel no pain, the oppressors can easily deny its afiction. How true this
statement sounds!
When we think about these characters more carefully as representative of
real girls in our social worlds, starting with Steptoes Manyara, it becomes
evident why she was not destined to marry the King. From our rst encoun-
ter with her we notice what Patricia Williams (1996, 809) would describe as
a girl with an attitude, who unknowingly invents her own ending to the
courtship narrative she aggressively plays out. The King is the object of her
desire but her method of pursuit of this goal is not the preferred one within
this text world. It is Nyasha, the sister who understands gender expectations
when it comes to malefemale relationships, that wins. More so, she still
concedes to marriage even after the King professes his trickery and tests in
the courtship process. This begs the question as to whether she was aware
of these tests throughout and was simply playing along to get her man and
all that he and the relationship represent in their society, or whether she was
truly oblivious to the game.
This can be said of Cendrillon too, although as the story unfolds, it
becomes more evident that she is in control of the game, even if it is with
her godmothers help. Regardless of both girls marrying the men of their
fantasies, there is some degree of pain and suffering involved in the pursuit
of such fantasies.
In both Mufaros Beautiful Daughter and Cendrillon, the good girls
marry their prince charming and make us forget their pain; rst, as siblings
always in competition for their fathers affection and attention; and next, as
young females in contest for a powerful males affection in the public arena.
In the process, they face varying degrees of humiliation and play games of
being perfect with minimal reciprocity from the men. So while they are
granted agency in some ways, as discussed earlier, readers can easily over-
look their pain and celebrate their newly found status as the spouses of pow-
246 V. Yenika-Agbaw

erful men. As Pyke (2010, 564) explains, further, Mystifying the Black
woman as super-resilient creates an undue strain by denying the psychologi-
cal, physical, and spiritual costs of their oppression. Nyasha gets the hus-
band but at what cost? She is also forever entrapped in a role of the good
woman who puts everybody rst above her needs. Chinye and Cinderella
(Gospel) gain riches and fame, and then what? In Chinyes case, she is
isolated without a family to fall back on; and Cinderella, though not in any
relationship, is simply content to be reunited with her ageing mother. Her
foster mother, like Chinyes stepmother, we hear nothing more about. It is
as though, since they are completely out of these girls lives, readers should
overlook the emotional harm they have inicted on the girls. Cendrillon
remains distant from her family and, though now the governors wife, is still
a second best racially to her biracial half sister with connections to France.
The narratives of these girls lives as females in Africa, the Caribbean,
and the United States remain unnished! It is up to teachers with imagina-
tion to encourage children in their classrooms to invent other endings and/
or possibilities for these characters. It becomes essential that students read
these stories not solely as versions of a classic European tale that celebrates
material success through marriage (Nyasha, Cendrillon), hard work (Cinder-
ella), and/or dumb luck (Chinye), but also as counter-narratives that explore
the complexity of human relationships regardless of race, gender, class, and
the dynamics involved in these relationships at the local, national, and
global levels.

Multicultural fairy tales and the curriculum


Cinderella in Disney movies remains a powerful signier of feminine beauty
and gender-appropriate behaviours. If girls are beautiful, good-natured, kind,
humble, hardworking, and patient, they may end up with a prince charm-
ing of their imagination. Even though this dream continues to inform the
consciousness of most girls in contemporary American society and across
the globe, at least it is encouraging to know that there are competing
versions that attempt to construct Cinderella in culturally situated ways that
position Black cultures at the centre. These counter-narratives serve as wel-
come alternatives in the classroom, especially since multiculturalism seems
to be treated in supercial ways (Lewis 2003, 17). Further, if the results of
the recent doll experiment on internalised racism is an indication of how
racialised the public school system is (Ahuja 2009), discourses of race/eth-
nicity must still be relevant. Childrens literature consequently must be a
major part of this dialogue on race/ethnicity, texts, children, and the school
curriculum, which Pinar (2012) asserts has been hijacked by corporations
posing as government agencies to test children ceaselessly. Consequently, he
advocates for a curriculum theory that is focused on educational
experience (2), noting further that curriculum in itself is that complicated
Pedagogy, Culture & Society 247

conversation between teachers and students over the past and its meaning
for the present as well as what both portend for the future (2). Immersing
children in literature that is representative of multiple realities and voices
across and within racial groups is therefore paramount as one engages in
this complicated conversation. The rst step, however, is to locate books
for children that push our collective thinking as educators in the classroom,
four of which I have examined here. Granted, a few teachers may already
be familiar with one or two of these texts; but they see them simply as
Cinderella stories and not necessarily as counter-narratives that explore race/
ethnicity and gender constructions within Black cultures in complicated
ways. What is needed is for them to probe further the signicance of these
constructs (race/ethnicity, class, and gender) within Black and other tales.
CRT allows readers to notice and to question contradictory discourses of
Blackness and/or race embedded in childrens texts. In this way, retellings
challenge the liberal monolithic notions of Blackness (Delgado and Stefancic
2001) that ignore global, and local geography, and social histories that con-
tinue to impact local consciousness of what it means to be a Black character
living in a ctional pre/colonial village, a ctional colonial island, and a c-
tional Southern swamp. These stories as counter-narratives expose readers to
what Black ctional characters may have in common and also how their
unique histories and social locations have shaped their realities in the varied
geographical spaces they occupy. The stories add something to the fairy tale
discourse, nudging readers (including schoolteachers) to be more inclusive
and to notice agency ascribed to underrepresented characters, for as Delgado
(1990, 109) observes, Heeding new voices can stir our imaginations, and let
us begin to see life through the eyes of the outsider. These voices do have the
capacity to enrich our literary and literacy experiences as readers of childrens
texts, and/or further complicate our readings of these texts as we participate in
democratic reading practices. Either way, they may compel us to rethink our
understanding of how race/ethnicity is constructed in fairy tales and in chil-
drens literature, and how these multiple constructions may impact the curricu-
lum our key conveyance into the world (Pinar 2012, 2). They may also
enable teachers to reconsider ideas about cultural groups that are transmitted
directly or indirectly to children through the books they include in their curric-
ulum, and the way they facilitate discussions around pertinent issues. It is of
utmost importance, therefore, for teachers to understand that although they
may have what they consider as multicultural collections of childrens books
in their classroom libraries, oftentimes, these books may not reect the com-
plex diversity evident even in one racial group. If this is the case, in order to
further democracy and inclusionary practices in the classroom, they must
rethink how they make curricula decisions to supplement the often narrow or
limited list of approved resources/texts mandated by school districts. It is
imperative therefore to include diverse literatures in the curriculum as a step
toward social justice, a practice that should no longer be simply negotiable!
248 V. Yenika-Agbaw

Acknowledgment
I wish to thank Cary Fraser for reading and providing feedback on an earlier draft
of this manuscript.

Note
1. See Kenneth B. Clark and Mamie P. Clark (1947). Racial Identication and
Preference in Negro Children.

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