My Little Pony and Racism

And I’m back, with another exciting entry regarding the world of ponies and the people who love them. This time, let’s talk about racism!

So in the grand scheme of things, MLP is all about the love and tolerance. But two of its episodes, Bridle Gossip and Over a Barrel, are really problematic in a way I really hope is unintentional.

In Bridle Gossip, a zebra comes to Ponyville, and everyone’s scared of her because they’ve never seen one before. Twilight Sparkle refuses to believe the sinister rumors everypony’s spreading, but when the Mane 6 all get sick with mysterious illnesses they fear that Zecora the zebra is an evil witch.  In the end, however, Zecora’s knowledge of natural remedies is what cures them all of their sicknesses.  Seems legit, right?

Well Zecora looks like this, and her house looks like this:

Yeah, it’s a big scary voodoo hut with tribal masks everywhere.

And she speaks in a deep voice with an ‘exotic’ accent and also in rhyme.

So I’ve seen a defense of this that says that Zecora could just be an accurate example of what the Zebra nation within the Ponyverse looks and acts and sounds like, rather than a stereotyped and misinformed reflection of what people who are from where zebras are also from are like.  But My Little Pony does not exist in a vacuum, and its stories are informed by and inform viewers’ preset ideas of human race. And even though Zecora herself says: “Maybe next time you will take a second look, and not judge the cover of the book,” and the point of the story is that everypony is the same inside regardless of how they look outside, Zecora is still treated as a sort of mysterious other throughout the rest of the series.

Over a Barrel is possibly a more problematic episode. In this episode, the Mane 6 are helping Applejack transport an apple sapling to her cousin who lives in an Old West-style town.  The train they’re on is hijacked by buffalo, who claim that the apple orchard is build on their native tribal land.  Despite the Mane 6’s attempts to make peace on both sides, the buffaloes and the ponies battle fiercely (with apple pies).  But when the Chief realizes how delicious the pies are, he agrees to share the land with the ponies.

As one user on the MLP:FiM wikia page mentioned: “Thanks to this show, I now believe it is okay to appropriate another nation’s land and natural resources, as long as you get them perpetually addicted to a substance.”

Wow, cuz that’s not a troubling theme for an episode or anything. The Letter-to-Celestia moral of the story is that by sharing and learning to understand each other, even the best of enemies can become friends. But there are so, so many plot possibilities that would support that moral that don’t involve this sugarcoated retelling of America’s brutal treatment of its native peoples.

No show can be perfect. I just wish that My Little Pony had screwed up in a less culturally icky way.

11 thoughts on “My Little Pony and Racism

  1. I personally feel that the Bridal Gossip was well done. I do see your point about Over a Barrel but I disagree with that “one person on wikia.” Through the whole episode, both sides had people that wanted to share but due to the prideful leaders, and Pinkie Pie’s little number, they continued not to share. Also, they did cut down part of the apple acres

    • I did enjoy Bridle Gossip (I mean, how could you not love Flutterguy?) and I think the message was good, but even though I think Zecora is awesome I also think her character could have been scaled back and still been effective.

      And yes, that wikia-user’s comment is a little too oversimplified, and the real message of the episode is worthwhile, but I stand by my statement that there are a bunch of ways to promote that message that are -not- the plot of that episode. They don’t even have to ‘whitewash’ out the buffaloes-just eliminate the conflict they used. Cuz the only ‘worst of enemies’ here are the sheriff and Thunderhooves-the rest are just bystanders to their fight, and aren’t really party to the ‘sharing and caring->enemies become friends’ moral. (Does that make any sense? I’m typing this on my phone at work…)

      • “How could you not love “flutterguy””? As a trans person, I can think of a few reasons a dfab girl character with a deep “manly voice” being used as comedy might not be lovable. I winced every single time that character opened her mouth in that episode, it was not fun to sit through at all.

  2. Pingback: My Little Ponies: Teaching My Kids How to be Good Little White American Girls (Ugh.) | mama nervosa

  3. Is is sad, but I did notice this too and you’re spot on. These two episodes are definitely testing my newfound love of this show.

  4. While Over a barrel was rather cringe-worthy, Zecora’s role sits okay with me.
    I figure that the point is that she isn’t accepted, and all the masks and whatnot are there to remind us that she will never fit in, and she doesn’t want to fit in.
    She seems to be quite content living alone in the forest, and while she gets along fine with the ponyfolk, she doesn’t seek them out for company’s sake either.
    As far as I can tell, the Mane 6 get this and leaver her alone unless they feel certain that they need her help.

  5. Really late on this, but I can’t agree more, especially with over a barrel. I was doing some looking into this ep for a project and was kind of surprised at how little attention it got, especially with how unbelievable blatant the roles of the buffalo and ponies were, who really owned the land, and the whole addiction thing. I know there was some garbage about how the lesson is supposed to be of sharing and making friends out of enemies, but this is based on a pretty unfortunate reality of US history, and whitewash does not even begin to describe it. I would like to think it was just about shoving a plot into an old west ascetic, but damn, you made some fine points that the writers would have to have zero self awareness not to notice.

  6. Pingback: Pony Fandom: A Bit Much? | Lady Geek Girl and Friends

  7. There are a few mistakes in this article’s premise. Starting with Bridle Gossip: The ponies of ponyville didn’t fear Zecora because they had never seen a zebra before. They were explicitly afraid because she lives in the Everfree Forest, a place they legitimately know to be home to dangerous creatures.

    In the developers own words, Zecora was intended to be a teacher figure for Twilight Sparkle. (While Princess Celestia is more of a mother figure.) Zecora plays the role of the wise old man, the sage, or mentor. An archetypal role that has examples throughout classic literature. Should this role be exclusive to old white men, like Gandalf, Merlin, Odin or Dumbledore? I don’t think so, and I think it is somewhat problematic to suggest that minorities cannot fill this role.

    On the subject of Over A Barrel: In interviews with the development crew, it is stated that the script was advised by a native american consultant. They approved of the final script, and if nothing else I say makes sense, I am forced to accept the judgement of people who are directly affected by such stereotypes.

    During the climactic fight scene, the settlers are not trying to convince the buffalo to compromise. The Chief doesn’t agree to any outside suggestion, he decides on his own to offer the settlers a deal. (It is stated during his first explanation of the conflict that they didn’t want fight or remove the settlers in the first place, they just wanted their path, and that stance does not change.)

    There is a difference between dark humor and exploitative humor. Over a Barrel doesn’t diminish the issues, it emphasizes them. Much like the Anti-westerns of the 60s and 70s, such as Arthur Penn and Thomas Berger’s award winning Little Big Man, it uses humor in a positive way.

    Representation by itself is not a problem.

    • “Should this role [of wise mentor] be exclusive to old white men, like Gandalf, Merlin, Odin or Dumbledore? I don’t think so, and I think it is somewhat problematic to suggest that minorities cannot fill this role.”

      Isn’t it fortunate, then, that no one was saying that except in your imagination? The OP was calling out the stereotyped exoticization of Zecora’s character, not the fact that she exists as a mentor character. Besides, what does it say about the creative team’s imagination it jumps straight from a wise character coded to be African to scary masks and speaking in rhyme? I like Zecora, but I can also see how the way she was set up is problematic.

      “On the subject of Over A Barrel: In interviews with the development crew, it is stated that the script was advised by a native american consultant. They approved of the final script, and if nothing else I say makes sense, I am forced to accept the judgement of people who are directly affected by such stereotypes.”

      One, “Native American” is not a monolithic group. The buffalo in the episode were coded to be similar to Plains tribes like the Lakota, and we have no idea what tribe this consultant is affiliated with, what degree of control they had over the process (full veto versus rubber stamp/CYA, or somewhere in between), or what degree of connection they have to Native cultures, especially the ones most affected by portrayals like the ones in “Over a Barrel.”

      Two, Native Americans don’t have a hive mind. The fact that one consultant greenlighted the episode doesn’t erase the others that were offended and grossed out by the episode. IMO the consultant, assuming they were a genuine consultant with real veto power over the story, showed pretty poor judgment and I can point to plenty of Native people who would agree with that assessment.

      “During the climactic fight scene, the settlers are not trying to convince the buffalo to compromise. The Chief doesn’t agree to any outside suggestion, he decides on his own to offer the settlers a deal.”

      He made that choice because he became, as others have pointed out, hooked on a substance the settlers made. You’re disregarding the fact that characters can make choices on their own that can still be offensive and harmful. Character choices are an integral part of story, which is, guess what, written by the creative team.

      No, representation is not the problem. It’s stereotyping and dehumanizing groups under the guise of representation that is the problem. It’s absurd to tell people they have to choose between bad representation and no representation: The audience can and should expect better of creators and argue for good representation.

Send a Hologram

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s