Are Theme Parks Racist?


I've been debating whether to write this or not for a long time. I appreciate it's a very sensitive subject, and realistically as a white person I don't really feel that I have the authority or experiences to even bring proper weight to the table for a discussion like this. That said, I do think it's something worth discussing or at least acknowledging the elephant in the room. And that is that yes, theme parks are racist.

But it's weird to me. Why does it get called out in films and music videos and magazines (as it rightly should) but theme parks are allowed to exist in some world that doesn't seem to have progressed much since the fifties. Let me explain with a delightful anecdote.

October 2016, some friends and I jumped in our hire car and decided to visit some of the lesser known Dutch theme parks and whore some kiddie creds. No shame, it's what we do for those +1s right? Anyway, we're pretty well travelled and are used to European theme parks being weird as fuck, but I don't think anything could have prepared us for what met us as we entered this small theme park in the Netherlands.

A giant billboard adorned with three entertainers dressed in full blackface. White-skinned, blue-eyed people covered in brown facepaint with oversized lips drawn on.

And we all just kind of stood there in shock and looked at each other. We really didn't know what to say. I don't think any of us have ever experienced blackface in real life before and it instantly made all of us feel uncomfortable. It just seemed mad to us that in 2016, here we were in a theme park openly advertising and celebrating that they had a show with blackface characters.

So we nabbed the coaster and left, not wanting to spend any more money in such a place than we already had. And naturally we turned straight to Google to try to find an explanation for what the fuck we'd just experienced. Turns out, the Netherlands have a bit of a history with things like this that I just wasn't aware of. Not being from the Netherlands myself I'm not going to attempt to explain any cultural significance of something like this as it'd just come off as patronising, but I urge you to take a look yourselves.

Yeah, so that was a thing. And that got me thinking - there's actually LOADS of racism in theme parks that just gets brushed off like it's no big deal? The hideously offensive Carnival Festival ride at Efteling, the fact that Phantasialand think it's OK to only have black workers in their Africa section of the park, The Bongo Warriors show at Flamingoland. Even the fact that I can just reel these examples off of the top of my head with no research required is a HUGE issue.

So, why is this still a thing in 2017? Is it because theme parks are technically cut off from the 'real world'  and are immersed in fantasy, therefore are more immune to the change in tolerance of this kind of thing? Honestly, I feel uncomfortable when confronted with things like this at a park but feel like if I made a complaint I'd be laughed out of the place. It's just a silly theme park, not meant to be taken seriously, right?

But surely this works the same way as mainstream media - all of those little not-meant-to-be-offensive-but-still-are things build up and create a much bigger problem when they're subtle. So by comparison the fact that in one of the examples I've used here we're talking about actual blackface surely means this is something much bigger that we should be talking about and calling out?

In my opinion, it's not OK. The fact that something is excused because it's a country's 'tradition' or batted away as harmless fantasy doesn't sit well with me. It's 2017, and it's time theme parks caught up with the rest of the world and started acting like it. No more excuses.

There has been some progress of course. Look at the ancient River Caves at Blackpool Pleasure Beach. The ride was designed and created in less tolerant times, and whilst that obviously doesn't excuse some of the scenes depicted in the attraction, the park took action and removed the offending scenes and animatronics. Disney also are leading the way with this kind of thing - being an older theme park some of their attractions contained scenes no longer acceptable to a modern audience and so they took action to amend these. So things ARE changing in some places, but it's more than time for other parks to follow suit.

Talk later xoxo,

CONVERSATION

6 comments:

  1. We couldn't believe what we saw at Efteling on the carnival festival ride!! We were shocked when we got to Asia. We just sat there mouths open in shock!!!

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  2. What were the offensive scenes in River Caves? Been going on for over 15 years and don't remember any major changes.

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    1. There used to be a cannibal scene of some black characters cooking a person alive to eat. The scene was removed from the ride and some of the characters were moved to the outside drop section but were more recently removed altogether.

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    2. Don't remember that, must have been a long time ago!

      The outside theming was removed as part of an ongoing refurbishment, hopefully it will be returned (minus those characters!) at some stage.

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  3. About the three black people in the NL, that was probably a reference to Sinterklaas, which is a big thing during Winter/Christmas over there. Looks tacky from the outside, but it's a long tradition and hard to rattle as someone who isn't Dutch since almost the entire country is behind this.


    But I agree with the rest, especially with black people only operating at the Africa section. At some point the immersion into a different world is a bit too much.

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    1. It wasn't Sinterklaas, I took a pic and sent to a Dutch friend for clarification. Just, casual blackface. So disturbing and uncomfortable!

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