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Why The Onion's tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis made me so upset

When our children take their turn in the spotlight, they have the right to leave it unscathed. It's our job as adults to protect them.

By Parenting Magazine Feb 25, 2013 8:40PM

Quvenzhane Wallis // Photo: Parenting.comBy Sabrina James 
Last night I sat down to watch the Oscar red carpet with my 6-year-old daughter Kaia. She played dress-up with her American Girl doll while I followed the commentary on Twitter. "Look, Mommy! Julie's all ready for the red carpet," she exclaimed, showing off the updo she created for her doll. She watched with mild interest until the moment we'd been waiting for arrived: Nine-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis appeared in a frenzy of flashing camera lights with her mom and sister in tow. "Look, Mommy, there she is! Look at her purse! It's a puppy!" Kaia jumped up and down. "I want one of those!" What a moment! I wanted my daughter to see a little girl, just like her, walking the red carpet among the most talented women in Hollywood. Quvenzhané did not disappoint. She was sassy and confident while talking to reporters. And she was dressed in a perfectly age-appropriate Armani gown that she chose because "it's sparkly!" Her mom looked on, proud as can be. I had a tear in my eye. "Do you know that she's going to play Annie in the new movie?" I asked. Kaia's smile was so big. "Wow, Mommy! She's the luckiest girl in the world!"

PLUS: The Best of Oscars 2013 
I have been a huge fan of Quvenzhané from the moment I saw the trailer for Beasts of the Southern Wild. She made the movie when she was only 6 years old and earned herself a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance. She deserves a standing ovation from us. Instead, last night, on her special night, she was subjected to the most distasteful showing of adult "humor" I have ever seen. It started with a "joke" by Oscar host Seth MacFarlane about how it will be "sixteen years before she's too old" for George Clooney, but sadly it didn't stop there. The popular satire site The Onion tweeted the following to its more than 4 million followers during the show last night: 
"Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhané Wallis is kind of a ____, right?"

(If you want to see the actual tweet, it's here.)

As if it wasn't bad enough that she was sexualized in front of her peers during what was undoubtedly the most exciting night of her life, but to be further humiliated on a social networking site and called one of the most degrading terms that can be used toward women is reprehensible. The Onion is a satire site and although I am acutely aware that they didn't mean it, does that make it better? Am I supposed to laugh at the absurdity of the statement? Am I supposed to look at my daughter and think, wow, it would be really really funny and smart if someone jokingly called her the c word? How ironic. 
Many online have tried to make this a race issue. Saying she was singled out because she's a young black girl. I hope that's not the case. To me, this has less to do with race and everything to do with the fact that we have stopped respecting the innocence of our children. We've become so desensitized by the Toddlers and Tiaras culture that we take hurtful aim at those who epitomize childhood as much as the fluffy puppy purses they carry on the red carpet. Imagine what went through Quvenzhané's mother's mind when someone pulled her aside last night to tell her what happened. Did her stomach bottom out like mine did? Did she look at her daughter with a tear in her eye and thinkwhyWhy tonightWhat is wrong with this world
I want my little girl to know she can do anything she sets her mind to. She can be herself, silly purse and all, and star in whatever version of life she desires. Kaia went to sleep last night clutching her American Girl doll tight, updo still in place, as I imagine Q did with her puppy purse. Both, I am sure, completely unaware of the storm brewing online in defense of little girls like them. In defense of their innocence. When our children take their turn in the spotlight, they have the right to leave it unscathed. It's our job as adults to protect them. 
I wish the headlines today were different. I wish we lived in a world where Quvenzhané could wake up this morning and search the internet with her mama to find herself on our best-dressed lists. To see celebrities like Oprah and Beyoncé, her biggest fans, rave about her. Instead her family must hide the horrible truth from her. The truth that our media took a cheap shot at someone too small to stand up for herself or to even know what the word she was called means. 
The way we treat our kids is no laughing matter. Quvenzhané Wallis is a lot of things. She is smart. She is sassy. She is talented. She is beautiful. And she is a child. She is not the c word. But thanks to the insensitive staffer at The Onion who decided to tweet and then recant the vulgar comment, this incident too is one of the ways she'll be remembered. 
As chief executive Steve Hannah of the Onion wrote in his apology this morning, "Miss Wallis, you are young and talented and deserve better. All of us at The Onion are deeply sorry." We all are, little girl. So, so sorry. 
More from Parenting: 
The best animated movies for kids
How the media affects childhood behavior 

Celebrity baby bumps on the red carpet

118Comments
Mar 3, 2013 2:56PM
Mar 3, 2013 1:01AM
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well if you want something to REALLY unravel your senses lookup "Little Poopy" oh ,I am not joking a lewd,little 6yr.old child doing rap w/adult HOOKERS ! now where are the Parents / They should be arrested ! this is DISGUSTING !!!!
Mar 2, 2013 9:24PM
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I think everyone just needs to drop it. The Onion is known for being fake and over the top about everything. I am thoroughly disappointed that they apologized for what was written. Granted, it wasn't the smartest risk to take with all you uppity mammas out there and the only reason why that little girl would even have cause to see such a thing is because y'all are making such a big deal about it. Had you just rolled your eyes and moved on, it would have fallen into the oblivion that is the many strange things the Onion has said to get a few laughs. As for MacFarlane, consider the man for a moment. His accomplishments being Family Guy, Ted, Robot Chicken?. Again, this is a man that makes his living off of going over the top. People like him says things like that to get a rise out of people. Ignore it, show them that what they say doesn't matter. Of course it's too late now for this such incident and thanks to you "fine folks" Miss Wallis will have the opportunity to be traumatized. If y'all didn't baby your children so much crap like this wouldn't happen.
Feb 27, 2013 4:18AM
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Often times adults swim in the abyss of ignorance and are placed in positions where their ignorance reflects negatively on others. It is important to note that for the two or three boneheads that sent out the cruel and undeserving comment across the land, there are thousands who are in favor of the disciplinary action that must follow as a result. After all, "when the fish starts to stink it starts from the top."A sad tasteless example of the challenges faced by the mindless as well as what happens when people fail to stop and examine who they are and what they represent. The mind is a terrible thing to waste.
Feb 27, 2013 12:40AM
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Ms. James, very well written and I commend you. i do, however, believe it was racial and it hurts me that still, in 2013, nothing has changed. Would this have been said about Honey Boo Boo? I think not. The person, and I use to word loosely, will pay for this in ways he/she has never dreamed of. Call it karma it and it couldn't happen to a nicer human being. Peace.
Feb 26, 2013 11:26PM
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AGREED! everything you wrote here in this article from being overjoyed at seeing her at the Oscars and then wishing she was NOT there becuase I didn't want her in the midst of that crap going on in that show. Farlane entertains me...through his shows like Family Guy (which I can turn off when it gets too out there even for ME). That girl couldnt LEAVE until the very END!!!! she was trapped. If I had a choice I would have found something else to do with her until it was her time to have to be in the seat. the Bear was equally horrible.
Feb 26, 2013 7:45PM
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You have a point, but I'd like to add that Seth MacFarlane's joke was meant to be a dig at Clooney's womanizing and preference for women much younger than him-not anything against Quvenzhané.
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