Jalondra Davis is a scholar in Africana/Black literary and cultural studies, women and gender studies, and contemporary genre fictions and popular culture, which includes Black mermaids in literature and film. Credit: Photograph courtesy of UCR/Stan Lim.

When Halle Bailey was announced as the new face of “The Little Mermaid,” white supremacists immediately flooded the internet to protest. Chief among their complaints? That there was no way a Black woman could ever be a mermaid. 

Jalondra Davis, an English professor at the University of California at Riverside, strongly disagrees. 

Not only can a Black woman be a mermaid, but she says that from books to music videos, mermaids have been an important symbol throughout Black culture, history, and religion for centuries. 

“‘The Little Mermaid’ with Ariel wasn’t my predominant relationship with mermaids. I loved that film, but I also saw a picture book, ‘Sukey and the Mermaid,’ and I had the Virginia Hamilton folktale collection, which had some mermaid stories,” Davis says. “I saw Sade as a mermaid in her video for ‘No Ordinary Love’ and thought she was a real mermaid for most of my childhood.”

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