With the passing of the Holiday season, I’ve waved goodbye to many a familiar holiday character — Rudolph, Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, all of them going on their merry way.
But for some reason, even with the holiday season being well over, I haven’t been able to shake one familiar holiday foe from my thoughts: Dr. Seuss’ the Grinch. Specifically, Jim Carrey’s portrayal of the Grinch.
This 2000 remake of the film presented me with a Grinch that was so easy for me to empathize with. What else was I, a young child of color living in the very white Huntington Beach, California, meant to do with a character like the Grinch? I’d been pretty conditioned up to this point to know that if a character was any color other than white, there was something about them that I’d internalize whether I liked it or not.
Even so, the Grinch was different than the token characters of color I’d seen before. Rather than being a onenote villain, The Grinch is offered the privilege of character development. After a rocky start, the Grinch is shown kindness, and eventually becomes the hero of his tale. A tale that is largely about his faults, details his pain and paints him as the antagonist throughout the majority of his own film.
That was a very crucial lesson to learn as a child, and what better way to learn a lesson than through practice. Funny enough, the Grinch’s experiences have been coinciding with my own for a large part of my life.
I have been called the n-word, hard ‘r,’ only once. I was in the seventh grade, eating my lunch, when one of my peers sat on me. I turned around, hair wild as it was back then when I refused to let my mom comb it. I gave him the most affronted, dirty look my blemish-riddled cheeks could muster. He probably caught only a small bit of that marvelous glare, because he was turning his back to me and muttering that damned word like it was a pleasantry — so flippant that I thought I’d imagined it.
But I hadn’t. I was 12 when my peer called me the dirtiest word I knew and everyone I told chalked it up to his youth, as if we weren’t the same age. If I was old enough to understand the violence of the word, he was old enough to know it was a weapon.
Like the Grinch I was angry, and continued to be angry for a long time. Coincidentally, I went through the rest of my schooling with that boy, and even a bit of college. I’d see him now and again and be catapulted back to the confusion, the hurt and the utter disbelief that I felt during that experience.
But like the Whos, that boy probably doesn’t even remember the moment that word fell from his lips and crushed me.
When I was young and experiencing things like this, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” taught me that if you are different, your story is supposed to be painful. Cindy Lou Who gets to live a peaceful and uncomplicated life, but the Grinch is forced into isolation and bitterness. However, if you’re like the Grinch and you wait for that single moment of kindness due to you after all your suffering, that is supposed to be vindication enough.
But as I have grown and changed, so have the lessons the film once taught me. I now recognize that no matter how insidious their ridicule, the Whos never saw themselves as deserving of the The Grinch’s terrorism. They feared the green creature in the mountain, even though they put him there.
All my life, I’ve fixated on my faults, my differences, condemning them in the face of becoming the hero of my own story. The problem is, I was never the villain of my story — I let myself believe I was the villain of everyone else’s. The fact of the matter is, I was never the hero in anyone’s story, least of all my own, and frankly I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be the Grinch, nor do I want to be Cindy Lou Who. I don’t need to be given the chance to prove my likeness to my peers, and I don’t want the vindication of their kindness.
I just want to exist.
The Whos may have put The Grinch in the mountain, but he chose to stay there. And though he did eventually leave, that was for the sake of those damn Whos, too, wasn’t it?
Areyon Jolivette writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on finding and celebrating identity through art. Contact her at [email protected].