Where Are the Characters that Look Like My Kids?

Having been forced to watch HOURS of PBS and SPROUT programming, I have found there to be a lack of diversity on many children’s programs. (I know. Amazing observation.) Also, I know I wouldn’t have ended up watching so much of this if I were a better parent and never allowed my children to watch TV, but that ship has sailed.

Anyhow, it’s not so much that the programs don’t have people of color IN the show, but more so that they are not the MAIN character or person with agency. They’re there, but as sidekicks or very minor, secondary characters. (Obviously, there are exceptions to this rule. eg: Dora, Diego, Ni Hao Kai-Lan) Otherwise, the POC are in very special episodes like “Let’s learn about Chinese New Year!” or “Let’s learn about Cinco de Mayo!”

Disclaimer: By no means am I an expert on this subject. I have no studies or reports to back up my statements. I am just going with what I see on a daily basis. (And I don’t really watch too many kid shows in general, so again, not an expert on kid shows.) Also, I have linked the shows to Amazon affiliate links. I honestly don’t expect you to buy these DVDs (it’s free on PBS!), but hey, you never know!

Ok, back to illustrating what I mean. For example:

1) Super WHY!Cookie Monster adores this show. But there is really only one black girl (although she is a princess) and perhaps Wyatt may be part Latino (but that is never clear or obvious). If there are other people of color in the show, it is only in very special books where they are in another country or it’s a festival or whatever. It’s rare to see POC around just in every day situations and not as an anomaly.

2) Wild Kratts – Again, Cookie Monster LOVES this show. But even though there are two brilliant women in the group, Aviva, the Latina inventor and Cookie, the black navigator, they are mostly background. The main agents of the show are two white males. Of course, it’s based on two real white males, so I understand. Again, I’m not lamenting the fact that there are so many shows with white men in it as main characters. I am lamenting the LACK of POC as main characters. I certainly do not begrudge the success Chris and Martin Kratt experience.

3) Curious GeorgeGamera LOVES Curious George and watches this show endlessly on the PBS Kids! app. I think the reason I include this show is because although there are people of color represented (and some are main characters), there is no context for this city. I know it’s supposed to be ANY city ANYWHERE, but it really isn’t. It always seems like it’s in Brazil or some South American country, but then it ISN’T. I don’t know how to explain it any better than that. There’s just SOMETHING that is a little off about the show. That’s all. I could be crazy about this one.

4) Thomas and Friends – Please keep in mind, Cookie Monster watches hours of this show (and its fan made videos) on YouTube every day. I totally appreciate how it allows me to not parent. I know the show’s set on an island near/owned by England, but seriously, not everyone in England is white. I swear! They have POC, too! So why aren’t there any on the fucking island? Every once in a blue moon, you see perhaps an Indian, but they always have accents. Come on. Really? You can do better.

I could list more, but I’m lazy and quite frankly, I can’t think of any more off the top of my head. And that is usually the basis of whether or not I do things. Ease of completion. 😀

Now, onto some shows that I think do really WELL in this area.

1) Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood – When I first started watching the show, I was boggled at why my kids, let alone ANY kids, would watch this drivel. But then, I realized, they repeat the same theme/song throughout the whole 30 minutes in different contexts and it’s super catchy. However, what I MOST appreciate about this show is that there are black people in it! And in mixed families! And not all the black people are related to each other! What a revelation!! No, seriously. I find it FANTASTIC.

2) Caillou – OK, I know many parents find this show utterly annoying, but I really like it. I like its slow pace and that it really is similar to the life of a toddler and being a parent of a toddler. I think that’s why so many kids love the show – because it accurately portrays their experience. Anyhow, I do enjoy how there are many different families of color and that people of color are portrayed in normal, every day situations. Yes, sometimes there is the highlighted very special Chinese New Year episode with “chinky” music, but for the most part, Asians don’t have accents, and people of color are described as old friends and are treated as such.

3) The Legend of Korra – Ok. Technically, not a preschooler’s show. So sue me. And yes, I realize that the racial constructs are NOT in the same world as we live in. But I don’t care. It’s pretty fucking awesome to see people of color be main characters, have agency, and kick ass in both physical and intellectual endeavors. Also, fucking awesome show in general. (Particularly since it’s anchored in a lot of Chinese and other Asian culture. Which just makes it more awesome.)

4) Young Justice – Alright. Again, not a “kid’s” show. But they’re super heroes – and SO MANY of them are of color. And they’re not just side-kicks. They are legit super heroes in their own right. And plus, AquaLad? OMG – yum!! Of course, because this show was so awesome, it was canceled. Fucking Cartoon Network. 😦

Now, if you’re still with me (and if you don’t have kids and are still reading – bless your hearts, you crazy people, why are you still reading this?), please understand that I’m not dissing these shows. I think for the most part, they’re perfectly fine. But they could be BETTER, with very little effort (I think). Plus, think of all that niche marketing!!

What shows do you think are especially good at diversity (whether socio-economic, racial, sexual orientation, etc)?

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