When Annika was a baby, I once casually mentioned to Toyin that I’d like to dress her as Snow White for Halloween. He rolled his eyes and scoffed, “You can’t dress a black child as Snow White!” He was joking, mostly.
But even so, that year, I dressed her as a kitty cat, because she could say cat.
Oddly, Toyin doesn’t remember that conversation, or perhaps, remembers it differently than I do. A few years later, when Annika was 3.5, one of his family members sent us a Snow White costume for a Christmas present, which we both enjoyed watching her get excited over and immediately put it on and dance around. By that time, it was no big deal. Or was it? As I watched her pull it out and realized what it was, I flashed back to that conversation, when all of this was so new.
Thinking about race and skin color enters into the most mundane of choices when you have a mixed race family.
If the opposite had happened, let’s say my white daughter wanted to dress up as say, Diana Ross, I would probably be thrilled with her choice, glad my child was so multiculturally aware and being the raging liberal that I am I would brag about it to all my friends.
Or, if say, my boy child wanted to wear a Daphne costume, for me, here in uber gender liberal Austin, I’d be so ridiculously proud and defend his choice tooth and nail like this mom did a few years back.
So when my brown-skinned daughter wants to dress up as a white character, coincidentally, also Daphne from Scooby Doo, why do I feel mildly ill at the thought?
I posed this question on my Facebook page a couple of days ago and got the same thoughts back at me that I’d been thinking myself.
The gist of the commenters said what I’d been telling myself, “She can be whomever she chooses. It’s not about race. It’s about what she likes to watch on TV. It’s no big deal.”
And they are right. I was right. I went ahead and ordered the costume. She wants to dress as Daphne for her Scooby Doo themed birthday party. I will not say a word when she puts on the costume as I didn’t when she dressed as Snow White. When she dressed as Ruby Gloom/Tinkerbell.
I think what all these thoughts are telling me is this.
It’s not that fact that my child wishes to dress up as a white character. It’s the fact that most characters are white. It’s that there are so few reflections in the media for her that she only sees white.
It’s true that what we see reflects back on us, in all walks of life. And if the equality in children’s programming was more balanced, I would have less of an issue with it. But it’s not.
Basically, there’s nothing wrong with my child. What’s wrong is societal messages and media reflections. It’s time to change that.
I can’t do much with that. Sure, I could lobby and join groups that support media issues. But honestly, I’d rather spend my time being a mom and doing the best with what we’ve got. In time, all of this will change. I know it because I see it happening.
Every generation keeps the talks going along and eventually, equality and fairness will win out in the racial divide. I believe that wholeheartedly, although, I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.
But for now, what I have to do is go out of my way to ensure that my daughter see whatever reflections that are there.
I’ve started coming up with a list of non-white characters that I will do my best to insert into her regular viewing. I’m not going to try to cut out white characters, but do whatever I can to show her that the others exist.
Off the top of my head I can think of exactly one black female cartoon character that Annika watches semi regularly.
Word Girl (love this show)
After a bit of Googling, I came up with this list of age appropriate black, female characters:
Iridessa from Tinkerbell
These are the ones I could find on top 10 lists of good black cartoons.
I found mention of a cartoon called The Proud Family, which I’ve never heard of, but I’m curious. It looks wholesome enough.
I’m hoping that I’ve missed some obvious ones, because this list is a little short, don’t you think?
Edited to include:
Princess Pea on Super Why (according to Wikipedia, she’s biracial: Here’s an article explaining how we know that http://blackwomenwhitemen.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/pbs-kids-biracial-children-on-tv-part-2/)