Off and on over the last week, I've had this conversation, sometimes with myself, sometimes with others. It feels like one long conversation that ebbs and flows.
Yes, it's about representation.
What started this particular conversation was the story spreading through Facebook about Dr. Myiesha Taylor, an African American female physician who loves the Disney show Doc McStuffins and who Doc's mother has been named after. The news is old, but making the rounds again.
Doc McStuffins is one of the shows my boys like to watch. They have never been bothered that the main character is a girl. They don't care that she is black. They just like the show. They like seeing how she fixes the toys.
Representation matters. There are many, many articles that talk about how important it is for kids to see people like themselves on tv, in movies, even in books. (See here, here, here, here, and here for just a few.)
I think it's pretty obvious that little girls seeing women in positions of power, or even just as human characters, is important. The same with minorities (ethnic, sexual, etc) seeing characters like themselves that are not caricatures.
Whoopi Goldberg pretty famously looked up to Nichelle Nichols, realizing that black women could be anything after seeing Lt. Uhura on Star Trek.
But it's also important for people to see characters unlike themselves. Hollywood seems to have a tough time making movies with female protagonists that aren't romances. Forget about any non-white protagonists! Video games seem to have a similar problem. The excuse always seems to be that they aren't marketable. That audiences won't be able to identify with a hero who is not a white male.
And yet, a large portion of audiences already have to identify with protagonists who don't look like them, namely anyone who is not a white male. But white men are apparently so fragile they can't be expected to identify with any character that doesn't look exactly like them.
Chris and I have consciously tried to expose the boys to media with female protagonists and non-white protagonists. We look for books and shows with diverse characters. It's not always easy, but we try.
We also talk about the characters they see on tv. We ask them if the characters they see match up with the world around them. We live in a very white state, but they go to a school with a significant international population, so they recognize that not everyone looks like them. They notice when movies and tv shows have all male casts and know that women are half the population.
We think that's important. It's important because they live in a world with an incredible amount of diversity. They see and will see a lot of people not like them. And they need to have empathy and be able to understand that different lived experiences create different perspectives.
We want them to live in a world that is better than the one we live in now. The first step is spending a short amount of time seeing the world through someone else's eyes, even if only for 22 minutes while watching a tv show. Recognizing the humanity in other people creates a bridge to understanding.
Understanding and compassion. Empathy.