Positive Media Images & Black Children

Reader Cynglo offered the following comment on my post on Chris Rock's film "Good Hair" - -and I just had to share it with everyone because I 100% co-sign on this. Her daughters are the same age as my two sons and I have the exact same concerns. She says:

"I really think that we need to look very closely and seriously at what is happening with our children. I have two girls (ages 6 and 8) and I am concerned with what they feel beautiful is and how that image is affecting opinions they have about themselves. They are at a school where they are indeed the minority. The television shows that are appropriate for them to watch don't show main characters that look like them. When they read kid magazines (Nickelodeon, Pixie, etc.) there is page after page of people who don't remotely resemble them.

Why haven't we done more to insist that our children see more images that look like them? Even our own "black television" stations (BET, TVOne) don't run shows that are appropriate and positive for our young children. Are shows like Flavor of Love and the other ghetto reality shows the only original shows that can be created? Watching shows like that are even more damaging than having no media representation. What happened to magazines like Ebony Jr.? Are African-American adults the only ones who can appreciate magazines that relate closely to our culture? Might the young people (children, teens, etc.) also appreciate this?

Now, let me be clear. I don't feel the media should be responsible for instilling positive self-images in my girls' minds. That primary responsibility rests with me and my husband. I do, however, feel that we as an African American community must do everything possible to ensure that our children develop the character and self-esteem needed for our kids to develop into responsible people that have self-efficacy and a passion for making this world a better place. This development will not come by giving them more material things. It will only come through the adults working purposefully to provide opportunities and experiences that allow for the children to embrace their rich heritage.

One thing I know for sure. If we as adults don't start spending more time developing our children and creating opportunities that set them up for success, we will never be able to change the way we are viewed by the general public and, most importantly, the way we view ourselves."

Thank you SO much, Cynglo, for taking the time to write this comment. To me, these are the parenting issues that are most challenging, and how we handle them is what will define this next generation.


nick said…
That's very interesting as I don't see much of the American media. As a white guy, I probably don't pay as much attention as I should to the skin colours on TV, but it seems to me in the UK there are quite a lot of black faces around. Maybe not enough and maybe with not positive enough roles - I shall look a bit more closely in the next few weeks....
Paradx101 said…
I saw this piece retweeted and I had to put my two cents in... As parents we have to understand what the purpose of the media is in the first place. Television programming is designed to condition us to consume. That is its only function. Media outlets such as Nickelodeon and the Disney Channel make their money through advertising, so understand that their interest is not to serve our children in any real way, but only to keep them watching so they can be offered as a captive audience to advertisers. They do this by setting up artificial standards of value that corporations then try to fill. Everything is objectified by television: love is reduced to sex, beauty is reduced to sex appeal, and happiness itself is reduced to the consumption of some silly product. The problem is that African-Americans and women (especially) are particularly sensitive to these artificial standards as disadvantaged members of society at large. My point is that the media is not interested in offering positive images of African-Americans, women, Asians, Hispanics, etc. That would only confuse its audience, who already have their own idea of what and who those people are. We cannot be consumers of these standards. A little bit is okay but I have severely restricted my daughter's TV time (as well as my own). We have to rely on real life role-models, we have to be and associate with people that we want our sons and daughters to be like because we cannot rely on the media to provide this for us. Indeed that is not even the media's aim. Do you want a positive image of a strong, Black man/woman? That's easy. Turn off the TV and look in the mirror.
allison sara said…
What comes to mind for me is PBS. My sense is that they have shows that are encouraging and enriching for kids, if not enough multicultural role models. One way to do something about this may be to let PBS know that we want more. Other ideas?
Miss Leliel said…
Nick: I think you're on to something though. As an American who watches more British TV than most of my counterparts, my friends and I have noticed more diversity in UK shows such as Doctor Who, Torchwood and Merlin. Doctor Who, especially, was a big deal for many folks when they cast a sharp, spunky Black girl (a physician-in-training) as the Doctor's companion in season 3.

I never thought about the casting diversity in UK shows much, actually, until one of my African-American friends pointed it out. Now I notice all the time.. they are more diverse than prime time TV here, I'd wager.

In the US, it seems they only go out of their way to diversify children's media in cartoons? I could be wrong as I don't have children so don't really follow them too much, but it seems the glimpses I do catch usually have a mixture of kids - though sometimes it feels like someone went down a checklist, creating generic archetypes. But then again, children's programming for the most part seems to lack depth and creativity in general, which I find quite sad.

I'm curious, Los Angelista, about your feelings on Princess and the Frog? I guess it's hard to say without seeing the movie in full, though.
Jameil said…
yeah it's not cool to feel like you have to refer your kids to the cosby show for positive images. can we get some updated buffoonery-free television? or not? it's also frustrating trying to explain that to non-blacks who are unwilling to really learn. i.e. they never noticed but want to argue me down that it's not a problem. THAT'S really a problem.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Cynglo... once you get out of the preschool/ elementary aged TV programming, positive portrayals of POC and any portrayal of COC (children of color) take a sharp dive. My kids probably see less TV than most. We have a TV in the family room & one in my room. The family TV almost never gets turned on M-Th, and there are very few channels I'll let my children watch, but they have still picked up on how minorities are portrayed on TV.

Actual conversation with my kids:

“When you see black women on TV, do they look like Oprah or these other women you see now?
Halle: NO!!!!
Tyler: Uh uh… they’re in their underwear… stripping.« curlykidz
Tracy said…
Well, I think a lot of black women were turned off and offended by Chris Rock the past two weeks, because for all the buzz, this movie didn't even crack the top ten at the box office this weekend. That seems about right to me. I've spoken to many a sister over the past two weeks, from my family to friends to classmates and to strangers at the grocery store. And all of them were wary of this movie and felt the purpose would be to make a mockery of black women and the deep issues with hair that many of us still have.

I'm glad to see we didn't show up to support this garbage. And even though I have not seen it, I feel more than comfortable in calling it garbage.
Kate said…
@ Paradx101 - I just have to respond to your comment. If you read the original post, no one is saying that the media is responsible, and I think you're missing the point.

The original post says we must be responsible for the media.

I know that as a child I thought I wasn't pretty because I have dark hair and eyes. As much as my parents made sure to educate me that beauty isn't what they say on TV, I internalized the message that I was less attractive. Despite my feminist mother's lessons that beauty wasn't the most important thing etc. - I knew it was important. All this despite an almost total ban on television in our house as a child.

The media does matter, and I can only imagine that what I experienced is the tip of the iceberg and that children with darker sin internalize all sorts of harmful messages from the media despite the best messages that parents can give. What parents do and say can give youth the tools to think critically about the messages we encounter, but can not obliterate those messages or prevent children from internalizing them to a degree, despite the best intentions.

By ignoring the problem, the problem only gets worse.

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