From a young age, we are wired to notice differences and similarities between ourselves and others. According to UNICEF, babies notice physical differences like skin color at around 6 months and children can show racial biases at as early as 5 years old. Imagine being that young and exploring the world around you. Why do people look different from you? Is there a reason for them to be that way? How questions like those are answered could change how a child thinks as they grow up.
I remember moving to North Carolina and finding out what diversity meant realistically. I could count all of the Asian kids in my whole grade on one hand. My sister and I, having moved from the suburbs of DC, began getting asked questions we weren’t used to, like “When did you move from China?” and “Can I touch your hair? It’s so silky.” We quickly learned that although we lived in the growing city of Charlotte, there was not the same mix of cultures found in DC. I wondered why do these kids have to ask me these strange questions? Slowly and surely I realized that they were asking those questions out of genuine curiosity. They weren’t here to make me feel different, my classmates simply have not met or had a personal connection with someone like me, and that is what made them curious. I realized then that it was better that they had an interest rather than not care at all. How can we foster this curiosity at a young age to make youth more culturally competent and appreciative, instead of letting their misguided interest lead to potentially insensitive remarks?
Giving children positive resources allows them to explore the diversity around them, nurturing their curiosity and letting it grow into cultural education. Unfortunately, diversity isn’t very common in children’s entertainment like books and television. Research from the Center for Educational Improvement shows that only 8.7% of children’s books have an Asian main character and Psychology in Action wrote that 65% of characters in children’s television shows are caucasian.
With that being said, there is change on the horizon. More and more new television shows are introducing a diverse range of characters including the first Asian American Blues Clues host, Joshua Dela Cruz; Molly of Denali, which spotlights Alaskan Natives; and Mira, Royal Detective, the first animated Disney series to feature a South Asian protagonist. Children’s books are also catching up with recent publications such as Counting Kindness by Hollis Kurman, focusing on the treatment of refugees in their new country, and My Footprints by Bao Phi, promoting both the AAPI and LGBTQ+ communities. Supporting content like these as consumers by purchasing a book for a child you know or recommending diverse television shows to parents and kids encourages the entertainment industry to expand its reach and create more relatable material for everyone. If there is interest from both the producers to make diverse content and consumers to enjoy it we can work together to make diversity a priority and slowly but surely improve on the representation of minorities in children’s entertainment.
— Julia M., NCAAT Youth Member