Like most good, American children, I lived vicariously through television shows in my youth. There were the big four everybody remembers: Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel, PBS, and Cartoon Network – and I watched them all. Come to think of it, most of the shows followed nearly the same formula: children, teenagers, and the odd adult would take part in weird, slapstick comedy, whether it be wearing popcorn pants or slapping each other in the face with beef jerky. At some point, someone would make the obligatory joke with sneakily-placed innuendo (some of which I’m only now starting to understand at eighteen years of age).
They also followed another formula; there were never any mixed people.
It wasn’t until 2013 that Nickelodeon made a cartoon with a young boy, a talking snake, and plenty of talk about butts. Despite the fact that “Sanjay & Craig” is typical, fast-paced, childish fare, it’s actually a very special and important show. Sanjay is the first biracial protagonist in an American children’s show. Additionally, this year, Nickelodeon also released its second program with a biracial family, a live-action show called “The Haunted Hathaways” which presents itself as a mixture of something between “The Brady Bunch” and “The Addams Family”.
In this age, children are not just constantly being exposed to different types of people, they are being exposed to these people through media that they are familiar with. Even high-profile children’s actress, Jennette McCurdy who plays Sam on Teen Nick’s “iCarly” and “Sam & Cat” was involved in an open relationship with basketball player, Andre Drummond – exhibiting a healthy relationship to young people, and an interracial one at that.
People are only now just becoming aware of the role that media representation plays in shaping the self-esteem and the self-worth of young people. Kid’s shows have had fairies, talking dogs, and even talking sponges before they had mixed characters that weren’t in the periphery. When I was younger, the only character who I ever thought was like me was Pearl Krabs from “SpongeBob Squarepants”. Her dad is a crab and she’s a whale and that makes her totally biracial in the eyes of a six year old girl. Biracial and multiracial children today will actually have other people to look up to.
Mixed people and mixed families are quickly becoming the new normal in America. While many multiracial people are all too familiar with the bigotry of the current climate in a so-called post-racial America, we can take solace in the fact that we are quickly raising a new generation who will come to know us very well.