Dont get me wrong, I like Doc McStuffins, so this is not an attack on Doc; I’m actually really glad she’s become so popular. I don’t have Disney Channel so I can’t confess that I watch Doc McStuffins on a regular basis. The only thing that I really know about her is that she heals her sick toys. Oh, that and the fact that she has brown skin.
Because of this, my daughter has the Doc Mc Stuffins bag, carry case, towel, cushion, stuffed toy, microphone, colouring books, pencil case, sandwich tin, book, umbrella – you name it, we have it!
Doc McStuffins is, as far as female Disney characters goes, one of the better role models by a long shot. She is a doctor; an admirable career. (In fact, recently, when my Dad asked my daughter if she was going to be a nurse when she grew up as she was pretending to take his temperature, she repilied ‘no, a Doctor’ . That’s the spirit!) She is caring, thoughtful and independent and best of all there’s not a handsome prince in sight!
However, I cannot help but find it really sad that my daughter has quite so much Doc McStuffins paraphanelia, simply because there are no other vaguely mainstream childrens characters with dark skin. I admit that I am as bad as anyone else for continuing the Doc McStuffins mania. When buying gifts for other children, I go for Doc McStuffins over any other Disney princess or countless other Caucasian characters, simply because there is nothing else there. And when I’m buying for my daughter I’m guilty of the same. If it’s a choice between Doc or Sophia or Peppa for a water bottle or a pen, Doc wins every time.
Granted, there are numerous characters suitable for pre schoolers; Peppa Pig, Hello Kitty, Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, that are based on animals and therefore have no real characteristics linked to a particular heritage. I say no ‘real’ characteristics as there are characters such as Rastamouse, in which most of the mice have a Jamaican accent and speak with a sprinkling of patois. However it’s unfortunately not surprising that even at such a young age, representation in mainstream media is so poor for non – Caucasian children.
In many cartoons there is usually a token character with darker skin in the same vein that there’s a token character with a disability. Take Fireman Sam or Postman Pat as examples. But where are the darker skinned heroes and heroines?
In television shows there are a couple of TV characters that my daughter has started to identify with – unfortunately they are again side kicks rather than starring roles. Keira from Zak and Quack and Lola’s best friend from Charlie and Lola are two characters that she has recently found a likeness to. Although it’s refreshing to see a darker skinned character taking a more prominent role rather than getting lost in a sea of other side characters, the programmes are still very much centred on Zak or Lola.
To me, the issue is deeper than having characters for our mixed race, Black and Asian children to identify with, to build positive self esteem and associations with their own race and skin colour, to feel that they are an intrinsic and important part of our society and communities, feel that THEY can be the heroes or heroines. It’s also the messages that this is sending to all children. All children need to see heroines from each and every background. They need to see the diversity they see in their nurseries, classrooms and play grounds on their television screens, and hence on their lunch boxes and sticker books. Our children soak up everything around them and even at this precious young age they will take on these subtle messages connected to their identity. We need ALL children to see, believe and understand that they can look up to hero’s from all backgrounds. If our children are to achieve all they wish for in life then representation across mainstream media needs to begin from the absolute get-go.