With the success of movies such as “Black Panther” and “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” it is clear that the importance of diversity is slowly making its way to the forefront of the pop culture narrative. However, we can all easily remember when this representation was not as readily available. Even with what we have now, there is still progress that needs to be made.
As adults, we have the platform to demand that progress. Children, however, simply have to accept what they are given access to.
That is why it is our job to demand intentional diversity in children’s media.
Studies on the matter show that a lack of representation can cause lower levels of self-esteem and a lack of self-importance in children. It has also been proven that the only kids who experience elevated levels of self-confidence from watching television are white males. Other children simply feel invisible.
This problem is not just for parents and production companies, but for us all.
Exposure to diverse content at a young age allows majority culture children to grow to be open-minded, accepting adults who are responsive to people who are different from them.
For the kids being told they are different, diverse media allows them to see people similar to themselves represented in a way separate from their supposed otherness.
In late 2017, Mattel and the United Nations announced a plan to tackle this issue with a partnership designed to increase gender and ethnic diversity in children’s television. Almost a year later, on September 7, their collaboration found its way to screens across the world with the release of ‘Big World! Big Adventures!’, a Thomas the Tank Engine movie in which Thomas is introduced to a train named Nia.
Nia – Swahili for purpose – is a Kenyan tank engine painted with a traditional Kente pattern. She is a series regular on Thomas & Friends as of season 22, which began airing in the US on September 17.
The importance of the ethnic diversity that Nia brings to this popular children’s show cannot be overstated.
However, NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch’s hot take during her NRA TV show ‘Relentless’ proves that not everyone sees this importance. In the broadcast, Loesch discusses how she does not see the need for an ethnically diverse train. She then shares an image depicting the Thomas & Friends cast clothed in Klu Klux Klan-style robes while riding on burning train tracks.
This violent image in response to the notion of diversity in a children’s television show demonstrates that we are not all on the same page when it comes to representative media. Instead of finding this discouraging, it needs to motivate us to fight harder.
This fight looks different for each of us, but starting local is always best. Reach out to your elected officials and emphasize the importance of diversity in regard to early childhood education and public broadcasting. Go to your local school board meeting and stress the need for diverse content in the classroom. If you are a member of a minority culture, share your story and embrace the opportunity to be the diversity kids need to see.
Children have no concept of deserving better because they only know what is handed to them. We have to be the ones responsible for combatting these racist extremes and providing the diverse, uplifting content kids deserve.