We need more mixed race families and kids on television. Nickeloedon is leading the way.
Surely by now you've all heard about the Cheerios commercial featuring a biracial family that received a depressing amount of racist backlash. To refresh your memory, the ad was a pretty benign spot that merely featured a white mother, a black father, and a crazy adorable mixed girl talking about cereal. It was beloved by many, but ended up being a pretty decent barometer for the current state of race relations in America -- and it was surprising only to the people who don't have to deal with race on a daily basis (namely white people).
Like it or not, mixed race families are an ever-growing reality in America. Asian Americans have struggled for a long time (and we continue to struggle) to show there is a demand to see people like us on television, and the controversy over the Cheerios ad shows the fight for mixed-race families is just beginning. The controversy of the Cheerios ad (as well as its Streisand effect) demonstrated the potential for success when you simply show a good-looking mixed-race family on television. The backlash from the ad was disheartening to be sure, but then I discovered Nickelodeon's new show, Sanjay and Craig.
Let me first acknowledge that kids' television is generally a mixed bag when it comes to race. Shows for the preschool set (Sesame Street, Yo Gabba Gabba, Ni Hao Kai Lan, Dora the Explorer) are usually great at being inclusive and reflecting diversity, while, for some reason, tween sitcoms (iCarly, Victorious, Jessie) tend to be the worst offenders when it comes to perpetuating racist stereotypes. Cartoon shows for older kids lie somewhere in the middle, but seem to have the most creative leeway and therefore the most potential for debunking stereotypes.
Enter Sanjay and Craig. The show follows the hijinks of a boy (Sanjay) and his best friend/talking pet snake (Craig). In the first episode, Sanjay and Craig sneak into a hospital disguised as doctors to watch a butt transplant being performed, and end up performing the butt transplant themselves. Not much is made of Sanjay's background in the first episode, so I had to watch it twice to make sure, but I'd picked up that Sanjay's father is Indian, his mother is white, and she's a surgeon.
Naturally, my five-year-old thought the episode was hilarious, and the show earned her stamp of approval. The hugeness of the mixed race family was entirely lost on her, which may speak to how well the show is written.
That being said, the show is really only groundbreaking in its featuring a mixed race family without making it A Big Deal, and is otherwise pretty standard kid fare, fairly indistinguishable from Adventure Time or Regular Show. Watching the show gave me a similar feeling to watching Better Luck Tomorrow for the first time -- it was simply refreshing to see POC's tell a normal story without having to comment on race. I loved what I saw and I hope the show continues on for multiple seasons, but I can't say it's the most original show I've ever seen.
And I think it's important to note that the show's creators are white, and while it would be nice to have more Asian American representation in all parts of the production process, it does go to show that it's really not that difficult for white writers to create a normal damn television show that features people of color that are three-dimensional characters and not just racist caricatures, or simply as vehicles for teaching white people lessons about race.