There are certain frustrations that are common to the experience of parenting. One that comes to mind is doing laundry. My wife and I live a life that is an endless cycle of hampers full of dirty clothes for washing and baskets full of clean clothes for folding. But there are certain frustrations unique to the Black experience; like finding quality television programs for your children that offer images of Black beauty, Black joy, Black excellence, and Black love.
When I was 8 (same age as my oldest), I could count the number of prime-time Black shows on network television on my hands. There was Roc (Sundays), The Fresh Prince of Bel Air (Mondays), The Royal Family (Wednesdays), The Cosby Show and A Different World (Thursdays), and Family Matters (Friday). As for afternoon content for kids, there were Black kids on TV, but very few as part of a show based on Black life. Cartoons were the same thing. At my age, networks still showed racists cartoons from Warner Brothers.
When we became parents, my wife and I were concerned. Rarely are images of Black beauty, joy, excellence and love put on full display for the mainstream to consume. However, it’s what my children deserve to see. While we advocate for such images to be reflected in their social circles, in their classrooms and in the media they’ll consume, we know that’s not necessarily what they get when they leave home. Thus, it was our goal to make sure that they saw such at home; particularly when they watched TV.
How we (society) consume television is drastically different from how we did decades ago. I remember when cable wasn’t a necessity; where network TV was still king. If you did have cable, it was only 30 or so extra channels. There was no DVR or on demand and so watching TV in certain aspects was an event – unless you had a VCR whereby you could record your favorite shows.
Now, there is DVR, on demand, and streaming television online. My wife and dropped our cable provider over three years ago and we’ve streamed ever since. With streaming, you can consume which networks i.e. HBO, ESPN etc., you wish without a cable subscription. You can also scribe to a service i.e. Hulu, Netflix etc., where you can find all kinds of content.
What my wife and I discovered when we first started streaming was that the years of Black content we consumed throughout childhood and adolescence (which was never plentiful at any one time) was available for us to watch again. Not only prime-time content but also content centered on Black characters for children to consume and new shows that deliver portrayals of Blackness in ways that remind us of when we were kids.
Our children are 8, 5 and 3 so we can’t introduce them to all of the shows we grew up watching just yet. But what we have done is introduced them age appropriate shows that do just what we wanted; putting images of Black beauty, joy, excellence and love on full display whereby our children see themselves and they can smile, laugh and be filled with joy.
In my house, The Proud Family, Gullah Gullah Island, The Bernie Mac Show, Everybody Hates Chris, Reading Rainbow, The Cosby Show and Smart Guy are in constant rotation. In addition to those shows from the time machine, there are some new shows that are on our TV: Doc McStuffins, Motown Magic, Marvel Avengers Black Panther’s Quest, Black-ish, and Family Reunion with Tia Mowry, Loretta Devine and Shaft himself… I mean Richard Roundtree.
There’s also movies like Are We There Yet 1 & 2, The Proud Family Movie, Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time and Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.
When my kids get older, we’ll introduce them to Martin, The Fresh Prince, The Wayans Brothers, The Jamie Foxx Show, Living Single, Grown-ish, Black Lightening, Raising Dion, In Living Color and A Different World. I look forward to when they can see The Boondocks and the Chappelle Show, but I digress.
After homework is done, dinner and baths, my wife and I gather with our kids in the family room and spend an hour or so watching some combination of these shows. We often laugh and we sometimes answer questions. But we most get the chance to watch our kids enjoy seeing themselves on TV. One of the more powerful things is when your three year old daughter says to you that she likes a character because she looks like her.
Children see race; they often see race as soon as they can see faces. At three months, babies prefer to look at faces of their own race; children as young as two use race to reason about people’s behaviors. Children not only recognize race from a very young age, but also develop racial biases by age three to five. Also, while white children rarely exhibit anything other than pro-white bias, children of color as young as five show evidence of being aware of, and negatively affected by, stereotypes about their racial groups.
We must be intentional about what our children consume because the world is certainly intentional about what our children consume. That Black children consume images of themselves that reflect the joy, love, passion, intelligence, beauty and creativity that encompasses Blackness is paramount to their development as people in an anti-Black society. This is why representation matters. That’s why what we show our children in our homes matter.
For more information on Black content, here are some sites that offers information on the kind of content we can show our children at various ages. May you introduce or continue the joy in your house as we continue it in ours.