Brown Daughter, White Character Costume


When my biracial (white/black) daughter was a baby, I once casually mentioned to her dad that I’d like to dress her as Snow White for Halloween. He rolled his eyes and scoffed, “You can’t dress a black child as Snow White!” He was joking, mostly.

Oddly, he doesn’t remember that conversation, or perhaps, remembers it differently than I do. A few years later, when our daughter was 3.5, one of his family members sent us a Snow White costume for a Christmas present, which we both enjoyed watching her get excited over and immediately put it on and dance around in. By that time, it was no big deal. Or was it? As I watched her pull it out and realized what it was, I flashed back to that conversation, when all of this was so new.

Thinking about race and skin color enters into the most mundane of choices when you have a mixed-race family.

If the opposite had happened, let’s say my theoretical white daughter wanted to dress up as Diana Ross, I would probably be thrilled with her choice, glad my child was so multiculturally aware, and being the raging liberal that I am, I would brag about it to all my friends.

Or, if say, my theoretical boy child wanted to wear a Daphne costume, I’d be ridiculously proud and defend his choice tooth and nail.

So when my brown-skinned daughter wants to dress up as a white character, also Daphne from Scooby Doo, why did I feel mildly ill at the thought?

I posed this question on my Facebook page and got the same thoughts back at me that I’d been thinking myself.

The gist of the commenters said, “She can be whomever she chooses. It’s not about race. It’s about what she likes to watch on TV. It’s no big deal.”

And they are right. I was right. I went ahead and ordered the costume. She dressed as Daphne for her Scooby Doo-themed birthday party last May. I did not say a word when she put on that costume, just as I didn’t when she dressed as Snow White or when she dressed as Ruby Gloom/Tinkerbell.

What all these thoughts are telling me is this:

It’s not the fact that my child wishes to dress up as a white character that bother me, it’s the fact that most characters are white. It’s that there are so few reflections in the media for her that she only sees white.

What we see reflects back on us, in all walks of life. And if the equality in children’s programming was more balanced, I would have less of an issue with it. But it’s not.

Basically, there’s nothing wrong with my child. What’s wrong is societal messages and media reflections. It’s time to change that.

But I can’t do much. Sure, I could lobby and join groups that support media issues, but honestly, I’d rather spend my time being a mom and doing the best with what we’ve got. In time, all of this will change. I know it because I see it happening.

Every generation keeps the talks going along and eventually, equality and fairness will win out in the racial divide. I believe that wholeheartedly, although I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.

But for now, I have to go out of my way to ensure that my daughter sees whatever reflections of herself that are there. I’ve started coming up with a list of non-white characters that I will do my best to insert into her regular viewing. I’m not going to try to cut out white characters, but I’ll do whatever I can to show her that others exist, too.

Martha Wood is a single, white female, a work-at-home mom, and mother to a biracial daughter. She blogs about race, parenting, single motherhood and women’s issues at MomSoap.

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Comments (6)

  1. Martha Wood

    Martha Wood adds:

    After a bit of Googling, I came up with this list of age-appropriate black female characters:

    Word Girl (Apparently, her race is ambiguous. I’ve been told that some people think she’s East Indian.)

    Keesha Franklin from The Magic School Bus

    Orange Blossom from Strawberry Shortcake

    Goo from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends

    Susie Carmichael from Rugrats (pretty sure I wouldn’t let my daughter watch this show.)

    Iridessa from Tinkerbell

    Indigo from Rainbow Brite

    The Proud Family (which I’ve never heard of, but it looks wholesome enough.)

    Doc McStuffins (Ironically, we have a puzzle with her. I didn’t even know it was a cartoon.)

    Princess Pea on Super Why

    April Glover, big sis on Little Bill

    Miss Elaina on Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

    Koki from Wild Kratts (A PBS show that looks pretty good. We’ll have to check it out.)

    That’s it. I bet if I sat down and tried to list all the white female characters, it would be impossible. The disparity is outrageous. Something needs to change.

    • Nadine

      There are also the characters with brownish skin, where ethnicity is not implicit like Molly from the Bubble Guppies. Some of the Lalaloopsy characters have brown skin, like Dot Starlight and Swirly Figure Eight.

  2. Skye

    “It’s not the fact that my child wishes to dress up as a white character that bother me, it’s the fact that most characters are white.”

    Exactly. Getting diversity into your children’s books and television programming is like dragging a car with a rope tied to it. Maybe with a friend pushing the car, for books, if your library is good.

    It shouldn’t be this hard!

    • MOM2Three

      That’s true, Skye. What can we do to be most effective in changing it, do you think?

    • martha

      It shouldn’t be this hard! Thanks Skye. 🙂

  3. Sadia

    It’s interesting, but it never even occurred to me that my triracial (white/Mexican/Bangladeshi) daughters should seek out characters whose skin tone mimics their own. I guess it’s because I don’t expect there are many white/Mexican/Bangladeshis out there. My daughters’ school is filled with kids from multiracial families, so they don’t think of skin colour as being a big part of their identity.

    It’s not just a matter of minorities not being represented, though. Growing up in Bangladesh, I noticed that TV casts were unusually fair-skinned for Bangladeshis. My darker-skinned sister never saw anyone with her skin-tone unless he was a bad guy.