Cartoon characters on children’s television should be well-rounded, not two-dimensional.
The cartoon girl on the television delivers her line. Soon after, I am irritated.
My little sister and I watch “The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” as Neutron’s classmate Libby Folfax converses with her peers, but there is a distinct tone and speech pattern to her voice that annoys me.
Libby is the black character on the show, but if you couldn’t ascertain her race based on her skin tone, the show makes it known by her speech and voice. I would be less annoyed if I hadn’t heard that exact same speech pattern four times this week when a black character spoke.
Marketing and psychology classes have taught me that businesses aim to advertise products that are relatable to a target group of individuals. But it makes no sense that the majority of black Americans must be marketed in such a two-dimensional way. The characteristics of these cartoons usually include overly animated body language – neck and eye rolls, over excitement and improper use of the English language.
When a black audience is the target group on television or radio, a clear distinction is made. What I can only describe as “ghetto lingo” is suddenly used to inform you that, “Mama’s got the best chicken from Popeyes ya’ll!”
It appears that the stereotypical mannerisms of black people have always been the first choice of representation.
“If you go back and look at cartoons from the ‘30s and the ‘40s and the ‘50s, they’re full of racism,” wrote Eric Michael Dyson, author and professor at Georgetown University, in his book “A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer.”
“And it’s deliberate,” he continued. “And Dumbo, the black crows, were meant to remind you of black people.”
When I think about all the movies I grew up with, it becomes unsettling to know Walt Disney supported this two-dimensional view of black culture as well. This is a view that started in the 1920s and continues into recent times with the renewal of shows such as “The Boondocks” on Cartoon Network’s after-hours programming, Adult Swim.
This portrayal of black Americans in the media enforces negative stereotypes. I do not want my little sister and her contemporaries embracing this depiction of black culture in the U.S.
These characters are not a representation of all black Americans, and without programs like “The Cosby Show” to provide a more in-depth portrayal, they remain objects of humor in advertisements and on television.
Jillian Weir-Reeves can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.