Pin It
Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

The Problem with Multicultural Children in Media

Omma's children

The bombardment of advertising and other images (television, books, lunchboxes, t-shirts, etc.) is amazingly powerful for curious, young minds. When most of the images shown do not represent the way all of our children look, it’s important to promote more inclusive images at home to counteract this.

I didn’t really pay too much attention to these images, even those directly targeted at children, until I realized my kids were paying attention! When they started drawing princesses with only long, blonde hair and pink skin, I knew there was an issue.

So what is the problem with these images? Here are my main concerns:

The hero or heroine is usually white.

Every picture tells a story, even if it’s just a shot of a kid riding a bike stamped on a t-shirt. Sometimes there will be a friend in the picture who is non-white, but the non-white child is seldom the main character.

The black children who are represented rarely have ‘African’ features

My children have ‘African’ noses, wide and flat like Papa’s. Even where black children appear in stories, they have thin lips and narrow noses. Of course, these children need representation too–we need to include everyone! And don’t think your kids don’t notice… just like they listen when you assume they are busy playing on the other side of the room. When I recently gave my daughter a wide-nosed doll (from Ikea!), she exclaimed excitedly, “He has a nose like me!”

Why do these images matter?

If your child never sees anyone with a similar skin tone, or if people who look like them are always sidelined, they may well start to wonder if they are not as important as children with white skin and ‘white’ features.

When I did a little research on this, I found that, in a recent version of the famous Black/White doll study, those few black children who chose the black doll as the ‘good’ one came from households where positive identity had been actively pursued. This convinced me that I had to take an active approach with my own kids, and so it began. Schmoo had been given a white Barbie as a party leaving gift, so I went online to buy her some black Barbies, with varying skin tones and hair types. Then I found her a Princess Tiana schoolbag and a Lela sports bag. I tracked down versions of the classic fairytales starring brown-skinned characters and bought DVDs of Jasmine, Pocahontas, The Princess & the Frog and the Brandy version of Cinderella.

Is this still a problem?

In today’s increasingly inclusive society, more awareness exists of the problem, and a larger number of positive identity books, toys, films and dolls are available. It is now fairly rare to see a drawing of a group of children and not have several ethnicities represented. But we still have a long, long way to go.

Last week, we visited a toy megastore to pick up some bubble wands. While we were there, I couldn’t resist taking a look at the vast range of Barbies. There were shelves and shelves of them, across two aisles… and not a single one was non-white. This is a shop in London, one of the most multicultural places on the planet, so I shudder to think how bad things are elsewhere.

And still, some markets remain particularly underrepresented, such as black cartoon action heroes and black mermaid dolls.

While images are powerful, words count too. I find the terminology for describing people with white and black parents inaccurate and outdated. ‘Mixed race’ has now replaced the hideous ‘half caste,’ but I still think it’s an odd term. Tom Cruise explained it best when he was interviewed on Oprah. She asked him why he had chosen to adopt a child “of a different race?” He answered, “Well, we’re both from the human race!”

And that is how I feel. There is only one race. We are all equally beautiful and important, and we should celebrate that by representing everyone across images and language!

© 2012 – 2013, Omma Velada. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

6 Favorite Children’s Books about Ramadan

Our top picks for Muslim and non-Muslim kids alike

Ten Reasons Parents Should Read Multicultural Books to Kids

Why it's critical all parents read books that reflect diversity

Is all the Hard Work of Bilingualism Really Paying Off?

I just found out the surprising answer.

An Islamic Perspective on Child-Rearing and Discipline

Does Islam's reputation for severity and harshness apply to how Muslims raise children?


Omma and her husband are raising their two children, Schmoo and Pan-Pan, trilingually in the UK with English (native), Twi (late start) and French (non-native). She blogs on raising trilingual children at

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsPothos Queen   |  Friday, 07 September 2012 at 6:36 am

    I guess I have a bit of a different issue. Having grown up black, but of varying cultural backgrounds, I could not relate to the dark chocolate doll babies and to this day, I become equally upset when blacks the color of a brown paper bag are always cast in roles where one of their parents must be a white actor. Both of my parents are black. We have Native American and white ancestry on both sides, but are black nonetheless. ATL was the first movie I remember where a light skinned actress (Lauren London) had a black mother (Lonette, McKee – who is also light, but NOT WHITE) . I find this annoying. There should be a balance between all colors of black and all features of black represented in Hollywood. Just as mentioned in the article about the kids paying attention and not being able to identify with the sharper features of the blacks in movies/tv, the population with those same features may not be able to identify with wide flat noses and super big lips. There needs to be a balance. Everyone my complexion does not have a white parent. By the way, forget the void of black heroes, why do all the black characters in movies and tv shows end up getting killed off? Hmmm

  2. CommentsRobert Trujillo   |  Friday, 28 September 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Right on, as a man of colro who comes from a mixed background and who now has a child with a mixed background…we are people of color. He is a child of color and it is really challenging to find positive reflections for him in childrens books, comics, animation, and films. Something as simple as “the Goonies” and “Super 8″ illustrates a lot about how an adventurous story involving children hasnt changed much. White chidlren are the only ones who can look to the media for examples of children that look like them with courage, humility, strength, intelligence, rudeness, or general complexity of character. But, Im also a big believer in creating the change you want to see, so I’m working on illustrating stories featuring kids that look like me and my son.

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

A Children's Book for Raising Global Citizens

Every life is a story. It’s easier to understand someone when you know their story.

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!
Unfortunately, the school and community are no longer there. The farm is being sold and there are tentative plans for a new iteration to be set up in Costa Ric...
From How I Moved to Thailand with my Family on Less than $1000
HI! I love your website! Just read your review of books that teach about culture and food! I can't wait to try some of the recipes you've share...
From Armenian Recipe: Apricot Tart
Please, refrain from using "western /western society" for anglosaxon countries. Western can be Mexico and Spain as well, anything on the west side of the world is western ...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep
We've tried to make use of, but It doesn't works by any mean...
From African Parenting: The Sane Way to Raise Children
I'm back. Sorry, I stopped caring for this magazine for a while and forgot to discuss the meat of the matter. This article, as well as the linked article from 2011, fails to discuss cultural norms ...
From What Confused Me Most about Brits
Fascinating. I have been to Germany and met this guy who was soo rude! This article explains everything!! Since all Germans are so terribly rude it should come as no surprise that I should have met ...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
@ Josep. How could you possibly comment on how Germans treat people if you have never even been there? A three-day stay in Berlin and a one day stop-over in Frankfurt was enough for me to see the ut...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
I am trying to find a Sikh triangular Nishan Sahib flag and haven't found one. Do you know where I can find on...
From Vaisakhi Craft: Make a Flag
I have tried to buy a Sikh triagular Nishan Sahib flag and had no luck. Do you know where I can find on...
From Vaisakhi Craft: Make a Flag

More Global Parenting