Often the progress that African-Americans make actually shows how far we have to go.
The medical kit for Doc McStuffins was featured on Toys R Us national advertisements as being on sale for four hours only from 5 to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, getting a leg up on the so-called Black Friday.
Although on an obscure channel, this animated series about an African-American girl who envisions herself as a doctor operating on her stuffed animals, has become the Olivia Pope of the pre-school set. More importantly, their parents have scooped up close to a billion dollars of merchandise. That put the toy kit on the front page of the people who make their business selling toys.
The question is why is it that 60 years after Dr. Kenneth Clark did his experiment with black and white dolls that decided Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 that such a show would be produced.
In a century of motion pictures, comic books, video games and TV shows, the number of black animated characters does not reach two dozen.
In my paper for the American Educational Research Association in May, “Personal Authenticity and Perceived Chance of Success,” we described the power of bringing together a group of teens from San Francisco’s poorest neighborhood for six weeks, having them wear lab coats, calling them doctor and giving them medical research assignments in collaboration with actual scientists who looked like them.
It’s the pedagogy behind our network, ReUNION: Education-Arts-Heritage, because we realized that there has been no where in American media where African-American kids have a chance to be kids, and more importantly, to see themselves transitioning from being kids to becoming adults.
Instead, they get other folks left-over culture. My paper began with a description of Harry Potter, and the likely impact of that movie on most white kids around the world. For black kids, it’s not an analogy that fits.
What does fit is the extraordinary saga of African-American history and accomplishment, against odds that make fictional scenarios pale by comparison.
If a half-hour a week makes this much impact, how much safer and happier will our children be with daily affirmation of their basic humanity. That’s the question that consumes us.