Recently, while at my neighbor’s house, I was struck by a comment.
An innocent comment.
A comment made off-hand.
By a six-year-old.
But, wow, it struck me hard!
My son, Rowan, was playing with his best friend, Deon. They’re both six, just starting first grade, and have been best friends since they were two. Deon is black.
They were playing superhero as many six-year-olds do. Rowan said he was Batman; Deon said he was Superman. All manner of discussion about who was strongest, best, and fastest ensued.
The typical rough housing and jumping was constant until Deon said:
“I’m the real Superman,
but in the movies,
they put white skin on Superman.”
Deon lives in a world where 99% of the superheroes are white. Okay, I don’t know the exact figure but it sure feels like it.
Where are the superheroes of other ethnicities? Marvel Comic’s Black Panther was AMAZING but Wakanda shouldn’t be responsible for providing the majority of black superheroes.
And we didn’t meet T’Challa/Black Panther until Captain America: Civil War in 2016. DC Comics finally introduced Cyborg in Justice League in 2017.
How many Asian superheroes are there?
How many Middle Eastern superheroes are there?
Children need to see heroes who look like them. They need to dream they can become their superhero.
Seeing heroes who look like them–superheroes, mentors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, activists, or politicians–allows them to believe they can achieve those roles.
How? By casting more ethnicities in leading, high-profile roles where they are respected. Show them working and leading in all professions.
A friend on social media posted that she was the first black woman in an administration role at her new job. She said she wasn’t sure if she should be proud or sad.
Proud that she was the first black woman but sad that it took until 2018 for that to happen. She may be the person a child looks at and thinks, “She looks like me, I can do that, too!”
As a white woman, I never fully understood or even recognized my own privilege until the past few years. It took nearly 40 years of walking through the world with privilege before I knew it existed.
My sons go to the movies and a majority of the characters they see look like them. At the store, they are greeted by advertisements of people who look like them. I go to the store and see rows of shampoo for hair like mine.
This is systematic oppression of other cultures. This is whitewashing. This is white supremacy. I live in a country where white is the “desired,” the “normal.” And yet, I didn’t see it.
I was part of the problem. It is time to call it out, to call it what it is. It is time to give children of all races heroes.
It is time to stop whitewashing everything.
Erika Bracken Probst writes about civic responsibility and engagement and participates in local election campaigns and peaceful protests. In a way, she was born to it. Born and raised on a small island in southeast Alaska, she grew up with a sense of community and later pursued a career in nursing.
With her husband and two sons, she now lives in Hillsboro OR, which she finds similar to her hometown of Petersburg, tight knit and diverse. Her children’s book, Friends on my Street: A Celebration of Diversity tells the story of her neighborhood.