I worked at the Toys R Us in Lafayette, Louisiana for about nine months (honestly that’s a blog post by itself, but I digress). While I was working there I got introduced to a lot of toys and television shows that I had never heard of before, all with varying popularity. Since I was there over the holiday season I experienced a lot of toy crazes with people angry that they couldn't get the toy they wanted, but nothing compared to the craze caused by this little doctor called McStuffins.
I grew up in the 90s, so all we really had for diversity (unless you counted animals) was Gullah Gullah Island and Out of the Box. I don’t have kids nor have I spent much time around preschool aged kids in a while, so I had no clue who this little Black girl in pigtails was. I became interested once I realized just how popular she is; people called into the store willing to drive from Shreveport to Lafayette if we had her check-up center around Christmas. I realized then that this Doc McStuffins was a major thing; her popularity reminded me a lot of how I remember Dora the Explorer being one of the most popular preschool shows for a while (SN: It helped that Dora and Doc had pretty much their own aisle in Toys R Us. Doc had almost all of one side and Dora had the complete other side). Now it seems that Dora has kinda passed (or maybe sharing?) the crown to Doc.
It’s cool that Dora and Dottie (that’s Doc McStuffins' real name) are so well liked. They pretty much run the preschool show game, and it’s always good that little kids are able to have shows that teach them stuff. What is even more powerful to me is that this is a little Latina and a little Black girl teaching these lessons. I can’t tell you how many little Black girls I’ve seen who adore Doc McStuffins, or how many kids in general I've heard speak a Spanish word they learned from Dora. These shows have a big influence on children, and I’m so happy that this influence comes from who it comes from.
Now I’m not gonna be so optimistic to say that every Black girl (or person in general) watching Doc McStuffins is gonna become a doctor. I’m pretty sure everybody that watches Dora doesn’t go around exploring the world. These shows are not about making kids be exactly like them, but just showing the kids that they can do things others might discourage them from doing. Dora is allowed to be curious; to explore her world and help those in it, all the while utilizing her second language that people in the real world look down on. Dottie can aspire to be successful without people telling her she can't, practice her craft without people saying she's weird, and even learn the basics of the field that most only want to see Black women as nurses in. These shows and their merchandise reinforce a message that we often take for granted: you can achieve regardless of your circumstances or what you look like. The message is so powerful coming from two young women of color because even that young these girls (especially Black ones) are indirectly and directly told otherwise. The people who watch and play with Dora and Dottie may not become explorers or doctors, but thanks to them they can see that they can be those things even if no one else thinks so.
It's pretty much proven that the media kids watch when they're young plays a big part in how they see themselves; so young kids of color seeing images of themselves doing positive things can really increase their self-worth and confidence. You can tell a child all day long that they can be a doctor, lawyer, or teacher if they want, but if none of the doctors, lawyers, or teachers they see in the world look like them they’re gonna believe that it’s not meant for them. These shows (and media in general) are good tools we can use to help show the future generation that “Yes, you can do these things”; I mean how many kids believe that it is possible for them to become President of the United States thanks to seeing President Obama?
If we really want the kids to love themselves enough to believe they can do anything no matter what people say, we should shower them with images of characters who do just that. That means supporting not just Dora and Dottie, but the other shows/movies, toys, books, and whatever else that feature people that look like us. Sure, that may mean spending enough money on Doc McStuffins to pay her med school bills or taking the extra time to find culturally focused products for the kids, but I’m sure the payoff will be worth it when they have the confidence to truly do whatever they want to do and the evidence to show that this is possible.
Is it really that important for little kids (especially girls) of color to see themselves in the media? Are there any other media forms that do this? Leave your questions, comments, and concerns below!