Why Can’t Tween Shows Get it Right?

I have a like/hate relationship with the tween shows. It’s no surprise to anyone that Disney has made some pretty bad choices when it comes to representing diversity, using appropriate language and avoiding stereotypes. When my kids were much younger, my husband and I feverishly bought into all the hype about “Disney Movies coming out of the vault!” and such, so we purchased all the ones we grew up watching as kids.

 

As we watched the movies – now as adults – we found ourselves appalled at the messages, songs, characters, and out-and-out racism that was in the movies and their themes. So, we stopped buying them and no longer fall into the “Disney Vault” trap.

 

When our older child became interested in the Disney Channel, we proceeded with caution. We don’t believe in banning certain shows altogether, rather we like to use television — with all of its negative/positive messaging — to start conversations with our kids. Of course, there is always a  line. Our daughter was pretty into Hannah Montana, and even though the only 2 people of color are the “mean girls”, we still watched with our daughter. Yet, Miley Cyrus’s recent poor choice of using “chinky face” crossed the line. So, no more Hannah Montana purchases from our house. Though, even with this one, we didn’t really bring it up with our daughter because she’s just too young to understand this part.

 

We do like Wizards of Waverly Place for their biracial family. And, they sometimes drop in some Spanish and such; so, this one is still good on our list.

We always thought that Nickelodeon, with it’s Dora the Explorer, Diego, etc., line up would be a safer bet. And, truthfully, I think the younger kid shows do get it right. So, what’s up with the tween shows?

 

scene from iCarly visting Japan

scene from iCarly visting Japan

This past week, we decided to try the show iCarly. We had watched School of Rock before, and we like the little girl (who is now Carly of iCarly) and decided to watch it. This was the episode where Carly and her friends are invited to Japan to attend an awards show. “Hmmm…” we though, “Interesting. This could be going somewhere good!” The group flew to Japan, there was some good humor in there, and then… of course….the tween show took a turn for the racist worse.

 

For some reason, despite the fact that 1/2 of this episode’s actors were Japanese and/or of Asian heritage, racist stereotypes and ignorant American-centricity began to rear it’s ugly head. Phrases like “those sneaky Japanese”, and “Why can’t anyone speak English in this country?!?” were abundant. Scenes of Japanese having to look up in the English/Japanese dictionary the word “Hello” and “a” were torture to watch. The obligatory karate match in which the American boy and girl break up the fight seemed to last forever. And, let’s not forget the Japanese toupe-wearing security guard who could only communicate with colorful childlike signs.

 

My husband and I kept the television on for as long as we could, and finally, we turned to each other and said, “That’s enough!” Our daughters asked why we turned it off, and, age appropriately, we simply said, “we don’t like to watch shows where people make fun of other people.” If they were older, yes, we’d go into the whole racial stereotyping, and maybe they do understand it on some level. But, for now, we have to talk about it in terms of who’s “being nice” and “who is not being nice.”

 

Frankly, I’m looking forward to the age when we CAN have these types of conversations — conversations about racial stereotyping, about American-centric ignorance, about ways in which media inaccurately portray certain groups of people. But, for now, this will have to do.

 

Anyone else out there with older/younger kids who would do this differently? Do you ban certain shows all together, or do you use them as springboards for conversation?

In Memory of Liz Durante

Liz Durante

Liz Durante

The death of any person is a true tragedy. And, this week, a beautiful young woman named Liz Durante was killed. I knew Liz when she was in middle/high school, and nothing made me happier when I read that she was also attending my beloved college alma mater. While Liz and I never worked closely together when she was in middle/high school, our paths crossed on the small campus both in the hallways and in organizations we both believed in and worked to sustain.

Once I became involved again in my college alma mater, I began to visit the College website frequently. And, each time I logged on, Liz’s smiling face would greet me as one of the featured stories on the College’s homepage. And, she deserved to be there. She wasn’t just any student; Liz was a woman – at age 20 – who was changing the world. She had spent her “vacations” from college traveling to Uganda to give medical care to people in an orphanage community. I remember the first time I clicked on her photo slide show and was just beaming with pride for the type of woman she had grown to become. I often emailed her to let her know that she was an inspiration to me, that I was so proud to know her, and to let her know that she was doing God’s work. But, Liz already knew all that.

This past Saturday, on her way to the airport to fly, once again, to Uganda to provide medical care for people there, Liz’s van was struck by a drunk driver who was driving with no headlights down the wrong side of the highway. Liz – a resident in a dorm where students maintained a substance free lifestyle – was thrown from the van and left this life.

In all of this sadness and madness, it’s hard to ignore the symbolism here. Liz was a passenger in a van heading to a place where she would give unselfishly of her heart. A man was driving down the wrong side of the road with no lights on. Liz believed in taking care of her body and in living a substance free lifestyle. The man who killed her was drunk. Liz’s life had direction. This man had lost his.

With a very heavy heart, my thoughts and prayers go to her family, to her younger siblings, and to her many friends that she now watches over. May Liz’s life be an inspiration for all of us to find the beauty in all of humanity. To put our own selfish needs aside and see through the lenses of others.

May angels lead you to the light, and may you continue to be the light to all of us. We will miss you, Liz.

Dartmouth President and Email

photo by Dartmouth College

photo by Dartmouth College

Cheers of joy erupted at the breakfast table (at my Asian family house) when we read that the first Asian president of an Ivy League university was appointed to Dartmouth College. Reading his long list of accomplishments, that included activism in the health care industry and research, certainly helps to diminish the idea the belief that someone could possible pull the “he only got it because he’s Asian” card (except for the fact that this is the FIRST time in hundreds of years that this is occuring!).

Then, of course, the other shoe dropped. An email sent out by a Dartmouth student that was…. get this … included in a larger “newsletter” sent out to over 1,000 alumni and students was an email:

Date: March 3, 2009 11:06:39 AM EST
To: GOOD-MORNING@LISTSERV.DARTMOUTH.EDU
Subject: Good Morning

This is the Generic Good Morning Message for March 3, 2009.

Yesterday came the announcement that President of the College James Wright will be replaced by Chinaman Kim Jim Yong. And a little bit of me died inside.

It was a complete supplies.

On July 1, yet another hard-working American’s job will be taken by an immigrant willing to work in substandard conditions at near-subsistent wage, saving half his money and sending the rest home to his village in the form of traveler’s checks. Unless “Jim Yong Kim” means “I love Freedom” in Chinese, I don’t want anything to do with him. Dartmouth is America, not Panda Garden Rice Village Restaurant.

Y’all get ready for an Asianification under the guise of diversity under the actual Malaysian-invasion leadership instituted under the guise of diversity. It’s a slippery slope we are on. I for one want Democracy and apple pie, not Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen. I know I sure as shit won’t ever be eating my Hop dubs bubs with chopsticks. I like to use my own two American hands.

Of course, a quick apology was issued – including the heard-it-all-before-passing-the-buck of “I didn’t mean for it to be racist” bull — and that it was meant to be satirical.

Yeah, people’s race/ethnicity can certainly be used in humor as a part of a humorous agenda; however, this isn’t funny. It isn’t appropriate. And, yes it is racist.

Even more disturbing in some comment threads on the Ivy League blogs is the “guess you can’t take a joke” type of line.

Post racial America… uh, huh. Sure.

Presence Does Make a Difference

I often field questions about diversity and inclusion – especially ones like, “Well, why does it matter if a person of color is in my class?” or “What difference does it make if I have a Black professor?” or “Since I treat all people the same, why should it be important that my kids have a diverse group of friends?”

I believe that the presence of people with diverse backgrounds, needs, abilities, etc., changes the conversation and ways we do things simply by their presence. In an exercise I do in workshops, I ask participants to move around a room and talk to a different person every 30 seconds or so.  It requires an ability to physically move quickly AND an ability to filter sounds easily (the room gets quite noisy). Those are just the surface needs. The exercise also requires people to be somewhat extroverted, comfortable with asking un-comfortable questions, and comfortable with answering un-comfortable questions.

The exercise ends without a hitch – usually everyone is feeding off the energy of moving around quickly and trying to get points (you receive points my talking to many people). After asking typical process questions like, “What was this like for you?” or “What was something interesting you learned about another person in the room?”, I then follow up with these types of questions:

  • “Is there anyone was physically challenged by this exercise?”
  • “Is there anyone for whom hearing was a challenge in this type of room?”

I typically am working in a room of able-bodied participants; and I tend to co-host this workshop with a friend of mine who uses hearing aids. She often shares how this exercise would have been extremely difficult for her to filter out individual voices in such a noisy room. I then share that, due to chemotherapy, my own daughter would have difficult with this exercise since she cannot filter voices well in a loud room. This type of exercise — given that you earn points for moving around quickly — would also prove unfair for anyone who might have mobility challenges. By design, this exercise creates advantage…. and ideally, it helps to highlight to others that we tend not to think about that advantage unless we have others in the room who are unfairly disadvantaged because of it.

picture-11

I am loving this year’s American Idol series. While, yes, we do watch it as a family, it particularly hits home for us as a family with a visually impaired child. Scott MacIntyre, a top 12 finalist, is raising our awareness of how we do things.

Millions dream of making it to the final rounds of American Idol but for Scott MacIntyre, the dream has become reality. Born with severe vision loss from Leber congenital amaurosis (LCA), Scott is an incredibly gifted musical performer who has made it to the Top 12 on American Idol. With his remarkable talent, Scott is bound to make it far in the competition, and we need you to support him as he shoots his way to the top!

An Arizona State University graduate, a Marshall scholar, and a Fulbright scholar, Scott learned to play the piano at the age of three.  His piano professor, Walter Cosand, said, “He’s always been able to do what everyone else could do and many things no one else could do. A lot of things he does are very remarkable, even for someone without a disability.”

Scott also has a sister, Katelyn, who has lost her vision to LCA. With their brother Todd, the three siblings have made a splash performing as the MacIntyre Family Singers. Scott even shared his talents with the FFB family when he performed at the opening luncheon of the 1998 VISIONS Conference in Chicago.

Not only do we have a visually impaired child, many of her friends (at least the ones we see over the summer in a special camp) are also visually impaired. So, the language that Ryan Seacrest uses when Scott MacIntyre is on stage is so familiar to us. Ryan Seacrest describes what direction Scott is facing, he details that Scott is receiving a standing ovation, and he uses physical touch (likely already negotiated — side note: it’s considered very rude to just come up to a visually impaired person and touch them; you approach and ask permission prior to touching someone!) to guide him when on stage. It’s something the American Idol host has never had to do in the 8 seasons the show has been on the air. While not explicitly drawing attention to Scott’s challenge, his very presence raises our awareness of a community that has not gotten exposure in mainstream media.

Yet, it’s a learning process. Because we are so used to speaking and working with able-bodied folks, we still slip. So, last night, I cringed as Ryan Seacrest told all of the finalists to “come to the middle of the stage!” at which point everyone came running down the stairs and hugged one another in the center of the stage. And, up in the left hand corner of the screen, there was Scott MacIntyre — standing still, not moving, and stuck. There were no handrails on the stairs, and Scott was indeed on the top of the risers. After about 20 seconds (which, to me, felt like 20 minutes!), someone came running out from backstage to guide Scott to the center of the stage where he could join his fellow finalists.

Scott’s success in American Idol — and the ways in which his very presence raises our awareness — is so important to the conversation about how we benefit from having diversity in our lives. It requires us to think about ways in which we assume that “everyone is like us”. In the disability circle, specifically, it raises our awareness of ways in which we are blind (my own pun, intended), to the assumptions that everyone does things just like us.

Just like us. Note that I didn’t write “the assumptions that everyone can do things”, but rather that “everyone does things just like us.”  My daughter can jump, run, play sports, sing, walk, participate in just about everything else that any visual child can do … she just doesn’t do it like everyone else. Go check out a “blind baseball game” (there are national leagues that do exist!). Listen to how conversations are built around faith and religion when there are Christians, Jews, and Muslims all in one room as opposed to when those groups are in isolation. Having different types of people and experiences requires us to take into consideration how others engage in the conversation, activity, and process.

So, do I think it matters if someone has a Black professor? Yes. A group of diverse friends/co-workers? Yes. Opportunities to dialogue across faith traditions? Yes. That there is diversity in decision making positions? Yes.

Experiences that require us to work with different types of people bring a new level of awareness to how we navigate through our own world. When we aren’t challenged to see things outside of how we do things, we don’t suffer. American Idol has been just fine in the past 7 seasons. But, this season – with the inclusion of a very talented and deserving artist – has hopefully highlighted ways in which we take for granted that OUR way is the ONLY way.

Great Links!

Hi everyone! Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. these past few weeks. Been going through some personal and family stuff.

I’ve been focusing on lots of the post-racial hype, and Racialicious as been covering the topic really well. Here are a few of the best links in the past few days:

Tami has been writing about how people are mischaracterizing discussions around certain issues in the Black community. Tami is, as always, brilliant, and has been writing a lot about observations on ways in which we are talking about the Obama family.

Carmen and Latoya are starting  a new watch of the post-racialized stuff out there, so I’m excited to follow all that they find!

Thanks for understanding about the lack of posting! Hope to get some time and relief where I can write a bit more!

Peace,

Liza