America is known as “The Melting Pot of the World” for a reason. We live in a country that hosts people from all different walks of life, as well as different cultures and ethnicities. So why is it that in a place so rich in diverse cultures and history, the majority of our stories feature the same type of protagonists, the straight white male. Before I go any further, let me just say first and foremost: I am in no way condemning these characters, nor am I here to stand on a soapbox and preach. I am simply using that point as a starting platform to explain my opinions on diversity and representation, and why it is so important.
Let’s start off by attempting to answer a question that I posed earlier: why do the majority of our stories feature the same type of protagonists? The simple answer to this is the fact that white males make up the majority of America’s population, so they are a fairly easy and large group to appeal to. This is also why we have the issue in entertainment that is deemed as “whitewashing,” taking historically or well known ethnic characters and making them white. This is unfair to the rest of the people of America. Why should white males get the bulk of the representation? Again, I am in no way condemning white male characters or their fans, as I happen to be a fan of many of them.
In spite of the opinions that I’ve stated so far, I do not feel that a character has to resemble you in order for you to relate to them. Personally, I have looked up to Charlie Brown and Tommy Pickles since I was a kid, and they look nothing like me. He is a young white male, and I am a young black male. But in that same breath, there is undoubtedly something really cool and really special about seeing characters in stories that look like you. In the same way that I looked up to Charlie Brown, I also idolized characters such as Virgil Hawkins from Static Shock, John Stewart from Justice League and Cyborg from Teen Titans, all black characters. Seeing characters that looked like me, but also were well written and had strong character development always gave me a special feeling.
One issue that America faces in regards to representation, is the fact that we only see the bad. We never celebrate the good examples of anything. For as much as we have a history of stories featuring straight white males, we have branched out quite a bit in the last 10 or so years. "The Proud Family" and "That’s So Raven" were Disney shows that primarily focused on black American families, but also featured numerous white and Mexican characters. More recently, the critically acclaimed DreamWorks film "Home" featured a young black girl with curly hair, something that hadn’t really been seen before. Katniss Everdeen from the "Hunger Games" is an incredibly strong and popular female character. There are even examples outside of race and gender. The Cartoon Network show "Steven Universe" features LGBT characters, something that is unheard of in animated programming. Perhaps most historically, earlier this year the famous Barbie doll line went through a great change in order to promote diversity and healthy self-image. While Barbie dolls of different races were available for years, this initiative extended far beyond race. Barbie dolls now include different body types such as petite and curvy, as well as numerous new skin tones and hair styles.The importance of representation and diversity cannot be understated. As a child or even an adult growing up in America, it can be incredibly inspiring to see well written characters that look like you, and go through similar personal issues. Seeing these characters overcome their issues can go a long way toward helping us with ours.