TBone Informational: Racial Coding/Stereotypes in Cartoons

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Titus Ramsey, Writer

 Last week I watched my old childhood cartoons, you know the classics. They each were laughable and utterly enjoyable, each with their villains and heroes. However, I did notice a pattern; in many episodes, the characters were counterparts to their voice actors. For example, if we had a character portraying a person of color, that character will have characteristics/stereotypes associated with that ethnicity. An example is that of the classic Looney Tunes character Speedy Gonzalez. The fastest mouse of all of Mexico, Speedy sports a white poncho, red tie, and a sombrero. He even has an accent to specify how “Mexican” he is.  And do you know what’s the funny part? Most of Speedy’s voice actors are not Mexican. 

  But I know what you’re thinking. These are old cartoons, right? These characters were made when racial stereotypes were widely accepted? Wrong. Let’s start 2003-2006 show Xiaolin Showdown. Many might not remember it, but for the three years it aired it was very popular. Omi, the main character, is a martial arts student training to perfect himself. Being the funny, goofy, and loving character many see Omi as many miss the stereotype printed on his face. The character is yellow. This might not seem bad at first but considering that the creator claims that Omi is of Asian heritage, this is outright outrages. Hmm, no wonder it only had three seasons. The show even had a re-run in 2013 but was quickly canceled in 2015.

 Let’s do another present-day cartoon, shall we? Enter The Proud Family. This cartoon’s re-runs are still very popular and its art is still incorporated into shows. Starring Penny Proud, this series revolves around her family’s consistent shenanigans and humor. And I hate it. The show, although having many-colored characters, makes African-Americans seem loud and obnoxious. It also makes us look like we are gangsters off the street, with chains around our necks and the constant urge to dance in the middle of the school. The good news is that the show only lasted for about two seasons. The bad news is that it’s rumored that they will be back on Disney Plus.

 I find it ironic that every race is portrayed on media by people who don’t even look like them. When are we going to portray ourselves?

  These stereotypes have made it into our everyday cartoons, TV, music, and more. It seems like the more we talk about diversity, the more racial coding makes it into society. I understand the efforts to incorporate other races, ethnicity, and cultures in media. However, there is a fine line between respecting who one is and outright mocking them. We would much rather have an all-white cast then see people who look like us who don’t even act like us. This is not saying you should never watch cartoons. I have a few favorites. But I implore you to look closely at our beloved characters and pay attention to how they portray you. Because they might be fake, but humans are not.

Here are some links to a few of the cartoons I’ve described. Don’t take my word for it, look at them yourselves.

Proud Family

Xiaolin Showdown