Turn on your TV. Flip through the channels for a bit. Do you see a deficit of white folks? No, you do not. Canada may be a cultural mosaic and America a melting pot, but the boob tube is still pretty pure laine. And so it is rather rich that, this week, a brouhaha erupted over a since-revised job posting for CBC Kids’ show Patty and Mamma Yamma that was looking for a male co-host between the ages of 23 and 35 of “any race except Caucasian.”
Cue the bloggeruption, Twittersplosion, and, eventually, Fox News North’s self-declared cultural warrior Brian Lilley’s “No Whites Allowed” piece, in which the Sun TV host goes into ironic outrage over a job posting that wasn’t politically correct enough for him. (Showing surprising self-awareness, he admits to being pro-discrimination but can’t abide by the CBC doing it: “Why do they think they can get away with it?”)
A letter to the editor in the National Post swung even harder, griping that “leftists remain intent on legitimizing this form of discrimination, which many of them view as appropriate ‘payback time against whitey.’ The hypocrisy of such leftists, who vaunt themselves as valiant fighters against all forms of discrimination, is galling to say the least.” Meanwhile, the comments on the Post‘s original article ranged from “it’s time for a white civil rights movement” to “the most closed minded people are supposedly open minded progressives.”
And it’s not just right-wingers railing against the “state broadcaster.” NDP MP Andrew Cash, who actually represents my own riding, told QMI: “The job description from the casting company is completely unacceptable. The company has since removed the posting and apologized, which was the right thing to do.”
Meanwhile, the CBC backed away slowly, blaming “human error” on the part of their casting agency. The job posting on the Larissa Mair Casting and Associates site, as well as Craigslist, quickly had the offending line deleted.
But here’s the thing: As a parent, I think hiring a host who is any race but Caucasian is completely acceptable in this case.
Sure, the wording was indelicate, but the show already has a white female host (Patty Sullivan) and so they were seeking a minority male to provide the most possible diversity. (The titular Mamma Yamma, by the way, is a yam puppet who runs a produce stand in Kensington Market.) As the official letter the CBC sends out to casting agents (which was forwarded to the National Post) put it: “At CBC, inclusion and diversity is a priority. This means reflecting Canada and its regions as well as the country’s multicultural and multiracial nature.” It also stresses that a concerted effort be “to cast actors who reflect Canada’s diversity.”
It’s an admirable effort, so why not be honest? Critics would have presumably preferred a colour-blind casting call that wastes the time of everyone that didn’t fit the bill of what the show was actually looking for. Kinda like all the non-specific auditions where white actors are hired regardless—and for the same “representative” reasons. Except in those cases, the goal is to represent most viewers rather the most types of viewers. This is a huge difference, especially when it comes to children’s programming.
I’m fortunate enough to be raising my three-year-old Emile in one of the most diverse ridings in the country, in one of the most diverse cities in the world. That cultural (if not gender) diversity is also nicely reflected in the staff of his daycare. To him, it’s just normal.
But a lot of people, including myself when I was a kid, live in less-mixed neighbourhoods. As such, television has a huge socializing influence on what we deem normal, and minorities are inarguably under-represented across the dial. Yes, even in kids shows.
It may seem like children’s television programming would be an oasis of cultural diversity because the most famous kids show, Sesame Street, pioneered interracial and multicultural casts way back in 1969. But in 2010, “A National Study on Children’s Television Programming in Canada” found that, of the 563 shows it analyzed, 78 per cent of the “human-type characters” were identified as European white, eight per cent were black, six per cent were Asian, five per cent were Aboriginal, two per cent were Latino and one per cent were Middle Eastern. On top of that, 48 per cent interacted only with people of the same race or culture, and only 42 per cent of children’s shows had any visible minorities at all.
Every non-white face on a kids show not only provides another entry point of identification for a wider range of young viewers, it also helps the white-majority kids indentify with those who doesn’t look like them. My son loves Yo Gabba Gabba and its black host DJ Lance Rock. The show quite rightly never draws any attention to race, but it makes a difference because Emile’s positive feelings about DJ Lance are internalized and will help make him a more open-minded person as he grows up.
As an Australian government fact sheet on diversity (albeit in reference to daycare) put it, “by six months of age, children are already noticing similarities and differences in people. If they form positive attitudes towards differences, they are more likely to grow up appreciating diversity as a normal part of their lives.”
Fear comes from the unknown, and the more one is used to seeing and being around people from other races and cultures, the less one might fear and therefore be prejudiced against them. We can’t, and shouldn’t, control whom people associate with—but one thing we can and should control is who they see represented on children’s television.