Mom? Can I be a princess? – The problems of underrepresentation of ethnic minorities

Mom? Can I be a princess? – The problems of underrepresentation of ethnic minorities

Think of when you were a young child. Who were your favorite princes and princesses? Your favorite cartoon characters? Or maybe your favorite character from a storybook that your parents read you before bed. Chances are that these characters are white. 

You don’t believe us? Let us give you some numbers and examples: Popular children’s channels such as Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon feature around 65% of white characters (Lemish & Johnson, 2019). For children’s books, the numbers are even more staggering. Only 5% of children’s books in the UK featured BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) characters. This fraction drastically differs from the actual percentage of primary school children from ethnic minorities, at 33.5%. After all, children need to have characters in a story with whom they can positively and accurately identify. Even within popular movies for children, just like Disney movies, the way main characters and villains are portrayed is very problematic. Just think about it: Usually the heroes are white, while the evil character will most likely have darker skin. You may even not have thought about this, but it can carry harsh real-life consequences. For example, during the casting of a school play, a little black girl refused to play the princess as she did not believe she was fit to play the part, saying, “I’m brown and have frizzy hair, princesses are white and have blonde hair and blue eyes” (van den Breemer, 2020). 

These representations provide restrictions that people have to fit into, telling (not only) children what they can and cannot do solely because of their ethinc background. Additionally, it also hinders forming a healthy and accurate self-representation (Jindal, 2020).

What we’ve shown is just one reason why representation is important. We want to take a dive into an area even closer to us, Maastricht University. To what extent is our own university providing representation to these different ethnic groups? We aim to find these representations in our course materials, and check if they are represented stereotypically along the way. This can help us reflect on our own institution and see what we can do for the future.

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