Rethinking the politics of identity is more than just an intellectual exercise when you become a parent. These days, my anxieties about raising a black child with a healthy, well-rounded sense of self has lead me to unusual places and unexpected insights. Take, for instance, The Backyardigans:
Virtually every American preschooler knows about Nick Jr.’s animated show, The Backyardigans. My toddler is no exception. The show’s five friends share a suburban backyard and an adventurous imagination.
The music initially caught my daughter’s attention. The impressive mix of musical genres are inventive, fun, and provide the show with a rare kind of cultural diversity. In one episode, Pablo the Penguin imitates James Brown’s soul music. Tyrone the Moose often croons country-western songs, and in space, the Backyardigans sing contemporary African pop music with a Martian mom (voiced by Alicia Keys). Click here to open the Nick Jr. video player and search for Backyardigans clips.
But for me, Uniqua is the show’s main attraction. She is the pink, plump, and perceptive polka-dotted creature who inspires others with thoughtfulness and bravery. And while Tasha the Hippo is often cast as the princess or the diva, Uniqua is not bound by traditional gender roles. She is the brave knight, the graceful Egyptian Sphinx, and the chest-thumping Viking. Her positive energy and assertiveness are qualities that I have been trying to instill in my daughter since she was a blip on the ultrasound screen! So it also matters, you see, that Uniqua’s voice and mannerisms are that of an African-American child.