Ah yes, we all miss the golden days of Saturday morning cartoons and being able to quote every line of our favorite shows by heart. Now it’s all about Netflix. But on the off days when I do happen to be in front of a TV and catch myself sneaking over to the kid channels for a peek at my old favorites, I’m usually disheartened to find they’ve been replaced. While this is to be expected after so many years, these new Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows seem to be missing something very important.
The lack of diversity in television and film has been — and still is — a huge problem today. But thinking back to some of the shows I used to watch as a kid, I couldn’t help but notice they got a few things right. From actually discussing different cultures and their practices to teaching us about racial inequalities and breaking gender norms, the shows we watched in the ‘90s and early ‘00s taught us about society while still being fun to watch.
Not that today’s kids’ shows don’t have their good qualities, but they could stand to learn something from the “golden age” of Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. These shows focused on more than what it’s like to be a popstar with a double life or a teenage wizard in New York City. They opened up positive conversation about culture, diversity and society.
While we can only hope that kids today are getting the same positive messages from the shows they watch, we can also reminisce and look back at the shows that had such a good impact on our childhoods.
1. The Proud Family
From the “7 Days of Kwanzaa” episode to “Culture Shock” — where Penny learns about a Pakistani family’s traditions and the struggles they face from those who don’t understand their culture — to the unforgettable “I Had a Dream” episode that explains the background of Black History Month, The Proud Family deserves to be on this list.
2. That’s So Raven
If the episode “True Colors” from That’s So Raven wasn’t a defining moment of your childhood, then I don’t know what was. Here, Raven and Chelsea go undercover to expose a racist store manager who refuses to hire African-Americans. Not only did this show teach us about racial inequality, but it taught us to be independent, creative and love ourselves no matter what we look like, as we saw in the episode “That’s So Not Raven.”
3. Sister, Sister
This yin and yang style relationship was #sistergoals. Apart from Tia and Tamera representing opposite sides of the typical high school personality (and rockin’ it both ways), the cast of this show was so much more diverse than the casts we see on kids’ shows nowadays. Not only was it refreshing, but it showed us that not everyone on television or in the real world is the same skin color.
4. Powerpuff Girls
Along with shows like Clarissa Explains It All and Pepper Ann, the Powerpuff Girls embraced female empowerment and taught us that — whether you’re a product of Chemical X or not — girls are capable of doing absolutely anything they set their minds to. One episode that stands out, in particular, is “Equal Fights,” in which the girls teach Femme Fatale the true definition of gender equality.
5. Avatar: The Last Airbender
Not only was this show absolutely amazing, but it also represented diversity in a way that felt natural and organic as Aang and his friends traveled around the world. Pulling from Tibetan monasteries (Air), Pre-Meiji Japan (Fire), the Inuit people (Water) and Imperial China (Earth), the show represents several different people in a way that teaches kids about cultures other than their own. Not only this, but the show’s sequel The Legend of Korra openly portrays bisexual female characters in a relationship.
- All That / The Nick Cannon Show
- The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
- Smart Guy
- Reading Rainbow
- Rocket Power
- Hey Arnold
- Dragon Tales
- The Emperor’s New School
- American Dragon Jake Long
As nice as it would be to get in a time machine and go back in time ten years, we can’t really do that. Still, we can be thankful that we grew up with these awesome positive messages about culture and history in our childhoods. It’s important for kids to be aware of other cultures, ethnicities, religions, genders and sexualities. While TV back in the ‘90s wasn’t perfect, and it still isn’t today, it is possible (and necessary) to teach kids about other cultures and history in a way that they enjoy and understand.