I grew up watching The Proud Family on The Disney Channel as did most of my peers I am assuming. Naturally as a child deeper meanings or even inappropriate jokes hidden in children’s programming go right over your naïve and innocent little head. Now that the rose colored glasses of naivety have worn off, this is true for me regarding The Proud Family.
At first glance the show appears to be empowering and affirming for African Americans. There were plenty of television shows that existed before The Proud Family with black leads, but this show was the first of its kind on The Disney Channel. The strong black female lead in Trudy Proud, voiced by Paula Jai Parker, is an empowering symbol for young African American girls. My issue is not with Trudy Proud or what she represents, but rather the cost associated with portraying her and other “light skin” characters in this light.
The Proud Family is an example of colorism on television. Colorism is defined as, “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among the same ethnic or racial group.” Read more about colorism here.
The Proud Family sends a confusing message to young African American girls in terms of the color of their skin. The lighter skinned characters Penny and Trudy Proud are the main characters of the show. It becomes difficult to separate their successes and triumphs from the shade of their skin especially when characters of darker skin tones are not having the same experience on the show.
For example, Dijonay is Penny Proud’s best friend and has darker skin. Her life is a stark contrast to that of Penny. Dijonay’s parents are never around and she has a lot of misbehaved siblings that she has to care for. Similarly the father figure Oscar Proud who also has dark skin reinforces negative racial stereotypes about black fathers because he is portrayed as lazy and dumb.
It is difficult to separate the shade of each of these characters skin from their successes or failures on the show. This colorism is extremely harmful. How are little African American boys and girls watching the show supposed to know that the success of the lighter characters is not because to the lighter shade of their skin? There is clearly a correlation on The Proud Family between skin tone and positive traits.
Colorism harms the black community because it pits a group of people against each other who need to stick together and build each other up in this crazy world we live in. It’s hard to tell if the writers understood the implications of colorism when writing The Proud Family. I’d like to think that the show wasn’t written in this harmful manner on purpose, but unfortunately that would require putting my rose colored glasses back on.