Light Skin is the Right Skin… Can We Be “Proud” of The Proud Family?

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.

proud family season one episode 5

Still from The Proud Family, “EZ Jackster,” (Season 1, Episode 5, 2001)

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.

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14 Responses to Light Skin is the Right Skin… Can We Be “Proud” of The Proud Family?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I thought this was a great post. I grew up watching the Proud Family as well, and I definitely agree with the direction you took your blog post. All of your paragraphs are 1-3 sentences, following a journalistic style, and cut to the point quickly. I like how you tackled a controversial topic in a show that has been off air for awhile, but definitely had issues with colorism. Great post!

    Kat Huber

  2. mediaphiles says:

    I’ve seen Proud Family, but I’ve never thought about how colorism affected the show. Your post explained how it negatively impacted the show in a simple but effective manner. Good job!

    Sam Bishop

  3. mediaphiles says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post. I thought you made some great points and explained your argument very well. To be honest, I’ve never thought about the colorism that is present in the show. The family is supposed to be an African American family, yet they are very light skinned almost to the point of looking white. I think in many ways this is to make it more ‘acceptable’ or ‘palatable’ for audiences.

    Isabelle Jeffrey

  4. mediaphiles says:

    This was one of the most interesting blog posts that I have read. I loved that it was based on a show that a younger audience watches, especially one that was on Disney Channel. I grew up watching Disney Channel when I was younger, which helped to make this post more relatable to me. I had never thought about it this way, but now that I have read this blog post, it becomes more and more obvious to me.

    Jane Schaefer

  5. mediaphiles says:

    This is very interesting interpretation of The Proud Family, which I found extremely clear and easy to read. I also watched this tv show as a kid but have never thought about it in this way. It is important to view these children’s shows with a critical lens to uncover certain implications of character portrayal, such as colorism, that may not even be purposeful. Writers and producers should be more aware of these case studies and be mindful when creating new television series, especially for children who are so easily-influenced.

  6. mediaphiles says:

    Very interesting post – I think it’s super important to consider representation in the media on all levels, from children’s programming to primetime dramas. You gave a lot of really great examples from the show. I wonder if the show creators were trying to comment on the reality of colorism in our society or if the show is merely a product of that prejudice. Also, I wonder if more people would have noticed this/commented on it if The Proud Family was a live-action sitcom instead of a cartoon. I really like your comment at the beginning about how many of the programs we watched as kids actually contain inappropriate jokes or really heavy content. A lot of these “kids shows” say a lot more to adults than they say to children.

    Alyssa McAuliffe

  7. mediaphiles says:

    I too have considered this colorism in this show and many Black shows. It seems like this technique is certainly not exclusive to The Proud Family. Think about it! Most Black sitcoms have a light skinned mother figure. (Cosby Show, any Tyler Perry show, My Wife and Kids, Bernie Mac Show, Jamie Foxx show (love interest was light skinned). Even on Fresh Prince, they switched Aunt Vivian to a light skinned woman, like no one would notice. It is unfortunate that colorism exists because melanin is beautiful in any shade, but I guess that’s my personal opinion. It is amazing how deep rooted societal practices can impact a race for decades after being in effect. The US has successfully damaged and divided the Black community through colorism, but through time, the Black community has been able to slowly undo some of this damage, and hopefully we can continue to do so. Great topic, awesome point. Jordan Stackhouse

  8. mediaphiles says:

    **Blog post by Kylie Long

  9. mediaphiles says:

    Representation is so important! Seeing positive, healthy and realistic representations on tv or other viewing platforms is essential for younger generations of black boys and girls. As children grow up, they turn to tv and other mediums to find a sense of self-identity. I personally watched The Proud Family growing up and I was aware of this apparent colorism within the show. What struck me most about the show was the representation of the Gross Sisters – yes, literally called the “gross sisters”. The three sisters were the bullies at Penny’s school, they stole money, lived in a rough neighborhood and typically did not speak on screen. Their names are a play on skincare products which is ironic since they are shown to always have dry, ashy skin – to the point that they are depicted as being blue. Each of these qualities is a negative and harmful stereotype about black men and women. Furthermore, I remember Dijonay – who is of a darker complexion – being found to be untrustworthy and Penny eventually deciding that she could no longer share secrets with her friend. Looking back, I could not agree more with you on how The Proud Family upholds harmful stereotypes.

    – Meghan Barber

  10. mediaphiles says:

    This is super interesting because I used to watch The Proud Family all the time as a kid and the color of their skin never occurred to me. Now that you point this out, I can definitely see how colorism does play in here. I would be interested to get your thoughts on the same topic as it relates to That’s So Raven – I had a childhood friend once who said to me that That’s So Raven wasn’t actually that progressive for Disney Channel at the time because Raven had relatively light skin and she said it was Disney’s way of being inclusive without actually being totally inclusive. It had never occurred to me to look for this in shows that I had watched at an even younger age.

    Thanks for pointing this out and great post!

    -Adrienne Henderson

  11. mediaphiles says:

    I thought this post was really compelling, and something I have never considered! I also watched the Proud Family, and this makes me think of the show very differently. I think what you said about the overall affect of the colorism of the show being extremely harmful because it pits groups against each other that should stick together is extremely important (especially during a time like this when racism is basically condoned by the man in charge of the country). I think it’s also really important what you about the show doing this unconsciously perhaps, but even if they did it still proves that the culturally constructed stereotypes and how harmful they are/evident in every aspect of life. This post reminded me of something really interesting I read about how many magazines photoshop their covers which feature black women, so their skin tone appears lighter, and how it reinforces this idea of the correlation between whiteness and success, which you discuss in your blog and how harmful it is.

    -Delaney Broderick

  12. mediaphiles says:

    I used to watch the show as a kid as well. I haven’t seen it in years, but i am interested to go back now and see if I have the same concerning and worried views that you do. I am curious, do you think it is better to have this representation on television rather than no representation of animated shows featuring African Americans? I tried to think of another show that may be similar to the Proud Family, and I thought of That’s So Raven . However, there are many white characters involved in That’s So Raven, so it would be hard to consider that a show strictly based off of African Americans. I think your post was very insightful and I enjoyed it a lot. I have to hope the writers did not intend to offend anyone or draw upon Colorism when creating the show. -Sam Ostmann

  13. marymdalton says:

    Excellent post, Kylie! So glad you posted your name in the comments!!!

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