Americans are facing a lot of major issues right now but one of the most important ones is the continuing struggle for social justice for people of color. It’s a hard conversation to have for adults and even more so with children. Parents are looking for ways to talk to their kids about systemic racism and we’re happy to tell you that television can actually help promote thoughtful conversations about topics like the Black Lives Matter movement, and the definition of white privilege.
“As parents, we have to face our own anxiety,” said Dr. George James Jr., a Philadelphia-based family therapist when he appeared on the recent television special, Nick News Presents: Kids, Race, and Unity, which can now be viewed on YouTube. “We get nervous. Should we talk about this? Should we not talk about it? You have to be willing to be honest and open with your children. You have to be willing to be transparent and share your own experience, because they’re looking to see if you’re authentic.”
Television has, at times, been an outlet for discussing racial inequality. The Civil Rights movement entered living rooms across America via the small screen some 60 years ago and since then, the heady topic has been tackled on shows like the beloved 1977 miniseries Roots and its subsequent sequels to comedies including All In the Family, black-ish and Dear White People. Underrated dramas such as The Wire and the epic documentary series Eyes On the Prize also unpacked racism in candid and unapologetic ways.
When it comes to children’s television, trailblazers such as Fred Rogers used his show, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, as a platform to criticize segregated swimming pools in 1969. While you can find clips from this classic installment online, there are more direct and modern examples available on Netflix, PBS Kids, Amazon, CNN and more. We’ve compiled the best shows available to stream to help parents and kids begin talking about racial equality.
Coming Together Standing Up to Racism — A CNN Sesame Street Town Hall for Kids and Families
Where to Watch: CNN and CNN.com
Sesame Street has never shied away from tough topics and has even dealt with racism in past installments. But when it came to anti-racism and the world after the death of George Floyd, the 50-year-old mainstay turned to CNN’s Van Jones and Erica Hill to help puppet Abby Cadabby explain racism from a child’s perspective. Abby talks about how her friend Big Bird was discriminated against by other birds, for instance, and if a parent subs out birds for people, the discussion about racism makes more sense for little ones. Recommended viewing ages 3 to 5. [Clip]
Watch it on: Disney+
This family comedy never beats its viewers over the head with the message that its Cuban American heroine, Elena (Tess Romero), has what it takes to grow up and become the POTUS someday. Instead, it tells an inclusive and thoughtful story about Elena and her multigenerational family, imparts valuable life lessons, and makes fans root for a victorious campaign. Actress Gina Rodriguez is an executive producer on the series and stars as the presidential adult version of Elena. Recommended viewing age 8 and older. [Trailer]
Where to Watch: Netflix
This family-friendly drama is centered on a young Black boy named Dion (played by star Ja’Siah Young), who is born with superpowers, but he’s unsure of how to use them. Once Dion learns what he can do, he harnesses his powers for good with the help of his widowed mom, Nicole (Alisha Wainwright). But you can’t have a Black child superhero without dealing with one of the world’s greatest evils – racism. And Raising Dion deftly tackles the subject in the third episode of its first season when a white teacher racially profiles the lovable title character. Recommended viewing age 8 and older. [Trailer]
Set in the 1980s, this heartwarming black-ish spinoff shows how a young Rainbow (Arica Himmel as a youngster, Tracee Ellis Ross as an adult in black-ish) moved from a commune to the suburbs, where being a mixed-race child was a rare and sometimes alienating experience. Topics explored include race, class, Black hair, biracial people passing for white, and even Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream. Tracee Ellis Ross, who is biracial in real life, executive produces the sitcom and also narrates. Recommended viewing age 10 and older. [Trailer]
East Lake Meadows: A Public Housing Story
Where to Watch: PBS.org
Award-winning filmmaker Ken Burns explores racism and classism in this tragic documentary about the rise and fall of a public housing community in Atlanta. For viewers not familiar with people who live in public housing, East Lake disabuses all notions of squalor and instead shows how resilient and intelligent the residents are and unpacks what it means to be poor and Black in the American south. Watch the film on PBS.org. [Trailer]
Ugga mugga means “I love you” on this endearing show, which emphasizes empathy, an important component in anti-racism. A spinoff of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the award-winning series follows 4-year-old Daniel Tiger and his diverse group of friends. This includes Miss Elaina, a biracial girl, who has a white mom and a Black dad. There’s also Chrissie, a little girl who uses crutches and leg braces to walk. Recommended viewing ages 2 to 4. [Clip]
Watch it on: Amazon Prime
This former Nickelodeon animated series can now be streamed on Amazon Prime Video and follows a cute 5-year-old girl who loves discovering and teaching others about her rich Chinese heritage. Kai-Lan teaches kids how to speak Mandarin and she also learns and imparts her wisdom on all sorts of topics including tolerance, patience, and sharing with others. Recommended viewing age 3 and older. [Clip]
Where to Watch: Disney Now
In an era where it feels good to learn about people all over the world, this Disney offering mindfully educates young viewers about Indian and South Asian cuisine, culture, dance, and music. Mira is also a commoner, but rises above her family’s station in life to help the royal family solve problems and mysteries and think about others who are less fortunate. Recommended viewing ages 2 to 7. [Trailer]
Where to Watch: HBO, HBO Max
The producers behind Sesame Street crafted this fun and colorful series featuring a precocious little Black girl (voiced by Millie Davis) and her monster pal, Roy. Through music and humor, the two monster babysitters embark on adventures that stress the importance of play, trying new foods, and embracing others’ differences. It also subtly shows how Esme is just a regular but awesome little kid, who happens to be Black. Recommended viewing ages 4 to 6. [Trailer]
For 14 seasons, this groundbreaking children’s show about a bespectacled aardvark and his eclectic friends has addressed everything from dyslexia to cancer. But its episodes on multiculturalism and the importance of learning about different kinds of people for a more enriched life are among its best. The latter even includes after-show worksheets. Ever relevant, Arthur grabbed headlines when the series featured a same-sex wedding in 2019. Recommended viewing ages 4 to 8. [Trailer]