Why Was Doug from Doug White When Everyone Else Was Multicolored?


Because the Internet was created for the sole purpose of indulging in ’90s nostalgia, I would like to take this opportunity to address an unsolved mystery from my early childhood: why was Doug Funnies’ family white-looking when everyone else populating their fictional world was green, purple, or orange (except for that one guy)? The universe of the show hovers at the edge of being the most bully infested post-racial society of all time and then is like, “Nah, fuck it, let’s just have a white protagonist.”

According to Slimed!: An Oral History of Nickelodeon’s Golden Age, which is out September 2013, the decision to have the characters appear as a veritable rainbow (sorry to every color that is not purple, green, or orange) of unnatural skin tones was, indeed, racially motivated. In executive producer Doug Campbell’s not-so-eloquent words:

Look, we’re not black people, we’re not Mexican, but we want the cartoon to speak to all groups. How do we get past the barrier of ethnicity? And Jim [Jinkins, the show’s creator] said, ‘Let’s try coloring them all different colors.

The “we are not a diverse group of writers so we cannot speak for all races and also cannot hire any writers of non-white backgrounds” logic aside, it was unarguably a significant decision — especially since the children’s network was hugely dominated by all-white casts (virtual and real) at the time. As Bitch‘s Hanna White puts it, “[this] unusual take on diversity… gave kids of any and all ethnic backgrounds a way to relate to the characters onscreen without creating circumstances ripe for stereotyping.”

This brings us to Skeeter. In Slimed, Jinkins says, “It’s pretty common knowledge that Skeeter was African-American. And I love that, because I did not consciously set out for that to be the case; I just thought he looked good blue.” It’s interesting to see how we tend to project race distinctions into a ostensibly raceless arena (again, though, since Doug’s entire family is white, it’s not as raceless as one would hope). So Skeeter became a non-stereotypical point of identification for black viewers, which was great, but he also became a dead end of sorts — a way to allow for increased diversity while simultaneously avoiding the often-fraught process of representing race.

So the Funnies were the show’s white “norm”, which undermined the writers’ purported goal of getting “past the barrier of ethnicity.” According to Slimed, this wasn’t an accident or a bit of privilege-caused blindness. Gus Hauser, one of Nickelodeon’s founders, admits that the network’s decision to market their programming to kids with cable caused them pander to an affluent (presumed white) market:

The others didn’t get Nickelodeon… Children who couldn’t afford cable were getting some children’s programming from PBS. Sure, it brings up issues of diversity and income level.

Although Doug was on air approx. a millenium ago in Internet years, little has changed on the television landscape. As Bitch points out, 78 percent of series regulars on broadcast TV are white. Studies have found that a lack of representation on children’s television shows leads to lower self esteem in black and white girls as well as black boys (white boys show an increase in self esteem after watching TV — surprise!). In short: it’s best to keep that whiny white lady in a beret out of your “ethnicity-free” fictional universe if you want to really be progressive.

“Racial Diversity in Nickelodeon’s Golden Age” [Bitchmedia]

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