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Ethnic Diversity The importance of diversity for child role models

It's important for kids to see that any race or gender can be awesome enough to save the day, says KADEEM SIMMONDS

MY MUM bought my son a Black Panther action figure recently. My initial reaction was upset and disappointment. Where was mine?

However, once I got over that feeling, I felt a warmth wash over me. In 2018 my son was being given toys of ethnic minority action figures. Growing up, I never got that.

Sure, I had Batman, Superman, Wolverine as well as your Action Man (the greatest hero of them all) and GI Joe, though that was a bit before my time.

This isn’t a race thing. It never crossed my mind, or bothered me, that the toys I was playing with had a different skin colour to me.

It didn’t stop me from dressing up as Batman or a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. But looking back, how much more invested would I have been had the superheroes I paraded about as actually looked like me?

With the Black Panther movie being released in Britain next week, social media is awash with little kids dressing up as the characters. It looks beautiful.

It looked amazing when a young black boy dressed up as a storm trooper a few years back with the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He wanted to be Finn, something young ethnic minority children couldn’t have been decades ago.

Sure, they could have been Lando Calrissian but he wasn’t as big a character back then as Finn is now.

My two-year-old son is growing up in a world where he can be a comic book fan and see people that represent him on the pages, just not as villains but as the protagonist.

Last year saw Luke Cage hit our screens on Netflix. This year we have the aforementioned Black Panther and there are growing rumours that Marvel or Sony will release a Miles Morales Spider Man movie.

This doesn’t mean my son is only allowed ethnic minority action figure toys. Far from it. He goes crazy for Batman, Robin, Ben 10 and a host of other superheroes. You should see him when PJ Masks comes on, he truly believes he is Gekko.

But there is something to be said about young ethnic minority children growing up with the belief that they can be the hero of the story and not the seedy gangster selling drugs to make ends meet.

And the same goes for young girls. Wonder Woman was a huge success. Captain Marvel is in production and Black Widow is kicking ass as part of the Avengers.

Girls want to be superheroes as well and not all of them want to play with Barbies. At a superhero fancy dress party, girls used to be limited to Batgirl and Wonder Woman, who hasn’t really had much television or movie coverage since the DC Universe was rebooted a few years back.

They may have had Catwoman, Poison Ivy and other female villains but what is that teaching them? And you wouldn’t really dress a young girl as Princess Leia, would you?

But today they have a range of strong, positive women to choose from and it’s liberating.

I grew up in a world where over 90 per cent of superheroes were white men. While that is still the case, the next generation are starting to see that any race or gender can be awesome enough to save the day.

And mum, I’m still waiting on my Black Panther figure.

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