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American Companies Increasingly Embracing Diversity

2012 April 17
Racially Diverse Gerber Babies

The New Gerber Babies

By Adrienne Varkiani

Companies across America have recently been changing their work in an effort to reflect the shifting demographics of the nation. Disney, for example, came out with its first black princess in The Princess and the Frog two years ago. Gerber, rather than continuing to use the same white baby from twenty years ago, has added several more babies of various races to their Gerber Baby campaign. And most recently, Marvel Comic’s Ultimate series features a new Spiderman who is half-black and half-Hispanic.

Of course, like many other Spiderman fans, I’m happy that Peter Parker is still alive in Marvel’s standard line. But reading some of the comments on the story about this new, alternate Spiderman made me quite upset. While I was happy Peter Parker was still alive because I liked him personally, a lot of other people disliked the alternate Spiderman because of his race. Those who commented made quips about affirmative action, outsourcing, and the new Spiderman doing the “work American superheroes refuse to do.” The same comments were on the stories about the Gerber babies, and I’m sure I would find similar comments on older articles about The Princess and the Frog.

Princess and The Frog

Princess Tiana in The Princess and the Frog

I’m not sure whether such comments were made because of a bad experience with someone of a different race, an instinctive fear of change and that which is different from us, or if it was simply the hatred that often results from the anonymity of the internet. But while such changes may have been made by some companies out of the need to be politically correct, for the majority is was simply done in order to reflect reality. And the reality is that our nation’s demographics are changing.

For the first time ever, more than half of the children under age 2 in the US are minorities. Demographers say the numbers provide the clearest confirmation of a changing social order, one in which racial and ethnic minorities will become the U.S. majority by midcentury. We can distinctly see these changes around us for ourselves. While the majority of older Americans are white, younger Americans are increasingly non-white.

Kal Penn in House

Kal Penn in the TV Show House

It barely made sense to use the same monolithic characters twenty years ago, let alone now with these changes. I embrace the recent infusion of color that I have seen in advertisements and television, because it is more like the America I know and love. The recent increase in casting of Indian-American actors, like Kal Penn in “House” and Aziz Ansari in “Parks and Recreation,” remind me of my best friend.  Ken Jeong in The Hangover made me laugh like no one else could, and he reminds me of my crazy next-door neighbor. And in “Scrubs,” a character’s worry that her child would forget about her Dominican heritage was something that I and so many other Americans could relate to.

I appreciate that there was a mixed-race couple in the recent movie Bridesmaids, as I think it’s the future of America. I think the Latino Gerber baby is as equally cute as the white one, and I heard stories about little girls who didn’t believe they could be princesses because of the color of their skin, so I’m glad there are finally Disney princesses of all different shades.

America is a nation of immigrants—whether from before 1776 or more recently—and the time for our companies to start embracing that has been long overdue.

Adrienne Varkiani is a former Intern with SFCG on Race in Washington, DC. Learn more about our work on race in the USA here.

One Response leave one →
  1. April 29, 2012

    I like the article. I think that the companies that are embracing diversity, as you described, are definitely heading in the right direction. Cultural diversity enriches everybody’s life, and brings together the resources and talents of many people for the shared benefit of all.

    Piero Stillitano

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