‘Dragonball Z’ Taught Me That Race Is a Social Construct
Turning lemons into unapologetically Black cartoon characters
Anyone who watches Dragon Ball Z knows that Piccolo is Black. Yes, he’s green. Yes, he was born from an egg. And yes, I know that technically he comes from Planet Namek. But to me, and to millions of other Black viewers, Piccolo is Black.
It’s not just Piccolo. It’s Raven from Teen Titans. Knuckles from Sonic the Hedgehog. Skeeter from Doug. Whenever there isn’t a Black character on a beloved animated show, Black people say to hell with it and just create our own.
Why is that? Well, first of all, representation matters. For children, in particular, not seeing themselves on-screen can lead to negative psychological outcomes, namely low self-esteem. Unfortunately, even though the data is clear that children benefit from seeing depictions of themselves on-screen, for many of us of a certain age, those portrayals just weren’t there in the pop culture phenomena of our youth. If I wanted to escape reality in the worlds of my favorite anime or action cartoons, I had to indulge in some race-bending.
And boy did I. The lengths I went to find myself in my favorite cartoons were truly art in itself.
Buttercup from the Powerpuff Girls had a black bob, the only hairstyle that was attainable for me at the time. Plus with her raspy voice and take-no-shit attitude, I just knew she was Black.
I didn’t want to feel like that, to hate such an integral aspect of my identity. So, I escaped, finding a haven in the amazing, brave characters of my favorite cartoons and imagining they were Black.
You really gonna tell me that Knuckles — the echidna from Sonic the Hedgehog whose prickly spines look awfully similar to locs — isn’t a Rasta who happens to have red skin?
Back in 1971, John Stewart’s Green Lantern made history as one of the first Black superheroes to appear in DC Comics. He remained a token for the…