Though it may have gone over our heads when we were children of the ’90s, one quick look at our favorite cartoons from back in the day will reveal how there were various Black characters who could be deemed “woke” by today’s standards and very ahead of their time.
Here are 4 Black cartoon characters we have to thank for our informed worldview:
1. Ms. Grotke from Recess
Whether she’s talking about how the barbaric Europeans stole this country from the Native Americans, how male authors of the Constitution shaped America’s unequal gender politics or encouraging her students to take history books that focus on white men with a grain of salt, there’s no doubt that having a teacher as woke as Ms. Grotke would have been a worthwhile experience for any elementary school kid in the 90s.
2. Jodie Landon from Daria
No one captured the plight of being the token better than overachiever Jodie Landon. One of the few Black characters in Daria’s school, Jodie was valedictorian and vocalized the pressures of being a model minority. Jodie said it best: at home she’s herself, but in school, she’s the unofficial spokesperson for all Black people: an issue many Black people know very well, whether it’s in school or the workplace.
3. Nadine from Hey Arnold!
Though Hey Arnold’s Nadine fell into “best friend” trope that befalls Black characters in film and television, there’s no doubt this nature-loving Black girl was ahead of her time. Bucking the trend of what was expected of Black characters, Nadine loved bugs, displayed her butterfly net in a few episodes with pride and even hinted at her interest in marine life when she had a poster of seashells on the wall above her bed.
4. Numbuh 5 from Codename: Kids Next Door
Tomboyish and carefree, Numbuh 5 (as portrayed by animation legend Cree Summer) was arguably the breakout star of Codename: Kids Next Door. Bucking all stereotypes, she was levelheaded, took charge when necessary and managed to balance missions with her gang while succeeding in school.