Black cartoon characters are central to the childhoods of many black kids, as they usually are the first time they see people who look like them on a TV screen. How they act, what they represent, what they and their families look like, and what role they play in their friend groups and family dynamics are essential components of these characters. Although there is a plethora to choose from, here are four iconic black cartoon characters:
1. Huey Freeman, from The Boondocks
Huey Freeman, the older brother of two, has been said to be who Huey Newton, founder of the Black Panther Party, would have been as a child. Shoot, he’s named after him. One of the best parts about Huey’s character is that he’s voiced by the well-established and revered, if under acknowledged, Regina King – a woman. Clips of Huey, especially, still circulate social media as if The Boondocks is still on the air. Watching 60 seconds of him on Twitter or Instagram reading black people for filth when it comes to R. Kelly, describing the corruption of the American justice system to a tee, and fighting with yet remaining fiercely protective of and loyal to his younger brother earned him a slot. The kid is only ten years old with the knowledge of like, five adult activists combined. The Boondocks is legendary for many reasons, and Huey is a huge part of why.
2. Static Shock, from Static Shock
What makes Static Shock so iconic is his origins. Static Shock’s alias is Virgil Hawkins; after the black man who was denied admission to the University of Florida’s law school back in 1949. And Static does not only lend representation to African-American kid viewers — he has Ghanaian roots that are also acknowledged in his comics and show. Seeing a genuine superhero with free-form locs, a genuine support system in friends and family, and dark skin is major. Another interesting point of the show is that Static always beat the city’s villains before school, or worked around his academic obligations to fulfill both sides of his life. The precursor to many black animated superhero series, Static Shock was groundbreaking.
3. Susie Carmichael, from The Rugrats
Susie Carmichael is best summed up in one word: pioneer. Although there were other black cartoon characters who, more or less, were doing a good job with being a familiar, representative face to little black children, Rugrats was a blockbuster of a show – and as such, its reach was massive. Additionally, the show started in 1991; one of the first to showcase, and even star, a headstrong but not stereotypical young, black female character. Enter Susie Carmichael, a dark-skinned toddler with supportive and well-to-do parents who always put her natural hair in long, fantastic braids with barrettes. Susie was nice and loving, but firm. It was always refreshing to see a character closer to Angelica’s age still being on the side of the babies because in some episodes, they really needed an older and more articulate representative with some influence who could block some of Angelica’s schemes. Susie also went on to be an incredibly ambitious, talented, and intelligent teenager in the follow-up series to the Rugrats, “All Grown Up!” Without Susie, there might not have been a Penny Proud!
4. Penny Proud, from The Proud Family
Penny Proud, the sassy, commanding, and intelligent eldest child of the Proud Family, was the glue that held one of the most recognizable cartoon friend groups together. She tried her best to be responsible, and even when she succumbed to peer pressure, she always either admitted it to her parents or did her best to right the situation. She was the calm friend when it came to Dijonay, attempting to be the voice of reason when Dijonay was ready to hatch another plan to entrap Sticky. The quintessential big sister, she hated her baby twin siblings until she had to take care of them or otherwise step in as a parental figure. Penny and her gang were a great look into black teenage life, with a diverse group of girls and boys taking on crushes, bullies, and growing responsibilities.