Disney Channel's 'Sydney to the Max' tackles microaggressions

School-age children experience discrimination and racism in the form of microagressions, but may not know the term or how to respond. Disney Channel's "Sydney to the Max" is a father-daughter comedy that also takes on serious topics.

In one of the latest episodes, Sydney and her classmates learn their teacher assigned them reports on historical figures based solely on their race. The episode directed by Raven-Symoné depicts the emotions and power dynamics students experience as they challenge authority figures.

Eyewitness News spoke with some of the cast, who shared their personal experiences.

"Before this episode, I didn't have a very concrete definition of microaggressions," said Ruth Righi. "I would experience them, not really know if I'm making this up in my head or, like, should I laugh this off?"

"People thinking I play basketball because I'm a tall, young, Black man, or that I want to play sports when I grow up," said Christian J. Simon. "Why can't I be a lawyer or a doctor, or writer, an actor?"

VIDEO: 'Sydney to the Max' cast discusses special new episode on microagressions
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"Sydney to the Max" stars Ruth Righi and Christian J. Simon, guest star Julia Garcia and director Raven-Symoné discuss a special new episode focused on microaggressions and the power of standing up for yourself.



"I've gotten a lot of times - because I'm half Asian - I'm not Asian enough," said Julia Garcia.

"My parents always told me, If I'm going to challenge something, make sure you have the facts. Make sure you have all the facts, make sure you are educated on whatever you're about to say," Symoné said. "Learn what a microaggression is from this show, from your own research."

"When people are treated unfairly based upon their race, their identity, their gender, their age, those are examples of different types of microaggressions," said Dr. Erlanger Turner, a psychologist, professor at Pepperdine University, and founder of the organization Therapy for Black Kids.

Turner recently co-authored a paper that looks at how children in grades K-12 experience discrimination and racism in school.

"It does impact their mental health and the data shows that it increases symptoms of depression and anxiety. It decreases their self worth," he said.

Turner stresses the importance of systemic solutions.

"Making sure that everyone in that environment is given access to understand that 'how do we reduce these negative conversations and messages that we communicate to kids?'" he said.

Part of education outside of school includes children's programming through writers, directors and leaders who understand the topics.

"We really want to give our kids a sense of belonging. It's important, I really believe, that our kids use our stories in order to both see themselves and to see others," said Vicki Ariyasu, Senior Vice President, Educational Resource Group and Diversity, Equity Inclusion for Disney Branded Television.

"If you don't have the language to confront or speak up about these issues when they occur, then you're not going to know how to sort of handle them in your own life," said Turner. "I think it's really helpful when you see TV shows like this that really sort of depict these real-life situations, but also show kids and adults, how do you navigate those experiences."

"Sydney to the Max" episode "Do the Write Thing" is available on Disney Channel and DisneyNOW.

Disney is the parent company of this station.

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