By the time a child is of ‘Sesame Street’ viewing age, which is three years-old, they’ve likely spent roughly two years of their life exhibiting some form of racial bias. This was found in a study conducted by researchers from the University of Toronto and was cited widely in the American news media last week. Two studies were executed – one wherein 193 Chinese infants who had no prior exposure to another race were shown photos of six Asian women and six African women and associated happy music with those of their tribe, and sad music with other-race faces. The summary of the findings were that a lack of exposure to other races form the racial bias.
“What this means is that we’re not really born with some kind of racial bias,” lead researcher, Kang Lee, is quoted in The New York Daily News as saying.
The popular thought is that racial bias is a learned behavior, which implies it can be unlearned; but how? There are many ways unlearning can occur – diversifying the playmates of a child is a start – yet none could be effective unless racial bias is addressed intentionally, directly and thoughtfully.
Given the fanfare over the introduction of Julia, a Muppet that has autism, one option that comes to mind is a future unveiling of a Black Muppet that is suspended from school at a higher rate than their counterparts, and that is sometimes pre-judged by another Muppet, who at first is unaware of their racial bias then, upon learning the error of their ways, befriends, and empathizes with the marginalized and once misunderstood character.
The characters and story lines would be provocative indeed, but so too would the realism be of great value to children growing up in a world where racism and ethnic intimidation are being normalized, and to a degree, mainstreamed.
From a quantitative standpoint, given 1 in 68 American children have been identified with autism spectrum disorder, it’s reasonable to assume racial bias has a greater impact on society’s young.
That argument isn’t made to trivialize or diminish autism, nor the communities which it impacts, but rather to advocate for the inclusion within the Sesame Street portfolio of a disorder that appears to have a much broader effect on society; there’s room on the legendary media platform for both issues, and even more than that.
Whether it is Black Lives Matter activists lamenting racial profiling by police, white supremacists advocating for ethnic cleansing, or undocumented immigrants seeking sanctuary, the issue of race, space and hate is at the center of all our local and national news stories. If 3-4 year-old children can access media, which they can, they’re likely encountering images germane to the aforementioned stories, but without context.
Sure, parents should provide that missing context, but early childhood education programming has a role to play in it, too. In many instances, children are spending a bulk of their time with media, so the goal should be to provide both, rather than either or.
Sesame Street, before they tackled autism with Julia, introduced Alex, a boy Muppet whose father is in jail. That character was well-received, as are most Sesame Street initiatives which lends them the credibility and social capital to pull off such a daring feat with minimal controversy. A racist Muppet in itself won’t end racism, of course, but it could properly educate the generation who might.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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Photo courtesy of the author.