CONTENT WARNING: Racism, Violence
Sesame Place has recently come under fire due to allegations of racism against Black children. Sadly, for Black people, this isn’t at all surprising. Even worse, racist incidents are very common.
Some argue that race and racism are sensitive subjects not to be discussed with young children. And because many parents have this idea, they decide not to broach the subject with their little ones. But unfortunately, choosing NOT to talk about race to Black children can do more harm than good.
What Is Sesame Place?
Sesame Place is an amusement and water park modeled after “Sesame Street,” a popular television show for children. There, little ones can enjoy themed rides and playgrounds and also meet their favorite “Sesame Street” characters.
Racism at the Park
Recently, a video surfaced of an alleged racist incident involving two 6-year-old Black girls at a Sesame Place parade. In the viral clip, the girls can be seen eagerly waving and reaching out to “Rosita”, the first bilingual character on Sesame Street.
First, the character is seen wagging her finger at someone in the crowd. And when she approaches the girls, she shakes her head and motions “no,” leaving the two girls visibly upset.
The mother of one of the girls, Jodi Brown, alleges that the character immediately hugged a white child after leaving the girls.
Soon after, social media users began to share multiple other videos of the reported racism they experienced at the park.
Sesame Place Responds
Sesame Place first responded to the viral clip, saying that the character “did not intentionally ignore the girls,” adding that they were “devastated about the misunderstanding.”
But as pressure mounted, Sesame Workshop, a nonprofit organization, called the incident “unacceptable,” prompting Sesame Place to release another statement. They vowed to “do better” by training their employees to provide a more inclusive park experience for guests.
But Brown says the apology is not enough, calling for the character to be terminated.
She says that the incident left her daughter emotionally shattered. And according to a report from The Washington Post, the family is now considering a potential lawsuit.
How Black Parents Can Introduce Race and Racism to Their Children
What happened at Sesame Place is shocking, with many parents vowing to boycott the park. Children SHOULD be, but aren’t always, protected from racist acts. Instead, parents can use the incident as a teachable moment to better equip Black children on how to respond when the inevitable happens. Here are six ways Black parents can teach their children about racism:
The topic of race is a hushed subject in many households. Many Black parents hesitate to talk to their children about race, fearing it will make them feel bad or ashamed of their Blackness.
But even though race is a serious and sensitive subject, it can be used to empower Black children. Encourage your child(ren) to take pride in their heritage and history by introducing them to powerful Black leaders.
You can tell them about the harrowing experiences of the Freedom Fighters as a fun and adventurous bedtime story. You can also talk to them about popular celebrities they recognize, like Beyonce or Rihanna, and their positive impact on the Black community.
Instead of discussing what happened at Sesame Place, encourage your child to learn about race through reading. There are a number of children’s books written by Black authors that tackle race in an easy-to-understand way.
“Why Am I Me?” by Paige Britt covers race by celebrating diversity. And “The Colors Of Us” by Karen Katz empowers little ones to love their skin color, no matter the shade.
You can also incorporate audiobooks into their bedtime routine. “Nigel and the Moon” by Antwon Eady centers on a young Black boy who follows his dreams despite being different from his peers. And “The People Remember” by Ido Zoboi teaches children about African American history as it relates to its African ties and new American culture.
Make it Fun
What happened at Sesame Place is frustrating, but you can turn it into a positive learning lesson. To do this, approach the subject by making it fun.
Try putting on a kid-friendly movie that talks about Black history. For example, “The Color of Friendship” is a Disney Channel Original movie that tackles racism through friendship. They can also watch “Akeelah and the Bee” to learn about race through a socioeconomic lens.
Another way to make learning fun is by visiting museums dedicated to Black history or Black art. Or you can take a field trip to a Black university to encourage learning and the importance of education.
Ask for a tour around the campus to see popular Black fraternities and sororities and maybe catch a routine from a Black step team.
Teach by Example
When learning how to navigate the world, Mom and Dad are often the first points of reference for a child. If a child sees an adult, especially a parent, handle conflict with verbal or physical attacks, they learn to mimic those behaviors.
According to a study from the Association for Psychological Science, children imitate their parents across all cultures, even if the action seems small or unimportant.
Check Your Biases
Many Black parents unknowingly teach their children anti-Black racism. Making harsh comments about their hair texture or warning them about being out in the sun too long can hurt their self-esteem. These unfortunate interactions teach them that they should be ashamed of their hair or skin color, which is certainly not true.
To counteract this, compliment their Black features to build their self-image.
Also, be mindful not to disparage other races in the process. Many people have a habit of tearing down one group to uplift another. Instead, teach your children the beauty in diversity and encourage them to embrace friends of all backgrounds.
Make It Relatable
Children love the characters at Sesame Place for their colorful, fuzzy costumes. Part of the appeal is that these characters are neither Black nor White but blue, green, and orange, so children of all races can relate to them.
You can effectively teach your child(ren) about race by making it more relatable, too. If your little one likes sports, talk to them about legendary Black athletes like Muhammad Ali, Jackie Robinson, and Serena Williams, highlighting their adversity and how they overcame it.
Or, if your child is into math or science, you can put on “Hidden Figures,” a film about three Black women who played important roles in NASA history.
And because many kids enjoy coloring, purchase a Black coloring book like Latashia M. Perry’s “Hair Like Mine,” a Black coloring and activity book that promotes a positive self-image. Or take a trip to a Black art gallery where they can view Black art and pick a new Black artist to learn about.