Sesame Street videos warn against hate and discrimination

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Once upon a time, the safest street in America was Sesame Street. Since 1969, children of all ages have visited to learn about themselves, others, and the basics needed to navigate life – alphabets, numbers, friendships, and fun. Over the years, issues such as same-sex parenting, physical disabilities, and understanding our racial and economic differences have also been addressed. The goal was to bridge our differences through communication, understanding, respect and tolerance.

Which is exactly why it’s both shocking and disappointing to watch the videos that have recently surfaced that appear to show several Sesame Street characters blatantly ignoring the beloved children during parades at Sesame Place, the theme park in the Philadelphia area based on the popular children’s television show “Sesame Street.”

They not only adored children but adored black children. And a video shows the characters openly and repeatedly hitting white children. Not what I would expect from a children’s establishment, but certainly not associated with the Sesame Street brand.

The park responded to the allegations, in part, by saying that “the brand, the park and the employees stand for inclusivity and equality in all forms”, and that they have reached out to the family to apologize and invite them back.

Now, to be fair, these characters are costumes worn by employees, people with their own personal views, opinions, and biases. I doubt they were given specific instructions to ignore certain children, but somewhere along the way it seems they thought or felt it was OK to do so.

I always say that good people make good professionals, regardless of their level of performance. And bad people make even worse professionals when they bring their problems to their work.

So if a person doesn’t like a certain group of people – you pick the group, then they take the opportunity to practice that discrimination in their work.

While a video was released widely of Rosita’s character blatantly ignoring two black children and greeting white children, other videos surfaced appearing to show the same behavior of other characters. So, unfortunately, it appears that this was not an isolated incident.

Now think about all the other areas where people channel their ignorance and hatred through their work. Whether it’s professionals with professionals, self-taught do-it-yourselfers, retailers, or fast-food workers, what’s in their hearts becomes evident in their actions. Many often use their platforms, big or small, to impose their feelings on those they serve.

We hear about discrepancies between health care, auto repair, real estate and everything in between. Those who choose to believe it doesn’t happen do so either because it never happened to them or because they go through life with blinders on the realities facing others.

Add to these videos the many incidents like this that are neither recorded nor shared. The repetitive messages and the images they contain are what children ingest and come to believe as adults: privilege on one side; discrimination and exclusion on the other hand.

Some wonder why there is always so much effort to raise the confidence of black children. It’s to counter generations of actions that try to convince them otherwise.

You teach your children that they are special and capable of achieving their dreams, only to have the world repeatedly tell and show them otherwise.

Sesame Street has always been a learning environment, teaching us what we needed to know, and this incident is no different. Maybe this should be a special episode. Until then, the videos will serve as a stark reminder that America and Americans have a lot of work to do. And children should never be pawns in the hate game.

I can only hope that those who see the videos do so with open eyes and hearts and realize that hate can be found in unlikely people and places – even on Sesame Street.

Karen Dumas is a columnist for The Detroit News and co-host of “The No BS News Hour.” His column appears on Tuesdays.

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