Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Elmo is a brother (& other lessons in race relations)
There's an interesting article in today's New York Times. It's an interview with Kevin Clash, the African-American puppeteer who not only created Elmo but also has been portraying him for the past 20 years. Mr. Clash has been promoting a new book he's written about his life with Elmo and how "being" Elmo has allowed him to break down racial stereotypes.
Personally, I am absolutely loving the fact that Elmo is black. I think it's so cool and I can't wait to discuss this with the Peanut as she gets older. I think it would be a great way to teach her that what's important in a person has no relation to the color of their skin.
Between this article and Mel Gibson's recent anti-Semitic tirade, I've been thinking a lot about racism and racial stereotypes in America.
Personally, I've always thought prejudice was such a waste of time and energy. After all, why discriminate against someone based on their race or religion when, if you take the time to get to know them, you can find so many other things to hate them for? If there's one thing I've learned during my time on this planet, it's that assholes are like Baskin Robbins ice cream. They come in many different flavors.
People will always find a reason to hate other people, my friends. North Koreans don't get along with South Koreans. Irish Catholics don't get along with Irish Protestants. Hell, even in NYC, downtown people and uptown people can't stand each other. Yet somehow, in the fantasyland version of utopian America, we expect everyone to get along like fairies and elves.
Here's a news flash for all of you...fairies and elves hate each other's fucking guts. As Dennis Miller once said, elves refer to fairies as "flying Tinker Bell nancy boys," and fairies call elves "rainbow-humping suck pots."
Now, back to Mel Gibson.
Is anyone really surprised by his anti-semitic comments? After all, Mel Gibson's father is one of the staunchest advocates of the theory that the Holocaust never existed.
See, my friends, that's where we get to the crux of the problem. As I've often said before, parenting is the most important job any one of us will ever have. Kids absorb absolutely everything we do or say. Even now I have to be careful around the Peanut. Even though she's only 22 months old, I'll often catch her climbing onto the couch, sighing, staring blankly at the television, and then sticking her hand down her diapers. Shit, I wonder where she picked that up from!
As Korean immigrants, my parents came to the U.S. fearing the unknown. Naturally, there aren't many black people in Korea so it was quite an event for them when I started inviting all my black friends over for sleepovers. Although they probably locked up all their jewelry when this happened, they generally thought this was great. Would they have been as happy if I had brought home a black girlfriend? Hell, no!
In fact, I sometimes like to mess with my parents and ask them whether they'd be happier whether my younger brother married a black woman or a gay Korean. You should see their faces. It's like they're struggling with Fermat's Theorem. Now, I don't blame them for their fear and prejudices. Again, it all comes back to the fear of the unknown.
That's one of the main reasons that BossLady and I make the sacrifices we do in order to have the Peanut grow up in a multi-cultural city like New York. Our friends and neighbors make up a wide diaspora of the rainbow. Our building is two blocks away from several low-income housing projects and we're surrounded by little enclaves filled with recent immigrants from China, Eastern Europe, South America, and places in Africa that you've never even heard of. When the Peanut goes to some of the local playgrounds, it's like a fucking casting call for a Benetton ad. Even the homeless people that sleep right outside our building's doorway come from a wide variety of nations!
And I absolutely love it.
Raising the Peanut in a multi-cultural and multi-racial environment is how we plan to teach her lessons about racism and racial stereotypes.
But I'm curious. For those of you with kids, how do you teach your kids about racism? Do you lead by example? Or do you sit them down and try to explain the concept?
In passing, I leave you with my favorite quote by Denis Leary, "Racism isn't born, folks, it's taught. I have a two-year-old son. You know what he hates? Naps! End of list."