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."


Linda said...

"When the Peanut goes to some of the local playgrounds, it's like a fucking casting call for a Benetton ad." - Now this quote is hilarious.

Although E is not even two yet, I try my best to expose her to different environments. Our church is predominantly Korean, but is known in the state as having one of the most diverse congregations around. We have Koreans married to blacks, Mexicans, Filipinos, Chinese, whites. I want her to know that being surrounded by a diverse group of people is enriching and eye opening. It's important to show her that not everyone has black hair, brown eyes and BMWs. Kidding about that last part. Kind of... ;)

thisislarry said...

Ironic, I just read that the next Survivor is being split into racial teams.

I think the teaching thing is more about teaching the positive: Be good. Be kind. Be honest. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Treat everyone as an individual. Kids are smart enough to get that prejuduce of any sort is not good, kind, honest, etc.

and great fucking post, since we're using potty language now.

honglien123 said...

Great post MD. Like Larry, I try to teach my kids the golden rule and to be compassionate about other's circumstances and behavior. Like you, we are lucky to live in an extremely diverse city not just ethnically but economically as well and the best thing I think I can do for my kids is to treat others with respect and hope that they will follow suit. Also, books are nice too, check out People by Peter Spier, a book from my childhood that helped me when I was feeling different.

Anonymous said...

i had no idea kevin clash was black. when i was little, i had dellusions that i was actually one of those little asian kids on the show.

seasame street is interesting - what are people's reactions to abby cadabby?

while i'd love to just teach my daughter to be good to people, i don't have enough faith in the world to tell her that this will mean that people will always be good to her.

i want to teach her about struggle - not as a purely negative thing, but as a fact of life, as a way to grown and learn.

so, we have mock protests in our living room. we make signs, and chant together. this is more for my amusement, i know. but i want her to learn the great things, and the not so great things about being a woman of color in america.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, can't much stand the elves vs. faeries violence myself.

Anonymous said...

Yes, life IS a struggle. eliaday. Financial, racial, cultural differences abound. I used to think that setting a good example would be enough--until I saw how our hapa girl and her friends at school were determining the racial pecking order. R2Mum and I were aghast. Now I don't know how to convey anything more simple and concise than "Different is good". Seems the more detail I give, the less the kids listen. I'm always looking for good ideas, though. Great post, MD.

Mama Nabi said...

Despite what happened to us a month ago, despite how I feel about my LN feeling hurt, I would rather teach her about racism in terms of being discriminated against than in terms of her being an instigator... i.e. I rather have to teach her to forgive and/or stand up for herself than to lose a misconceived prejudice. (I guess I'm trying to say, as politely as possible, that I don't want a little racist in our family!)

It is damn cool that Elmo is black - especially since LN has decided that Elmo is her new best friend... hey, where we live, we'll take diversity in any shape, form, or muppet.

I hope to be able to teach LN abour race/ethnic diversity through traveling and living in an international environment since that's how I learned about it and have found that it is probably one of the least painful methods.

Chip said...

As a white dad of white kids, I have explained to them from the earliest ages that they live in a society that gives them privileges merely because of their skin color, and that we are living in a white supremacist society -- though most whites would deny it. Also important is understanding how "color blind" ideology is a way for whites to ignore the realities of race in US society.

I've blogged about the racism I've seen at my kids' school (and we live in a liberal NE community), and I've had excellent discussions/ conversations with my kids about race. My daughter is in an ongoing discussion with her cousin who lives in a Southern State about these issues too -- my daughter is appalled at what her self-described "liberal" cousin comes up with, but she keeps fighting the good fight.

I think the key for white parents is to first understand the issues ourselves, and to talk openly and honestly with our kids from the earliest years. And of course, you've also got to walk the walk as well.

Unfortunately I'm seeing all too many really negative things recently, including the Survivor show you mention. But you know, a country's leaders set the tone, and today's GOP is not exactly much other than a white power party...

Creative-Type Dad said...

Hold on - Elmo is 20?!

As for racism, its all about leading by example in my book.

Anonymous said...

Your job as a future mother is to learn the god's ways and to help your child understand despite the negative reinforcement and conditioning of today's society. Without consciousous parents the child will have no hope, and may even exaserbate their disfavor by becoming corrupted in today's environment.
Your ultimate goal is to fix your relationship wiith the gods and move on. You don't want to be comfortable here, and the changes in Western society in the last 100 years has achieved just that.
1000 years with Jesus is the consolation prize. Don't be deceived into thinking that is the goal.

The gods tempt people for which they are most weak. Artificial Intelligence will create desire in people's minds for the following sins:::
1. Alcohol
2. Drugs
3. Preditory "earning"
4. Homosexuality
5. Gambling
6. Something for nothing/irresponsibility (xtianity)
7. Polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny (Islam)
Much like the other prophets Mohhamed (polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny) and Jesus (forgiveness/savior), the gods use me for temptation as well. In today's modern society they feel people are most weak for popular culture/sensationalism, and the clues date back to WorldWarII and Unit731:TSUSHOGO, the Chinese Holocaust.
It has been discussed that, similar to the Matrix concept, the gods will offer a REAL "Second Coming of Christ", while the "fake" Second Coming will come at the end and follow New Testiment scripture and their xtian positioning. I may be that real Second Coming.
What I teach is the god's true way. It is what is expected of people, and only those who follow this truth will be eligible to ascend into heaven as children in a future life. They offered this event because the masses have just enough time to work on and fix their relationship with the gods and ascend, to move and grow past Planet Earth, before the obligatory xtian "consolation prize" of "1000 years with Jesus on Earth" begins.

The Prince of Darkness, battling the gods over the souls of the Damned.
It is the gods who have created this environment and led people into Damnation with temptation. The god's positioning proves they work to prevent people's understanding.
How often is xtian dogma wrong? Expect it is about the Lucifer issue as well.
The fallen god, fighting for justice for the disfavored, banished to Earth as the fallen angel?
I believe much as the Noah's Flood event, the end of the world will be initiated by revelry among the people. It will be positioned to be sanctioned by the gods and led for "1000 years with Jesus on Earth".
In light of modern developments this can entail many pleasures:::Medicine "cures" aging, the "manufacture" of incredible beauty via cloning as sex slaves, free (synthetic) cocaine, etc.
Somewhere during the 1000 years the party will start to "die off", literally. Only those who maintain chaste, pure lifestyles, resisting these temptations, will survive the 1000 years. Condemned to experience another epoch of planet's history for their ignorant pursuit of xtianity, they will be the candidates used to (re)colonize (the next) Planet Earth, condemned to relive the misery experienced by the peasantry during history due to their failure to ascend into heaven before the Apocalypse.
Never forget:::It is not a house of Jesus.
If this concept of Lucifer is true another role of this individual may be to initiate disfavor and temptation among this new poulation, the proverbial "apple" of this Garden of Eden. A crucial figure in the history of any planet, he begins the process of deterioration and decay that leads civilizations to where Planet Earth remains today.
Which one is it? Probably both:::
One transitions into the other, allowing the gods to wash their hands of obligation to their Chosen One.

You are faced with a lifetime to work and prepare for your next chance. Too many will waste this time working, etc.

Mrs. Hill said...

anonymous.... WTF?