As mainstream American media continues to be confronted with issues of racism and race, “Sesame Street,” the long-running children’s program, joined the trend by introducing two Black characters, Elijah Walker and his 5-year-old son Wesley. The show’s producers said their motive is “an effort to promote racial literacy” and teach kids about various ethnicities.
The plans were revealed during a recent “Sesame Street” special, “The ABC’s of Racial Literacy,” which was created to “develop children’s understanding, curiosity, resilience and empathy, and to prepare for the task of building a better world by standing up, standing tall, and standing together,” stated Sesame Workshop, sponsor of the programs’ educational aspects, in a press release, also adding that “babies and kids notice physical differences” and “give parents the tools to turn that into a teachable moment.”
The topic is tackled during an episode on the “Coming Together” segment, which covers their commitment to racial justice, and “is rooted in extensive research and consultation with experts to develop a groundbreaking Racial Justice educational framework and curriculum for young children,” says the press release.
“We believe in a world where all children can reach their full potential and humanity—and do so in celebration of their races, ethnicities, and cultures,” reads the statement. “Together with experts, we’ve designed developmentally appropriate resources to help you guide your child to be smarter, stronger, and kinder—and an upstander to racism.”
In the episode Elmo asks them, “Why is Wes’ skin brown?”, and Elijah answers, “It’s due to melanin, something that we each have inside our bodies that makes the outside of our bodies the skin color that it is, also the hue of one’s eyes and hair. The color of one’s skin is an important part of who we are, but we should all know that it’s OK that we all look different in so very many ways.”
In another segment, Rosita, a Puerto Rican character, encounters racism in a grocery store, when her mom and friend Sofia assist her.
“At Sesame Workshop, we look at every issue through the lens of a child. Children are not colorblind—not only do they first notice differences in race in infancy, but they also start forming their own sense of identity at a very young age,” stated Sesame Workshop’s Senior Vice President Dr. Jeanette Betancourt. “By encouraging these much-needed conversations through ‘Coming Together,’ we can help children build a positive sense of identity and value the identities of others.”
The characters also sing a song named “Giant,” which is “a celebration of pride, self-esteem, cultural diversity, and big dreams for children’s future,” Sesame Workshop explains.
Since its inception 52 years ago, “Sesame Street” has covered issues such as addiction, autism, grief, HIV, homelessness and hunger. The first Black muppet, Roosevelt Franklin, was removed from the program in 1975 due to criticism pertaining to negative stereotypes.
Studies find that negative images adversely affect children’s behavior and socialization, as well as their self-esteem.
Elijah concluded: “Even though we look different, we’re all part of the human race.”