The nonprofit behind “Sesame Street” is diving into the racism discourse.
A new initiative from Sesame Workshop aims to teach kids “The ABCs of Racial Literacy” with the help of two black Muppets, Wes and his dad, Elijah.
The videos and activities are part of Coming Together, the company’s arm that pushes for social justice, according to a statement from the workshop. The resources acknowledge that babies and kids “notice physical differences” and give parents the tools to turn that into a teachable moment.
“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 one segment, Elmo says he wants to know “why Wes’ skin is brown.” Elijah responds that 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.”
Elmo goes on to channel the mind of a curious child, asking, “But if we all have melanin, why are we all different colors?” — to which Elijah answers that everyone has different amounts of melanin in their bodies.
Getting deeper into racial identity, Elijah adds that “the color of our 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 many ways.”
He wraps up the learning moment with the takeaway that “we’re all part of the human race.”
This isn’t the first time the long-running kids show has facilitated tough conversations for its youngest viewers, touching on issues from autism to homelessness to incarceration. In 2019, the show addressed the opioid crisis with the help of Karli, a Muppet who revealed her mother is battling an addiction to the deadly drugs.
But the lessons haven’t always gone over so well. The first black Muppet on the show, Roosevelt Franklin, was removed from the program in 1975 after critics said the character perpetuated negative stereotypes about black children — he was rowdy and was often sent to detention after school. And parents were outraged when “Sesame Street” addressed death head-on in a 1983 episode that dealt with the passing of actor Will Lee.
And who could forget when concern over childhood obesity forced Cookie Monster to go on a diet? That was met by fears that he would be abandoning his trademark snack entirely, and thus his joie de vivre.
The Muppet himself took to Twitter to ease the tension.
“Time to put end to rumors,” he wrote in 2010. “YES, me eat vegetables. NO, not going to be called Vegetable Monster! Dis whole thing silly.”