Ah, gotta love Sesame Street. Judging by a recent episode featuring actress Lupita Nyong’o, the show is still keeping it real after all these years.
If you haven't seen the clip already, by all means round up your little ones and watch Lupita and Elmo talk about skin. In less than two minutes, the two discuss the reason we have skin on our bodies. (Hint: it protects our bodies and helps us feel whether something is soft, rough, or, in Elmo's case, furry.)
More importantly, though, Elmo gets to grips with the idea that skin comes in all shades—even red—and therein lies its beauty. It's a message you kind of wish all kids (especially in the US, which is still plagued with race-related tension and violence) had driven into them from the tenderest age. After all, kids aren't stupid. They notice shit. They get curious.
Case in point. Several months ago, my 5-year-old—in a sour mood over some now-forgotten grievance—told my neighbour point blank that he didn't like "his brown face." Although I knew my son's comment had exactly zero to do with my neighbour and the colour of his skin, as you can imagine I was hunting for the biggest, nearest rock under which to throw myself.
I apologized profusely to the man, and of course later sat my son for a big chat. But coming from me, it just wasn't enough (where's Elmo when you need him?). As luck would have it, we had already invited our neighbours over for brunch shortly thereafter. Again, as we're all munching on our bacon, my son politely asked my neighbour why his skin is brown.
This time it went down beautifully. My neighbour handled my son's genuine intrigue about race with grace and aplomb, articulating a better explanation than I ever could. That's it. My son was satisfied.
Bottom line: we should never just assume that our kids understand and accept difference. Some may wonder quietly and if we're not diligent, they may come to their own (false) assumptions and judgments. Or else take their cues from intolerant-minded people.
By all means let Elmo act as a conversation starter, but be there to answer questions and tease out the need to appreciate all forms of difference, including—but not limited to—skin colour.