Elmo and Whoopi chat about race
When I first started showing my daughter videos, this was one of the first that I chose. This video explicitly models “talking about race” which can take some of the burden off parents when they choose to talk about race:
“Elmo likes Whoopi’s arm.”
“Thank you, Elmo.”
“Elmo also likes the stuff that covers Whoopi’s arm.”
“Oh, my skin!”
“Yeah, Whoopi’s skin. It’s soft, and pretty, too. Elmo thinks Whoopi’s skin is a very pretty brown.”
“Hey, you know what? I like your fur, too, it’s a great color! Red! And it’s nice and bright, and soft, too. It’s nice and…furry!”
The language is simple and descriptive…a perfect entry way to talking about your and your child’s skin color.
The other day, I was coloring with my daughter and was looking at various skin tone colors, holding them up to my arm to compare them.
My daughter noticed and inquired, “Qué haces, mama?” (What are you doing?)
I told her, “I’m trying to see which color crayon matches my skin color,” and she reminded me: “My skin is like the color of a brown egg.” (I wrote about this in a previous post.)
Elmo and Whoopi’s conversation goes on to talk about Whoopi’s hair.
“Yeah, Elmo’s fur is furry all right. But it’s not like Whoopi’s skin.”
“Well, that’s only because fur and skin are different.”
I often hear my daughter telling her stuffed animals, “You can’t get wet because you have fur, not skin like me” (parroting Whoopi and what I myself have told her on many occasions!).
Elmo continues: “Wow, well, Whoopi has a lot of fur on Whoopi’s head.”
“Can Elmo touch Whoopi’s hair?”
“Oh, of course!”
Though Elmo’s question is innocent, there is also a “teachable moment” here. I want to encourage my daughter’s curiosity, but I don’t want her to think it is OK to touch another person, even if she asks permission first, (particularly in the case of a stranger.) See Antonia Opiah’s Huff Post article entitled “Can I Touch Your Hair?” or Doriean Stevenson’s video explaining “Why you shouldn’t touch African-American hair” for more information on the impact of this type of microaggression.
I will often reinforce this message about “appropriate touch” when it is not related to race. For example, my daughter wants to give a friend a hug, but the friend isn’t in the mood. Message: you can only hug a friend with their permission.
Whoopi ends her conversation with Elmo by modeling a positive message regarding her own racial identity: “Even if we could trade, I wouldn’t want to. I like my skin and I like my hair, and, I’d like to keep them both. I mean, don’t you like your fur?”
Elmo, for his part, agrees: “Well sure, I like my fur! And Elmo wants to keep his fur just where it is. On Elmo! Right next to Whoopi!”
Sachi Feris is a blogger at Raising Race Conscious Children, an online a resource to support adults who are trying to talk about race with young children. Sachi also co-facilitates interactive workshops/webinars and small group workshop series on how to talk about race with young children. Sachi currently teaches Spanish to Kindergarten and 1st grade at an independent school in Brooklyn.