Kenneth L. Hardin: Sesame Street’s broken road runs through this city too

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 24, 2022

As a child of the late ’60s and early ’70s I happily sang the Sesame Street tune. I wondered if there was actually a road that would take me to the magical neighborhood. Lately, it seems like that road is a one-way private exclusionary street obviously not open to everyone. Video surfaced recently of a parade at a Sesame Place event where one of the popular characters lovingly interacted with kids until the furry creature approached two visibly excited little Black children. Instead of hugging them as the character had done with others that didn’t look like the two, the kids were ignored as the character walked past without acknowledging them.

The hurt and disappointment in the little faces tore a hole in me that drilled all the way down to the essence of my being because I experienced that level of hate inspired hurt as a child of similar age. Sadly, this was not the only recorded incident involving a Sesame Street character and a child of color. Five additional videos of other characters ignoring little Black children have begun to surface on TMZ and other similar sites. Something smells rotten in the neighborhood.

Instead of taking ownership, the good people on Sesame Clueless Boulevard gave a flimsy explanation in place of owning the racist faux pas. They offered a ridiculous assertion that the character’s insensitive action was unintentional due to their being unable to see things below their sight line. The problem was there was video contradicting that lame excuse as the character reached down and hugged children lighter in complexion.

After the other videos surfaced, Disney fell back on the worn out go-to playbook response of implementing bias and diversity awareness training. You’re only treating symptoms, not the disease. If my extreme eye rolling and derisive side to side head shaking isn’t visible, trust me, it’s there.

I’m well aware that people are weary of me talking about racism. If you’re sick of reading me opine about this societal malady, imagine how exhausted I am of having to endure it. We know racism is as American as baseball and apple pie, but outside of MLK Day in January and for 28 days in February, most people who aren’t impacted by racism don’t want to hear about it. It’s a sad day when Salisbury can out-Mississippi, Mississippi. Let me explain. I had a white former City Councilman say to me several years ago that he agrees with everything I say about racism in this city but he doesn’t like the way I choose to say it. Should I whisper or do sign language to lessen the hurt others feel having to hear it?

I’ve also been told I need to learn my place. I received a phone call from a gentleman who introduced himself as part of the “cultural white elite of the city.” He said if I didn’t tone down my rhetoric about racism I would be sorry. Another former City Councilmember told me during my time in the chair, “You need to use better communication tools when you talk to white people. I don’t know why you fight so hard for the Black community; they didn’t vote for you. White people put you in office.”

Well, gosh a mighty ma’am, I’se be so grateful to ya fo’ allowing me to have some dignity. Black lives don’t seem to matter when Black people feel they should but are of paramount importance when there’s a political payoff.

It’s sadly humorous that the city is now promoting its Diversity Department (insert eye roll again) with plans to “review city practices and policies to remove barriers and ensure equitable access for everyone.” Interestingly, from 2015-2017 while on Council, I called out the city for the same thing and said cultural competency was needed. I was branded a “disruption and divisive.”  I’ve been vocal about the pervasive racism and racial divisiveness that exists in this city going back to the early ’90s. Did racism just start here in the last year? It’s nothing more than feel-good rhetoric and heavy analysis of a problem we already know exists but have no genuine solutions in place. If people want to understand why racial healing is so elusive, it’s because Black voices are muted, our pain is not taken seriously, there’s fear of reprisal and skinfolks feel it’s better to suffer in silence. In this country, people of color are still looked upon as inferior, uncivilized and unworthy of basic humanity and decency. America wants our rhythm, just not our blues. When we respectfully ask for Black lives to matter, there’s an ignoble level of ignorance and cowardice that exists on both sides.

Sesame Street is not the only road with a closed for construction sign. Orange barrels exist here too.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.