I was listening to Stevie Wonder today, and sometimes his songs make me think about kid's tv shows from the late 70's and 80's. Perhaps this is a strange connection to make, but he was a featured performer on a lot of children's shows from that era. If you are familiar with his song "Black Man", where children are made to call out the names of various important people of color (and non-color) to emphasize the importance all races have had on civilization, perhaps the connection is less strange. To make myself a little clearer, I remember when I was a little kid children's programming had a particular agenda to encourage racial unity and cohesiveness which kids who grew up after me lack. Sesame Street and Reading Rainbow in particular, I remember, left the more indelible impression that race was simply a color, a part of the beautiful spectrum of diversity of being human.
I grew up in the suburbs and I'm white, so I ate these images up like free Rolos at the movie theater. Perhaps the images encouraged my unawareness of the real problems that existed. They were often treacly-sweet musical montages of children playing together on a swing in bell-bottoms: a boy with a huge afro and a front tooth missing, a little blonde girl with a crooked ponytail- a vision of urban racial utopia. These images were, like the song, part of a desperate struggle to implant these values into kids my age (values which were relatively new and progressive for the time). Reading Rainbow was a little more pragmatic, as LeVar encouraged you to read books explaining in children's language the story of Harriet Tubman and the America's (many of which warbled under the weightiness of their own subject matter).
Regardless of the result, the programs were a well-intentioned effort on the part of those who recognized that prejudice starts very young to try to prevent further misguided hatred. I'm sure they knew a television show could never override the opinions you absorb from your parents, but it was sort of a noble thing, I think, to make a concerted effort to indulge the possibility of racial harmony. And in the suburbs when children are really young, and don't know what the history between the races has been, I guess this is possible. Things change, however, when you get a little older and take a history class...
Perhaps it is noble as well because it's probably the first time children's television ever tried to instill anything beyond cleaning behind your ears and washing your hands. The Sesame Street images still evoke feelings of warmth and hopefulness in me, even though I know that they were intentional and more than a little staged. (Unlike Stevie Wonder!!)
Staginess aside, I'm not sure whether someone my age who grew up amid a lot of racial conflict would have seen these images, or what they would have thought of them. My guess is that they probably have a much different perspective in respect to their own personal reality and what they saw on t.v., which of course one comes to realize, is fantasy.
But, I'm not going to pontificate on something I know nothing about. I do, however, know that the reason I like listening to Stevie is not only because it is brilliant fucking pop music, but his voice and his lyrics are embued with a warmth that seems to make any prejudice unfathomable.
Anyway, Happy Labor Day, I'm going to go swing my ass off!
Listen to the song here: