Poor Big Bird.
The last thing he probably wanted was a mention in the first political debate between President Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney. But that’s exactly what happened to the lovable eight-foot, two-inch feathery fellow Wednesday night.
Romney told moderator Jim Lehrer, “I’m sorry Jim. I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m gonna stop other things. I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you too.”
A collective stab pierced the heart of Generation X who grew up with Big Bird, Bert and Ernie and Oscar the Grouch as their best friends. I immediately thought, “Oh no, Big Bird will be unemployed if Romney wins.” I wasn’t alone.
As is normal these days, Big Bird started trending on Twitter. Memes magically appeared on Facebook showing Big Bird sitting on a stoop holding a sign “Will Work For Food.” But what we really needed at that moment was Count von Count appearing at the debate to explain Obama and Romney’s monologues about complex taxes and percentages.
Obama was not his best Wednesday night, but he could leverage Big Bird. That is if the Obama campaign is smart. A survey in 2008 noted that 77 million Americans had watched “Sesame Street” as children. That’s a lot of potential voters to woo. Nostalgia runs deep, trust me.
Big Bird, an iconic image, could serve as a bright yellow reminder that the Romney administration is keen on deep cuts to beloved institutions.
In August, Romney said he would eliminate funding for PBS, Amtrak, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, PBS’s parent organization, receives $444 million a year from the government.
Maybe Romney doesn’t understand how vital PBS, which celebrates its 42nd anniversary on Friday, is for many Americans. For several years, polls have regularly placed PBS as America’s most-trusted national institution. Before the invention of cable television, PBS offered diversity when only three networks — ABC, NBC and CBS — dominated the airwaves. Educating America’s children with smart programming has remained a dutiful promise of the network.
Recently, I was doing a workshop on racism. We wanted to divide the group into a caucus of people of color and a caucus of white people so that each group could have more in-depth discussion. Immediately, some of the white people said, “But I’m not white.”
I was somewhat taken aback because although these people looked white, they were clearly distressed about being labeled white. A white Christian woman stood up and said, “I’m not really white because I’m not part of the white male power structure that perpetuates racism.” Next a white gay man stood up and said, “You have to be straight to have the privileges of being white.” A white, straight, working-class man from a poor family then said, “I’ve got it just as hard as any person of color.” Finally, a straight, white, middle-class man said, “I’m not white, I’m Italian.”
My African-American co-worker turned to me and asked, “Where are all the white people who were here just a minute ago?” Of course I replied, “Don’t ask me. I’m not white, I’m Jewish!”
Most of the time we don’t notice or question our whiteness. However, when the subject is racism many of us don’t want to be white because it opens us to charges of being racist and brings up feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, and hopelessness. There are others who proudly claim whiteness under any circumstances and simply deny or ignore the violence that white people have done to people of color.
In any case, some of us are quick to disavow our whiteness or to claim some other identity that will give us legitimate victim status. We certainly don’t want to be seen as somehow responsible for or complicit in racism.
I want to begin here - with this denial of our whiteness - because racism keeps people of color in the limelight and makes whiteness invisible. To change this we must take whiteness itself and hold it up to the light and see that it is a color too. Whiteness is a concept, an ideology, whim holds tremendous power over our lives, and, in turn, over the lives of people of color. Our challenge in this discussion will be to keep whiteness center stage. Every time our attention begins to wander off toward people of color or other issues, we will have to notice and refocus. We must notice when we try to slip into another identity and escape being white. We each have many other factors that influence our lives, such as our ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, class, personality, mental and physical abilities. Even when we’re talking about these elements of our lives we must keep whiteness on stage with us because it influences each of the other factors.
We are understandably uncomfortable with the label “white.” We feel boxed in and want to escape, just as people of color want to escape from the confines of their racial categories. Being white is an arbitrary category that overrides our individual personalities, devalues us, deprives of the richness of our other identities, stereotypes us, and yet has no scientific basis. However, in our society being white is just as real and governs our day-to-day lives just as much as being a person of color does for African Americans, Latino/as, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders, Native Americans, Arab Americans, and others. To acknowledge this reality is not to create it or to perpetuate it. In fact, it is the first step to uprooting racism.
very interesting post.
maybe it’d help if people were taught about the history of white victims as well, but they are not, so whites are singled out as as the bad guys. For instance, the Irish, the white of the white, actually had to compete with slaves for work. I mean, damn :-/ Not to mention, Irish have always been the victim of deep hate, even by other white races. Plus, slavery is not only a white person owning a black person. What school fails to teach you is in fact that there were black people who owned white people, white people who owned other white people and blacks who owned other black people. I’m sure there’s more examples of how white people have also been victim, but we’re never taught in school itself. Sorta like they want the races to hate each other or something :-/