Parents should use reaction to new host as a teaching opportunity

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At Carnegie Mellon, “diversity” is a word that we hear all the time; some might even argue that we hear it too often. It seems like it’s a word that has become almost meaningless, as we read it on every glossy pamphlet and booklet describing our university and the people who attend it. Maybe because we have become so accustomed to it, we forget that not everyone puts such an emphasis on diversity, and thus not everyone is so open to it. This is a fact I was rudely reminded of recently.

Last month, the BBC children’s show, CBeebies, hired a new team of hosts. This may not seem like breaking news, and really, it shouldn’t be. Parents have taken to the show’s website, however, to express their indignation and doubts about the new team that was chosen to present the show, and not because they miss the old hosts and are unhappy about the quick-change act that the show pulled. No, parents are complaining about one of the new hosts, Cerrie, because she was born with only one fully formed arm.

While the comments are no longer visible on the show’s website, as they were recently removed by the site’s moderators, one of The New York Times’s blogs on Feb. 23 showed a number of posts that littered the site before they were removed. The posts complained that the show was trying to be too “politically correct,” and one post stated that the children’s show was not the right place to be highlighting people’s differences, while another complained that her child was “upset and confused” by Cerrie’s disability. While not all posts were negative against Cerrie, the sheer number of them that were was what really surprised me.

Excuse me if I don’t believe that it is a desire to be “politically correct” that caused the station to choose Cerrie to be on the show, but rather the fact that maybe, just maybe, she was the best candidate for the job. I fail to see what, exactly, is only “politically” correct about allowing someone to chase her dreams, have a job, and live her life. I don’t see what place could be better than a television show to highlight people’s differences in a subtle way — the show didn’t morph to one that only discussed topics about disabilities just because one of the hosts has one. Rather, it is a way to show children that everyone is different, but that doesn’t mean that similarities don’t exist as well.

Furthermore, I could not disagree more with the posts that stated that the children who were watching the show were “upset and confused” about Cerrie. Confused, yes, certainly; children are confused about a lot of things. And inquisitive, definitely; kids will continue to ask “why?” to every answer you give them. But upset? That I highly doubt.

Children are usually the most open and accepting when interacting with people with disabilities. Little kids will still come up to me, in the mall or in line at a store, and ask me why I’m in a wheelchair, what happened, and how long I’ve been in my chair — but it is always a youthful, innocent curiosity, and I’ve never seen a kid get upset by seeing me in a wheelchair. Kids are not the ones who will whisper comments to their friend about “that girl in the wheelchair” running them over when I am less than two feet away from them (and traveling at a snail’s pace with no chance of collision, might I add).

And in response to the viewer with user name brightroddydoddy, who posted on the show’s discussion board that “There’s a time and place for showing kids all the ‘differences’ that people can have, but nine in the morning, in front of a two-year-old, is not the place,” I am in complete accord with a different user of the site. Kath1970 explained that her three-year-old daughter “has a congenital upper-limb deficiency just like Cerrie’s. It’s there at nine in the morning, it’s also there at pre-school, it’s there at the supermarket, and it’s there when we go on holiday.” People with disabilities live with them 24/7, not just when they’re convenient, and whether or not some parents want to deal with explaining to their children what a disability is at nine in the morning doesn’t mean that disabilities need to be pointedly ignored.

The show provides a way for children to learn about disabilities, and to see the many differences that people can have, but also provides a way for people to see that these differences don’t have to stop someone from having a normal life. By seeing the host act just the way any other host would, the kids watching the show get to see that, though Cerrie might look a little different from other people on TV, that doesn’t mean she can’t do things that other people can.

Instead of getting flustered, confused, and upset, parents of the kids watching the show should take this golden opportunity for what it is and use it as the chance to explain to their children that everyone is different, whether it’s because they have blonde hair and blue eyes, are in a wheelchair, or only have one arm.

I hope that the station keeps Cerrie as a host for CBeebies long enough for the parents to realize that maybe it’s they who are the most uncomfortable with the change on the show, not their children. I also hope that the parents are able to change their opinions before their negativity and discriminatory comments do start affecting their children’s thoughts and actions.