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International Parenting: Avoiding Stereotypes With 'Rastamouse'
My son is having an international childhood. His father is a Canadian who lived for a long time in the U.S. and his mother a Spaniard who lived for a long time in England. We divide our time between Santander in Spain and Oxford in England.
One effect of this is that he has different associations for different places. England, for example, is a summer place, a small-town place where in the early morning before going to camp or the park he gets to watch TV. Spain isn't a TV place because TV sucks in Spain. We didn't even bother buying a TV there.
I don't mind him watching BBC because they have some great kids' programs. One of his favorites also helps make him more international. It's called "Rastamouse." Rastamouse is a mystery-solving Reggae mouse musician who always catches the bad guys. Once he does, he shows them the error in their ways and helps them make amends. Rastamouse calls this "making a bad ting good." It's a nice change from superheroes, who simply kick the bad guy's ass.
"Rastamouse" is hugely popular in the UK and is coming soon to the United States. It hasn't been without controversy, however. Some viewers think the cheese on the show is a symbol for marijuana, ignoring the fact that Rastamouse and his friends are, um, mice. A less silly complaint came from Daily Mail columnist Lindsay Johns, who in his op-ed on "Rastamouse" objects to the Jamaican patois. He says it panders to racial stereotypes and that "the BBC is leading us down the path of linguistic rack and ruin."
"Very soon (if they aren't already), a whole generation of primary school children will be rushing around the playground mimicking Rastamouse and saying, 'Wha gwan?'" he writes.
So far, I have yet to hear my son imitate Rastamouse, and if he did I don't think that would lead him to forgetting the Queen's English. I also don't agree with Johns' statement that Rastamouse's being cool means he isn't cerebral. He solves a mystery every episode by analyzing clues.
Our reaction made me think. While we know that most Jamaicans aren't lazy pot smokers, we were brought up with that stereotype so it pops into our heads even if we don't believe it. I was interested to learn from various African-American friends that in their community, Jamaicans are stereotyped as workaholics. One friend who worked briefly as a farmer in Jamaica (growing sugar cane) said he couldn't keep up with the hard pace of his island coworkers. The TV show In Living Color did a riff on this with a series of sketches of a Jamaican family who have more than a hundred jobs between them. Every skit involved the father complaining about his "lazy, good-for-noting son who only has eight jobs."
My son is getting a different impression of Jamaicans. For him, folks from that island speak differently but have intelligent things to say, make good music, work hard, and help their erring brothers and sisters "make a bad ting good."