Saturday, 28 February 2009

Prejudice is alive and well.

My fellow countrymen never cease to amaze me. And not in a good way this time.

Cerrie Burnell is a television presenter. She co-presents a programme on CBeebies, a children's television channel. An actress by profession, Cerrie is a pretty, blonde haired 29 year old. There is, however, one slight difference between Cerrie and a myriad of other pretty blonde television presenters. Cerrie is missing her lower right arm.

A minority of parents have expressed concern that Ms Burnell's appearance was "scaring" children. One father said he feared it would give his daughter nightmares and a mother said her two-year-old girl could not watch because she thought the presenter had been hurt.

Cerrie says she doesn't take these criticisms personally. But, as she rightly says, these kind of comments highlight the prejudice that disabled people face.

In an interview this week, she said:

"Children come up to me in the street every day and say 'What's that?' I wouldn't say they're frightened but certainly they're inquisitive.

"I would always take the time to explain to a child. All they want is an explanation. They want to know 'What's that?' and 'What's happened?' and 'Why are you different?' And then they will move on."

She hopes that her presence can show young children what they can achieve on merit.

I am not a parent so maybe I'm talking out of my hat here but surely parents should be encouraging their children to accept people who they might see as "different". Surely this is an ideal opportunity for parents to explain to children that some people do have physical disabilities but that this doesn't make them any less a person. If, as a nation, we want to stop prejudice of any description, then I would have thought that the younger the child, the more chance there is of moulding their thoughts against such prejudices.

Parents who can't face explaining this to their children must surely run the risk of passing on their own prejudices and fears of anyone who is "different".

As I said, I am not a parent but I'd be interested to know the views of those of you that are.

15 comments:

  1. Floella Benjamin scared me when I was young with her beaded hair and larger-than-life expressions.

    But they didn't take _her_ off the telly.

    I am entirely with you. It is preposterous to hide disabled people for fear of scaring the kids.

    They'll happily watch murders, vampires and the kind of cruelty seen on the Dairylea dunkers advert, but when there's a natural disfigurement it's not ok?

    To be fair, I think it is a _very_ small minority who are complaining, but of course they're rather vocal as usual.

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  2. You're right, most prejudices are passed down, generation to generation. Ignorant to ignorant.

    Parenting is hard work and many aren't prepared.

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  3. As a parent and a teacher, these types of experiences are known as "teachable moments". The problem with too many parents is that they either don't want to take the time to teach or they don't know how. You are exactly right and you don't have to be a parent to recognize it.

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  4. Poor woman, how stupid that she is having to defend herself. As a mother of two young munchkins, I can vouch for how inquisitive they are. Children will always point and ask loud questions - normally in public places! As a parent, it's my job to teach them about the world and all the different people we have in it.

    It's very easy to pass on your own fears (ie spiders, snakes etc) so it is also very easy to pass on prejudices. It's very important to pass on simple facts so that chidren can understand things and make up their own minds.

    In my experience when my kids have met slightly different people, whether they speak in a different language, are from another country or are disabled in some way, however worried I might have been about the encounter, they've barely taken any notice, they just get on with being friends - I've always been very proud of them for that.

    Let's hope Mr Common Sense takes over and ignores the few ignorant twerps - some people are beyond help!

    That said, Floella still scares me! Although I'm not saying that that is anything to do with her appearance! ;o)

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  5. I think this is a perfect opportunity for parents to talk about things like this at home in a comfortable environment. It's always difficult for a parent to know what to do when their young child sees a handicapped or otherwise different person in a public setting. Children are not known for their tact and often point and loudly ask "What's wrong with that person?". That's uncomfortable for the parent and the person the child is pointing at. Usually we shush the child and quickly move away, and I don't think that's a good way to handle it either. It certainly can't help the person feel any better and the child is confused. Parents do need to take the time to discuss difficult subjects with their children. It is my experience that children are much more able to understand things than we give them credit for. I doubt most children would be "frightened" by her appearance, and even those who were would probably be reassured quite easily by an open and honest discussion with their parents.

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  6. Unfortunately, stupid people are perfectly capable of reproduction.

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  7. Am an "old" parent and I walk often with crutches. So far, I have yet to find a young adult make way on a pavement for me - I am the one that steps into the road!

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  8. You may not be a parent but you are thinking right here. In my opinion anyway. Hearing what those parents said makes me think 'their' parents did the same to them when they were smaller. Quite sad really.

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  9. My son told me once that if he ever lost his legs, he wanted some of those running ones with the big spring at the bottom so he could run and jump. Heck - I'D like those things too!

    Children are much more accepting if they are in an environment that allows "normal" to encompass people with disabilities, with different color skin, with different kinds of work. I am very happy that my son knows that it's the person who lives INSIDE that body that's important.

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  10. Kids are much nicer to me in all my masks and scarves and weirdnessess than adults who make rude comments or trite quips about the cold. Grrr.

    Its far easier to tell kids I have a bad face than adults as well.

    Niki x

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  11. I could NOT believe my eyes and ears when I saw that on the news the other day...we are all more alike than we are different...and it's when we start pointing out our differences that causes so many of the World's problems.
    It's too bad we can't see others through the eyes of our children...without prejudices...It's too bad that they learn those prejudices from us.

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  12. Excellent!!!! This is so poignant a blog. I have been part of prejudices of this nature. I have a grandson that has Down Syndrome, and I know just what it's like to have those that are 'more perfect' that make an extra effort to avoid being close to one such that has a handicap. It's amazing and sorely misunderstood that within the veins of such...there is always a heart of gold!!!!!

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  13. I have to agree with you. I still take a second look, sometimes when I see someone with a deformity. I mean, really, your eyes don't believe it sometimes, and you can't help it. But I certianly don't approach them about it or ask them about it. I was raised better. And I think that the parents that are 'protecting' their children are really doing them a disservice...

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  14. It is usually ignorance -- they don't know how to deal with someone with a handicap (or don't want to deal) and so they think their kids won't be able to either.

    Had she been in a wheelchair I wonder if there would have been the same outcry.

    I can tell you that I was freaked when I was shopping one day and a man rolled past me on a board with wheels. He must have been amputated from the hip. His torso was attached to this skate board type device and his arms moved him

    I don't know how he got things down from the racks.

    I have to admit, that I didn't know how to react to it. (ignore, offer help, etc?)

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  15. Today is probably not the best day for me to comment on what parents do to their kids. As a teacher I often want to yell at parents that their child would be better if they just LEFT THEM ALONE!!

    Sorry, I digress.

    Amazing the discomforts we can pass on to our children. My family is the non-talking one where nothing is discussed and even as a child if I insisted, things were whispered, making me think they should be hidden. I'm trying very hard to do better with my own children.

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