In the wake of recent anti-Asian racism, Sesame Street addressed issues of racism and bullying against Asian Americans with a new song titled “Proud of your Eyes”. The song was created to teach kids the importance of acceptance and racial diversity. In a short video, Analyn, an Asian American of Filipino descent, shares about an incident on the playground with Alan, a Japanese American owner of Hooper’s Store, and Wesley, an African American Muppet. Analyn explained that a boy ridiculed her eyes, which left her feeling sad and ugly.
The incident described in the episode resonates with many Asian American children, who have long faced racism and bullying because of traditional Western standards of physical appearance. From an early age, children learn what is considered beautiful in their society; standards which are often unrealistic, judge differences negatively, and damage self-esteem. Because of these factors and others, Studies indicate that kids often struggle with negative thoughts and perceptions about their physical appearance, increasing their risk of depression, eating disorders, and body dissatisfaction.
In response to the bullying incident, Alan and Wes reassure Analyn her eyes are the perfect ones for her, just like everyone else’s eyes are the perfect ones for them. The “Proud of Your Eyes" song touches on issues like heritage and self-esteem through reassuring lyrics:
Your eyes tell the story of your family.
They show where you came from and what you came to be.
The color, the shape, and the size
Should always make you proud of your eyes.
Sesame Street has launched several diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives through the TV show’s nonprofit educational organization, Sesame Workshop, such as the Coming Together workshop, which aims to help children understand and celebrate different races, ethnicities, and cultures. Additionally, Sesame Street in Communities is an online portal with resources to explore issues and difficult conversations such as body image, mental health, and general parenting topics.
Sesame Street has committed to addressing racial issues more explicitly in the past few years in part by welcoming to its cast Black Muppets, Elijah Walker and Wesley, which joined the program in March 2021. The show has also created Muppets characters that depict other difficult subjects, such as Lily, who struggles with housing insecurity, and Karli, who had a mother who struggled with addiction and was raised in foster care.
Topics about race are difficult conversations for parents to discuss with children. A 2019 study by Sesame Workshop and NORC at the University of Chicago found many parents rarely or never discuss race or ethnicity with their kids, highlighting the importance of educational content like Sesame Street in tackling these topics. Songs such as “Proud of Your Eyes” can help cultivate a more inclusive culture for the next generation by teaching Asian American children to be proud of their Asian heritage.
Natasia Engeline is a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a graduate student at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. Her research interests include monetary and fiscal policy as well as ASEAN–US relations.