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Our View: Leave the kid be, it's Sesame Place that has to get this right

·4 min read

For the nine seconds that the Sesame Place employee is on video, their identity is completely hidden inside a "Rosita" costume.

Yet thousands of social media commentators, a gaggle of celebrity onlookers and even some professional journalists apparently can see exactly what's in the heart of a performer they've never met, and whose name, gender, age and race are — and will likely remain — unknown. That's being facetious, of course. None of us knows.

We do know the individual who wore the "Rosita" costume in the Sesame Street Party Parade on July 16 is the focal point of allegations of racism against the Bucks County theme park and its performers after an upset mother from New York posted the short video and accused the "Rosita" character of snubbing two Black girls who'd tried to hug or high-5 the popular cast member. The mother felt the slight was racist.

Sesame Place officials say the person in the costume, who's more likely to be a high school kid than an underemployed adult, is "devastated" over the situation, which prompted a flurry of similar complaints and videos from parents who are Black, a protest that yielded two arrests in front of the park, the filing of a civil rights lawsuit from a Baltimore father with a similar story, and a swarm of negative media coverage for Sesame and parent company SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Screenshot of Jodi Brown, of Brooklyn, NY,  video showing her daughter and niece moments before  she says they were snubbed by the "Rosita" character at Sesame Place in Middletown, Pa
Screenshot of Jodi Brown, of Brooklyn, NY, video showing her daughter and niece moments before she says they were snubbed by the "Rosita" character at Sesame Place in Middletown, Pa

We aren't trivializing the hurt feelings and disappointment experienced by the two girls. No one, regardless of age or race, wants to feel snubbed, particularly by someone they've looked up to, and we earnestly wish the girls had gotten some love and attention from "Rosita." Sesame Place charges way too much for kids to leave feeling ignored or disregarded.

But let's stop throwing boorish, prejudicial rocks at the teenager in the costume, as one Philadelphia columnist did when she called the employee a "cretin disguised as a Muppet." Likewise the hot take from the women who co-host The View that the performer should be fired surely wasn't the product of scrupulous fact-finding and thoughtful discernment.

More:Sesame Place announces 'comprehensive' anti-bias steps following viral 'Rosita' video controversy

And that's exactly what the situation demands from Sesame Place.

We credit the park with Tuesday's announcement that, by the end of September, it will implement a "substantive training and education program" that addresses bias, promotes inclusion and aims to prevent discrimination. The park will also perform a racial equity assessment that reviews policies, processes and practices. We also appreciate that Sesame Place fashioned a team of national experts to assist with both the assessment and the additional training on an ongoing basis. All that will take time, so the park wisely enacted some "interim measures" to help employees in the short term.

We hope the these steps work. Because this is not the first time Sesame Place has been accused of racism. In addition to the recently filed civil rights lawsuit and other videos showing children of color not receiving attention from the characters, Sesame Place previously settled a Black Muslim woman's discrimination lawsuit claiming she was incorrectly accused of shoplifting due to her race.

More:Sesame Place settled discrimination lawsuit by Black Muslim family

In 2019, a different Black Muslim woman was told by another park guest to "go back to where you came from" when the woman attempted to de-escalate a loud, vulgar argument between the guest and another patron by asking them to watch their language in front of the children. The woman's cousin later said park employees treated members of her family as the situation's aggressors.

Editorial:Sesame Place's PR disaster

Sesame Place boasts easily the most diverse clientele of any tourist attraction in Bucks County and draws its inspiration from a television show dedicated to kindness, respect, inclusiveness, racial harmony and cultural understanding.

If those who work there can't live up to that standard, that's on the park management's hiring and training practices, not the young people who take summer jobs there.

It's Sesame Place that needs to get this right. If it can't, it should limit the cast in the Sesame Street Party Parade to riding on floats, where the only high-5s and hugs that are possible are the ones they give each other. And there's nothing inclusive about that.

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Our View: Leave the kid be. Sesame Place has to get this right