Racialising Stuff That Doesn’t Need To Be Racialised

I love Sesame Street, especially when I am watching it in another language. Watching Sesame Street, Teletubbies and Ultraman in other languages makes keeping up language practice as easy as ABC.

However, those who earn much more money than I do have decided that Sesame Street is too white and needs puppets of colour. Enter stage left Elijah and his son Wes to explain “hair texture” and “melanin”. This would be totally fine and understandable if Sesame Street was a hub of hatred for anyone beyond maika on the Dulex colour chart, but Sesame Street has always had a diverse cast of children and adults on the show. Sesame Street has also celebrated Black History Month since the 90s, even welcoming big names such as Lupita and Erykah Badu.

Also, as I said in my post Blasphemy And Satire, children just want to pick their nose, draw a picture and eat their crayons. Kids really don’t care about skin colour or hair texture. They certainly don’t care about melanin. Kids play with kids. Some kids do have questions, or even hesitations. The episode of Roseanne where Roseanne and Dan were called into the school by the teacher because TJ wouldn’t kiss the new girl in the school play, and the teacher assumed Dan and Roseanne were teaching racism at home. It turned out TJ just wasn’t used to Black people, and wasn’t sure about the girl’s lips because they were bigger, so Dan and Roseanne talked to him about his friend who had ginger hair and said differences were fine.

When I was in high school, we were all drawing a scene from Far East history, and I asked our Chinese classmate which way Chinese eyes go and which way Japanese eyes go because I had forgotten. She knew what I meant. There was a rhyme children said in primary school, and most English people over 40 can remember it. S said that their eyes don’t go up or down, and she showed me her eyes up close so I could see the shape. I thanked her and got on with my work. and she got on with hers. It was no big deal. It did not affect our friendship at all.

When The Muppets made a come back in the 90s, Kermit was interviewed in various magazines and on TV shows. He said, “We now have a Muppet of colour. His name is Clifford, he is a Rastafarian and he is purple.”

That was the thing with The Muppets and Sesame Street; the puppets were multicoloured. There was no assumption about the racial background of the puppets because they were red and green and blue and yellow and purple.

Over here in the UK, morning TV presenter Rochelle Humes presented a documentary on a health issue. Rochelle Humes has no medical qualifications. Rochelle is a lovely TV presenter and has always done a good job on morning TV. Presenting a heavily biased and carefully edited documentary on why Black women in the UK die at four times the rate as white women in the UK in the twelve weeks after childbirth is really beyond her, and the findings of her documentary show that.

The problem is also the timing. This documentary has been shown on UK TV (on Channel 4) several weeks after the official report with all its findings were released and reported on by BAME groups such as Tell Mama. I read the report findings when the report came out.

Rochelle Humes’ documentary blames racism for Black and Asian women dying in greater numbers than white women in the twelve weeks after giving birth or in childbirth itself. The fact that 80% midwives in the UK are Black Asian Minority Ethnic puts a spanner in the works of the idea that racism is the cause of these women’s deaths.

The report that came out at the beginning of this year showed that BAME women who gave birth were more likely than white women to be overweight or obese. BAME women were more likely to have diabetes and heart conditions. Anyone with any medical knowledge knows that it is more dangerous for a woman with diabetes to give birth, whatever her racial background. We all remember the 1980s films Steel Magnolias in which Julia Roberts’ character Shelby was told to not get pregnant because her diabetes would not be able to cope with a pregnancy. Shelby got pregnant and survived the birth, but her kidneys gave out and she was then on dialysis.

So diabetes is dangerous for pregnant women. It takes no cardiologist to say that giving birth while having a heart condition raises the risk of death. When BAME women have these two conditions at much higher rates than white women – mainly due to diet and lifestyle choices – then racism cannot be blamed for their personal choices,

What are the diet and lifestyle choices that cause BAME women to have higher levels of diabetes and heart conditions? The way food is cooked is a big factor. In many families of Pakistani background, for example, they are used to cooking food with a lot of fat. This of course leads to obesity, and thus diabetes and heart conditions.

A study out last year showed that 56% Black UK people got the recommended 150 minutes per week of exercise, and 55% Asian people (excluding Chinese) got the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, compared with 62% adults overall.

I have put on a lot of weight with lockdowns and lazy eating habits, so I have decided which foods I am cutting out of my diet and I am looking forward to the gyms reopening, plus with the days getting longer and warmer, I will be walking in the mountains very soon. I am concerned for my own health, so I am going to do something about it.

My gym – when it is open – is racially diverse, with many hijabi women working out, running on treadmills, lifting weights and generally being awesome. I cover up, and there is a lot of great sports wear out there now for women who want to cover up. I have even worked out next to older women in full abayas. Most of my Black friends are very fit and active, some are vegetarian and very health conscious. They also go walking in the English countryside regularly and don’t find it racist, as has been claimed by another TV presenter.

The other main factor in BAME women dying in the first twelve weeks after giving birth is domestic violence. If a woman chooses to live with a violent man, there is nothing anyone can do. When I worked with homeless people and I rehoused as many as I could, I could not help the women who I saw every couple of months who always went back to the men who beat them. I would try to rehouse them in a lovely supported home for women who have been harmed, where staff were on duty 24/7 to help the residents, with the view to enabling them to live independent lives free of violence. Yet every single time I tried to rehouse these women with support, they would go back to their violent men before I could get the moving in process underway. I have found that two weeks is the time frame in which women go back to violent men. I have seen that over and over. Most women who leave their violent partners go back within two weeks.

When a woman is in hospital, about to give birth, or after giving birth, she is offered help. If hospital staff even suspect there is any issue in the woman’s life, they will offer help. The time a woman spends in hospital around the birth of her child is seen as a window of opportunity to help women in need by the hospital staff and by the government. The birth of a child often makes a woman think about safety and the type of home she is bringing her child into. Some women do leave violent partners when they become pregnant or when they give birth because they want their child to be safe. The woman can choose to accept help or not.

So it’s not racism that is killing BAME women at higher rates than white women in the UK; it is issues that are often within the control of the women themselves.

There all all-female gyms, or gyms with separate floors for men and for women, for people who believe that the sexes should not mix, there are gyms aimed at BAME people, there are healthier ways to cook traditional food and much more we can all do to preserve our own health. I have taken up the challenge of taking more responsibility for what I eat and what exercise I do. I hope others can do the same for their own sake.

About catherinehume

Catherine Hume: Writer, social care worker and a liver of a life less ordinary.
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