So I’m at the clinic where my son receives his bi-weekly physical therapy sessions the other day, and next to us is another dad and his son, along with some therapists. I overhear him explaining about how he had a bunch of “Dora The Explorer” cartoons saved on his DVR, but that he had deleted them, and was recalling his explanation of it to either his son or someone else who had asked him about it (I didn’t hear that part clearly.)
“I deported her ass!” he proudly proclaimed. I didn’t hear any reaction from the people he was talking to.
Okay, I thought. Another instance of racism delivered as a joke, which would either be dismissed by some as “just a joke,” or flat-out denied as being racist by others. But it lingered with me for a bit, and I started thinking of precisely why the statement was racist.
First of all, is there anything about Dora The Explorer that would give someone the impression that she could be deported, other than being Latina? After all, there are plenty of people who get all riled up about illegal immigrants being in the country, but whenever the notion of racism gets suggested, they are quick to point out that they are against illegal immigrants, not all immigration.
So, what would give someone the idea that Dora is an illegal immigrant? Sure, she’s an explorer, so you might think that maybe she goes around to places where she’s not welcome, with her talking backpack and human-like monkey pal in tow. But so was Christopher Columbus, who did much more than just explore “new” places. And he is seen as a hero by many, along with the other European explorers from hundreds of years ago. So it’s not just that. And, from what I have seen, it’s not like she goes to places and establishes herself there, mooching off taxpayers and stealing jobs. In fact, I think she goes to someplace new in each episode. Maybe she has a travel visa, and is following the law to the letter with all of her adventures.
So it’s got to be something else. Oh, that’s right, she’s brown. So, simply because of that fact, she is deportable? I guess. This reflects the deep-rooted xenophobia that I think is at the core of a lot of anti-immigrant thought. Sure, people will say that it’s only about the illegal immigrants. But what they should really be saying is that it is about the brown immigrants. If the cartoon was called “Susie The Explorer” and the character was white, there would be no joke whatsoever, whether she were an explorer or not.
And let’s not go with the “it’s just a joke” thing. That is a convenient way to hide from ugly truths that come out through attempts at humor. Whether we like it or not, there is an element of truth to jokes, which is exactly what makes them work (or not) as a joke. If the guy who made this joke had said something like “she got abducted by aliens,” it wouldn’t make sense at all, because nothing in the cartoon has anything to do with aliens. Dora is no more likely to be kidnapped by extraterrestrials than you or I. But it’s the unfortunate attitude in many people’s minds that brown people aren’t as welcome in America as others which makes a joke about deportation possible. Dora’s perceived vulnerability in this issue is due to the color of her skin, and nothing else.
What’s extra sad about this scenario, on top of it being an unfunny attempt at humor that makes light of a situation (deportation) that isn’t funny for the people who get affected by it (including those here legally,) is that it takes the innocence away from a kid’s show. Among many other things, having toddlers of my own at home and watching different shows aimed at children has reminded me of how such programming is free from the ugly, selfish and “get yours” attitude that plagues adulthood in our society. There are no immigration laws among the different inhabitants of Nickelodeon. Nor are there arguments about taxes, or black versus white, or freeloaders, Obamacare, or anything of the sort. I’m not sure if this dad was recounting his explanation to his son or someone else, but regardless, his son was right in front of him when he said it. And that’s where this type of mentality is probably most ardently learned.
Come on, man. Your kid knows nothing about being a racist. Give him a chance.
Photo credit – Wikipedia Commons – Ian Gampon