International Parenting: Avoiding Stereotypes With ‘Rastamouse’


My son is having an international childhood. His father is a Canadian who lived for a long time in the U.S. and his mother a Spaniard who lived for a long time in England. We divide our time between Santander in Spain and Oxford in England.

One effect of this is that he has different associations for different places. England, for example, is a summer place, a small-town place where in the early morning before going to camp or the park he gets to watch TV. Spain isn’t a TV place because TV sucks in Spain. We didn’t even bother buying a TV there.

I don’t mind him watching BBC because they have some great kids’ programs. One of his favorites also helps make him more international. It’s called “Rastamouse.” Rastamouse is a mystery-solving Reggae mouse musician who always catches the bad guys. Once he does, he shows them the error in their ways and helps them make amends. Rastamouse calls this “making a bad ting good.” It’s a nice change from superheroes, who simply kick the bad guy’s ass.

“Rastamouse” is hugely popular in the UK and is coming soon to the United States. It hasn’t been without controversy, however. Some viewers think the cheese on the show is a symbol for marijuana, ignoring the fact that Rastamouse and his friends are, um, mice. A less silly complaint came from Daily Mail columnist Lindsay Johns, who in his op-ed on “Rastamouse” objects to the Jamaican patois. He says it panders to racial stereotypes and that “the BBC is leading us down the path of linguistic rack and ruin.”

“Very soon (if they aren’t already), a whole generation of primary school children will be rushing around the playground mimicking Rastamouse and saying, ‘Wha gwan?’” he writes.

So far, I have yet to hear my son imitate Rastamouse, and if he did I don’t think that would lead him to forgetting the Queen’s English. I also don’t agree with Johns’ statement that Rastamouse’s being cool means he isn’t cerebral. He solves a mystery every episode by analyzing clues.I let my son watch this show because, unlike what some of its detractors say, it actually breaks stereotypes. I have to admit to a certain amount of snickering on the part of me and my wife when we first saw this show. We kept waiting for pot references but they never came. We missed the whole cheese thing. Rastamouse creators Genevieve Webster and Michael De Souza (who is a Rastafarian) are clearly not interested in making a cult show for stoner college kids.

Our reaction made me think. While we know that most Jamaicans aren’t lazy pot smokers, we were brought up with that stereotype so it pops into our heads even if we don’t believe it. I was interested to learn from various African-American friends that in their community, Jamaicans are stereotyped as workaholics. One friend who worked briefly as a farmer in Jamaica (growing sugar cane) said he couldn’t keep up with the hard pace of his island coworkers. The TV show In Living Color did a riff on this with a series of sketches of a Jamaican family who have more than a hundred jobs between them. Every skit involved the father complaining about his “lazy, good-for-noting son who only has eight jobs.”

My son is getting a different impression of Jamaicans. For him, folks from that island speak differently but have intelligent things to say, make good music, work hard, and help their erring brothers and sisters “make a bad ting good.”

Arab American National Museum examines legacy of 9/11

Arab American National MuseumWith the tenth anniversary of 9/11 just two days away, the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, is examining how the Arab-American community has been affected by the terrorist attacks.

U.S. Rising: Emerging Voices in post-9/11 America runs from September 8-11 and is a series of forums and events both in Detroit and Dearborn. On the actual anniversary of September 11, the museum will offer free entry all day.

In an interview with Art Daily, museum director Anan Ameri said the attacks were a “wake-up call” that showed just how little most people knew about the Arab-American community and how many bad stereotypes were out there. One response has been the virtual exhibit Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes. This looks at the origins of various stereotypes and compares them to the reality.

Starting on Veterans Day, November 11, the museum will host the exhibition Patriots & Peacemakers: Arab Americans in Service to our Country. This exhibit will focus on the community’s role in the U.S. army, Peace Corps, and diplomatic service.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Travel writing: how not to do it

We’ve had some interesting posts on travel writing lately, including Don George’s secret formula for writing a successful travel narrative and Pam Mandel’s report on Book Passage. While studying good writing is vital to learning how to write, it’s also important to study bad writing so you know what not to do.

Talented writer Steve Almond tackles this for us with his hilarious skewering of Toto’s 1982 pop hit Africa. I never liked this song, although it was the background theme to far too many high school memories. While this is a song and not a travel article, it includes many of the mistakes sloppy writers make when covering travel in general and Africa in particular. Watch, laugh, and learn.

Thanks to my friend Hannah for showing me this vid!

Two Brits walk into a Walmart…

American media likes to make fun of other cultures. Stereotypes have been exploited in films like Crocodile Dundee and Rocky IV (along with pretty much any movie that featured Russians in the 1980s) along with television shows such as Outsourced. We tend to tolerate mocking other cultures so long as it’s done lightheartedly or to make America look better. Well, it’s about time that we realized that people from outside the United States like to make fun of us, too. Like these two Brits that visited a Walmart in California.

Apparently, fat Americans (that’s what people call us when we’re not around) enjoy ham and cheese loaves and iced tea by the gallon. Is Walmart an accurate representation of America? Well, in some ways, it kind of is. Just like someone named Liam is an accurate representation of England. Aren’t something like 78% of guys there named Liam?

[Via Matador]

VIDEO: 50 state stereotypes in 2 minutes

Enjoy poking fun at other American states? You might enjoy this video posted by our friends at Huffington Post Comedy covering all 50 state stereotypes in 2 minutes and change. From Alabama

Our state bird is the NASCAR” to Wyoming

We don’t have any gay cowboys, alright? Okay, maybe a few gay cowboys…”, no state is left unparodied (read the video transcript here). Lest you think video creator Paul Jury is making snap judgements, you may want to read his new book States of Confusion, chronicling his post-college 48-state road trip.

Have a good sense of humor about how others see your state or country? You might also enjoy this map of US state stereotypes as well as maps from other countries. Follow Gadling and AOL Travel’s Road Trip Across America this summer and see how the states live up to their reputation.