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.”

Canadian hostages in Jamaican airport

One man with a gun can do a lot of damage. A weapon-wielding nut-job held around 180 hostages on a Canadian plane in Jamaica yesterday. He chose the landing in Jamaica as his time to act. All passengers were eventually released unharmed, but five of the original seven crew members were still held hostage in the CanJet plane at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. (CNN reports that he’s holding six crew members.)

Only one shot has been fired, but nobody was hurt.

According to a story in the Sydney Morning Herald, “It’s likely that two of the crew members may be locked up in the cockpit.”

CanJet says in a statement on its website, “A full security operation is underway and CanJet is cooperating fully with the local authorities.”

At approximately 11:30 PM local time yesterday, a man found his way onto chartered Flight 918, thanks to the effectiveness of fake identification cards at the airport’s employee entrance.

The latest development is that police are negotiating with the hostage-taker. He has asked for passage to Cuba.

Man charged with bomb parts in luggage

In a way, it is good to know that they actually screened those checked bags. I was always skeptical about how many they honestly scanned.

Yesterday, the FBI arrested a 32-year-old Jamaican man because he allegedly tried to board a plane at Orlando International Airport with pipe bomb components and instructions in his checked luggage, Reuters reports. Agents found two galvanized pipes, end caps, two small containers of air gun pellets, batteries, two containers of an unknown liquid, a laptop computer and bomb-making literature.

Bomb-making literature? Is that a part of the “self-help” book genre?


The 6 dumbest hijacking attempts ever:

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Word for the Travel Wise (01/21/07)

Babble too much and you could be called one of these on your fun-sun beach vaca in Montego Bay.

Today’s word is a Patois word from Jamaica:

Mout-a-massy – someone who talks too much. A gossip.

You can expand your ‘Rasta Patois’ in several ways. The most rewarding way is straight from the horse’s mouth, so you may wish to seek the knowledge from some West Indian folks in your neighborhood. If you can’t learn anything that way due to the low number of West Indian peeps in your circle, try watching films. The Rockers is an awesome and entertaining starting point. The 25th anniversary edition DVD has great features, including a small Rasta Patois dictionary. A good source on the net is Jamaicans dot com and Jahworks seems decent.

Past Patois words:
satta, gwaan, labrish, mash up, budufbaf, tegareg, peenywally, obeah