Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’s New Antiracist Episode Encourages Kids to Embrace Differences
Supervising Producer, Christopher Loggins says the new episode, which premieres on January 10th on PBS Kids, shows ‘when we can talk about things, they’re easier to understand and manage.’
Raising children to see themselves as equals, in a society where they are often alienated, is one of the greatest challenges for Black parents. We’re frustrated at messages that kids receive messages that whiteness is the default race young. And we don’t always know how to respond when the kids ask, “Why doesn’t anyone here look like me?”
A new episode of Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood which premieres on January 10th on PBS Kids hopes to help parents address this question.
“By the time children reach age 10 or 11, their attitudes about race can become solidified,” says Aisha White, Director of The P.R.I.D.E. Program at the University of Pittsburgh. “Children of all races start to prefer white around age three, and once they move to ages four and five, they can not only prefer white but begin to develop negative attitudes toward Black people and others of color.”
White says having these conversations early helps us get ahead of things before we’re left reversing anti-Black messaging. Thankfully, shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, which began in 2012 and addresses tough topics in ways kids can understand, support families in these conversations when parents don’t know what to say. White was a consultant on “Miss Elaina’s Bandage,” which shows how the smallest moments, like selecting a bandage, can alienate non-white youth.
In episode 606, Miss Elaina who is the only Black child in Daniel’s classroom, struggles to find a bandage that matches her skin tone. Viewers also witness Miss Elaina’s mother, who is white, actively creating new bandage shades, so her daughter has the representation she deserves. The song that follows, “When we see something that isn’t fair, we can do something to show we care,” seems to speak to the importance of community support.
Christopher Loggins, Supervising Producer for Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, says after researching and working with advisors, the team realized even their target audience, children ages two to four, recognize when something isn’t fair.
“We wanted to tell a story that could help young children know how to share when they feel that something isn’t fair and help them know that trusted grown-ups can help in these situations,” says Loggins.
Still, the production team knew it was essential to tell this story with care and authenticity—with particular attention to tone and phrasing—so that children received the right message. “It was important to us to help children know that it isn’t just on them or on one person to do something to show they care as that puts too much responsibility on a child,” says Loggins. “When we work together, we can create positive change.”
The sentiment continues in the accompanying episode, “A Fair Place to Play,” where Daniel and the larger community collaborate to build a ramp so Chrissie, a girl who wears braces on her legs and sometimes uses forearm crutches, can access the playground.
Loggins wants children who have had a similar experience to feel valued, loved, and respected when watching this story. “One of my favorite lines from the episode is when Lady Elaine, Miss Elaina’s mom, says, ‘You’re right, it doesn’t match your beautiful brown skin,’ when they are working together on a solution,’” he says. “Additionally, we hope that all children watching will leave feeling empowered to talk to a grown-up about times when they feel they see something that isn’t fair to them or someone they know.”
The series Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood is based on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, which starred Fred Rogers, and ran from 1968 to 2001. The show is considered ahead of its time in addressing many topics, including race and identity. Rogers shocked audiences when he and the character Officer Clemmons, a Black man, waded in a pool together on episode 1065 in 1969. He created the episode in response to national conflicts over desegregated swimming pools.
White says emotions almost always emerge when practices or environments make children feel like an outsider. “These circumstances require compassion, care, conversation, and action,” says White. She says initiatives like The P.R.I.D.E. Program and the efforts of educators and parents to embrace differences matter, but too often, messages that “We are all alike on the inside,” take precedence over actual change. The episode sought to explore the feelings and solutions without telling children to ignore their feelings of exclusion because we’re all the same.
ignore their feelings of exclusion because we’re all the same.
White hopes viewers learn we should regularly notice, question, discuss, and celebrate differences. “In many cases, the Black child or the child of color is the only one in a classroom or a group,” she says. She wants children to feel empowered to notice and ask the legitimate question, “I wonder why there are no other kids here who look like me,” and teachers and parents to be prepared to respond.
She also wants children to know they should ask questions about things that don’t feel right or don’t seem fair and feel empowered to act. “The incident with Miss Elaina began with noticing, which is essential, but it would not have been resolved if Miss Elaina had not spoken up.”
She says children need to feel that they have agency over what happens in their lives, even as young children. “Action requires patience and creativity on the part of children and adults, but it is essential, and it’s something adults should be encouraging children to do.”
White says the episode demonstrates how Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood consistently gives parents and caregivers priceless strategies to address race, equity, and inclusion. Loggins says Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood continues Fred Rogers’s legacy of acceptance and inclusivity.
“Fred Rogers said, ‘What is mentionable can be more manageable.’ When we can talk about things that may be considered difficult, it can make them easier to understand and manage. This is something we think about often in Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.”
Image: COURTESY OF FRED ROGERS PRODUCTION