Cerrie Burrell, a new presenter featured on the BBC's children's network CBeebies, may be enjoying her new position, but she also finds herself at the center of a controversy. Some British parents have been objected to her inclusion in programming, one even claiming in an e-mail that, "'I didn't want to let my children watch the filler bits on the bedtime hour last night because I know it would have played on my eldest daughter's mind and possibly caused sleep problems'" (MSNBC.com).
Citing the BBC, MSNBC.com claims,
most viewers have been supportive of Burnell, who took over a daily slot [...] at the beginning of February with Alex Winters. But a handful have written to the station complaining about her disability. Some say she may frighten the children. Others accuse the network of going overboard in the interests of diversity. Some say they don’t want to have to address such issues with very young children.
Admittedly, parenting is a tough responsibility, and viewers' attitudes toward Burnell's body will likely force a conversation in any home where her spot on CBeebies is viewed, and in 2009 it seems there are more "parental debriefings" required than ever before. Amid the bustle of our daily lives, who among us wishes for an additional, intense situation that we alone must negotiate and at such high stakes: establishing a child's view of a group of people, the personal tightrope walk of managing our internal perceptions and beliefs either against or with social codes and an inclusive ideal.
To all those parents, we sympathize, but get over yourself.
Would you allow your child to be terrified of a man who is black?1 Would you allow your child to be terrified of a female who is bisexual? Personally, I am terrified of close-minded bigots, but I understand that a democratic society affords one the space to be a bigot; I would just never condone or support it. (I suppose, in this regard, I'm intolerant. Sue me.)
Yet each time we turn our heads, resist or ignore the opportunity to punch a hole in ableist normativity, we are collusive with a systemic model, an ideology, that actively marginalizes people because of their bodies and their bodies alone.
If we allow that, how can any of us sleep at night?
1What remains to be seen is who is actually terrified of the woman with an amputation, the child or the parent him- or herself? My money is on the latter, but not in a shriek-out-loud, lift-the-hem-of-one's-dress kind of way, but more in a my-body-won't-always-function-like-my-body-functions-now-and-oh-god-what-if-that-means-i'll-get-old-and-die?