Sesame Street was effective because the program didn’t just contexutalize to the present; it contextualized to the future. Remember, after all, when the show started. It was in 1969, the era of George Wallace and the Black Panther Party and campus race riots and the Richard Nixon “Southern Strategy.” From the very start, the program showed kids what few of them had ever seen before: a racially integrated neighborhood.
Now, Sesame Street could have done this with preachy didactic dialogue (kind of like Norman Lear’s Maude series). But instead, they showed kids racial equality, and made it normal for them, without ever saying much about it in the process.
As I read that, it struck me that, years before my Mississippi elementary school was integrated via busing, I’d seen African-American and Latino characters (such as “Gordon” and “Maria”) functioning as equal members of a society, on the television screen of my home.
“It’s almost too perfect that the first African-American president of the United States was elected in time for the 40th anniversary of Sesame Street,” the New York Times says. “The world is finally beginning to look the way that PBS show always made it out to be.”
What would happen if, whenever our culture saw love or reconciliation or peace, our neighbors said, “This is exactly the way that church always made life out to be?”
I wonder what would happen if our churches were to recognize our role in showing people the future, not just in our teaching and in our going but in our being? What kind of witness could we be to our communities, as fragmented as they are by race and class and economics and politics, if the very makeup of our congregations signaled the “manifold wisdom of God” (Eph. 3:10) in which “here there is no Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Schythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all” (Col. 3:11)?