Obama vs. Avenue Q

 “I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy,” Obama said in a speech addressing race this week, making his point that we must “move beyond some of these racial wounds” if we are to create a more perfect union.

True words in a moving speech. I saw only clips on TV; that’s the nature of media coverage after all, which substantiates Obama’s point that with little more than sound bites running in a loop, it’s easy to take offense. After reading the whole text online, I felt encouraged that while racism remains an issue, our determination to come together to work on the myriad other issues is itself a step toward eradicating racism because those issues—education, health care, global warming—are colorblind.

When I read the speech though, in all its rhetorical greatness, I couldn’t help thinking about Avenue Q, which I saw the other night in Boston, because it features a song titled “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” I know, but you can’t help but laugh; they’re puppets. When the character Princeton asks Kate Monster if she is related to Trekkie Monster, Kate is appalled by the insinuation that all monsters are related. Princeton apologizes, but points out that Kate is starting a school exclusively for monsters.

“You see?!” Princeton says. “You’re a little bit racist.”

“Well, you’re a little bit too,” she says, as they launch into a song about how everyone’s a little bit racist, punctuated with lines about ethnic jokes and whether Jesus was black or white.

I’m not sure which helps more in the long run, a thoughtful speech or a little humor, but it’s nice to think that while we can be serious about such an important issue, we’re also not afraid to make fun of ourselves—even if that humor comes cloaked in the guise of a monster.

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