Cerrie Burnell hosts a children’s show on BBC television called CBeebies. She has been the subject of a recent spate of parent complaints. Not because of her performance. Because of her disability. She was born without the lower section of her right arm.
The Independent reports:
One man said that he would stop his daughter from watching the BBC children’s channel because Burnell would give his child nightmares.
…[S]ome of the vitriolic comments on the “Grown Up” section of the channel’s website were so nasty that they had to be removed.
“Is it just me, or does anyone else think the new woman presenter on CBeebies may scare the kids because of her disability?” wrote one adult on the CBeebies website. Other adults claimed that their children were asking difficult questions as a result. “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,” said one message. The BBC received nine other complaints by phone.
Outrage! Outrage! Outrage!
Fortunately, many more people have contacted BBC to express their support. Now I don’t have to bang my head against a wall to fall asleep tonight.
“I think that it is great that Cerrie is on CBeebies. She is an inspiration to children and we should not underestimate their ability to understand and accept that all of us have differences – some visible and some not,” wrote “Surfergirlboosmum”. Other websites were flooded with equally supportive comments. “I feel we should all post counter complaints to the BBC and I’m sure they will receive more complaints about the fact they have even considered accepting these complaints,” wrote Scott Tostevin on Facebook. “Its a disgrace that people still have such negative views against people who are ‘different’,” he added.
Burnell, who described her first television presenting role as a “dream job”, has also appeared in EastEnders and Holby City and has been feted for performances in the theatre while also worked as a teaching assistant at a special needs school in London. She also has a four-year-old child. “I think the negative comments from those few parents are indicative of a wider problem of disabled representation in the media as a whole, which is why it’s so important for there to be more disabled role models in every area of the media,” she said in response yesterday.
“The support that I’ve received … has been truly heartening. It’s brilliant that parents are able to use me as a way of talking about disability with their children and for children who are similarly disabled to see what really is possible in life and for their worlds to be represented in such a positive, high profile manner.”
Whew. You know, I’m interested in this phenomena of “My kid is asking difficult questions!” This is the first time that I have seen it in the context of preventing children from seeing a disabled person. Usually, I see it in the context of parents wanting to prevent their children from seeing interracial or same-sex couples so that they don’t have to answer ‘difficult’ questions.
You know what I’m talking about? The kind of parents who claim they aren’t homophobic, they just don’t want to explain to their kids why the two ladies at the store were holding hands and kissing.
Uh, why not? Probably because …[drumroll]…. they’re homophobic! Why else would a parent have a problem explaining to children that some adults love a person of the same sex, and some a person of the opposite sex? It’s not like that information is harmful to children… unless you believe that homosexuality is TEH EVIL!
Same goes with Cerrie here. Why parents would complain about what could be an awesome teaching moment is beyond me. It’s 2009, and these kind of people are still out there. Urg. Go Cerrie!
Thanks to Alas for being on this.