Screenshot via YouTube

“Sesame Street” announced that they would be debuting their first-ever Asian-American muppet — a 7-year-old Korean-American muppet named Ji-Young. The new character was made both in response to the rise of anti-Asian hate since the COVID-19 pandemic as well as for viewers’ demands for more on-screen diversity in the wake of the racial uprising of 2020. 

But not everyone is happy about this newest addition to the “Sesame Street”cast. Some conservatives are calling for the legendary children’s show to be defunded because it has gotten “too woke.”

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After the news broke about Ji-Young, American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp tweeted his disgust at “Sesame Street” creating a muppet with a race. “What race is Ernie [sic] is Bert? You are insane PBS and we should stop funding you.” 

It seems that Schlapp was angered that “Sesame Street” created an Asian character when, previously, many of its characters were non-human creatures and therefore didn’t have any race. And “Sesame Street” airs on PBS (the Public Broadcasting System), a network that gets much of its funding from the federal government. That means that it is technically tax-payer money that funds the production of PBS shows like Sesame Street. 

Conservatives have long decried “Sesame Street” for promoting what they’ve seen as a “liberal agenda.” In 2002, an HIV-positive muppet named Kami was included in the cast as a way of normalizing a widespread disease. Back then, conservatives worried that Kami would encourage homosexuality among children.

Most recently, Texas Senator Ted Cruz critiqued “Sesame Street” for broadcasting “government propaganda… for your 5 year-old” after Big Bird revealed that he was vaccinated against COVID-19. 

But contrary to Schlapp’s assumption, this is not the first time “Sesame Street” has included a muppet of color in its cast. In fact, “Sesame Street’s” first Black muppet, Roosevelt Franklin, debuted in the early ’70s. Just last year, “Sesame Street” added the Black muppet Tamir, who was specifically added to address race in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

In fact, “Sesame Street” has always gone out of its way to promote an inclusive, anti-racist agenda into its programming. Since its inception, “Sesame Street” was trailblazing for its diverse cast of characters in a heavily integrated urban setting. The series has long talked to their young viewers about racism and discrimination. The fact that they’re including muppets with races now is simply a more visual way to approach the topic. After all, what child wouldn’t love to see a muppet that looks like them reflected back from the TV screen?

According to “Sesame Street,” Ji-Young loves playing her electric guitar and skateboarding. She also loves cooking traditional Korean food like tteokbokki (chewy rice cakes) with her grandmother. She is excited to share her culture with the other residents of “Sesame Street.” 

Ji-Young’s muppeteer, 41-year-old Kathleen Kim, was heavily involved in the creation of the character. She was adamant that Ji-Young has a country of origin instead of just being “generically pan-Asian,” to avoid being “lump[ed]…into this monolithic ‘Asian’” identity.