What Captain Kangaroo taught me about how to treat people

November 3, 2010

I did not know that there were any black characters on Captain Kangaroo until I read the death notice on Wikipedia of Jimmy Wall, who apparently introduced the character of Mr. Baxter in 1968. By then, being a wise and worldly ten years old, I had licked my 10,000-a-day ping-pong ball habit and was on to more weighty matters, such as the dangers of George Wallace running for president and whether the Tigers could hit Bob Gibson.

Anyway, Wall’s death got me to thinking about the show, and Bob Keeshan himself, and one thing I remember reading in his obituary was that he never used the word kids when speaking of his target audience. “They’re not kids, they’re children,” he told an interviewer. From his New York Times obituary: “… he never patronized them and always assumed they were bright and would appreciate him and what he was doing. And so they listened when he talked ….’We have respect for our audience,’ he told Steven V. Roberts in The New York Times in 1965. ‘We operate on the conviction that it is composed of young children of potentially good taste, and that this taste should be developed.’ “

After reading that, I’ve striven to avoid using the word kids when speaking of young people. Kids are baby goats.

Children are also individuals. It’s tempting to lump them all in together as simply members of a group, as it is with black people, Latinos, LGBT’s, etc., but the fact is each child is a separate person with a unique personality. I think that’s what I bristle most at when people ask me why I never had children. “What’s the matter; don’t you like kids?” is a common question.

Besides being offended at the question itself (it really is none of their business), I’m offended at their use of the word kids, as well as their insistence on lumping all children into a group. It really is like saying, “Don’t you like blacks?” or “Don’t you like Hispanics?” And when you get down to it, liking children is not really an issue, since being a child is a temporary condition anyway. If you genuinely don’t like baby humans, have some patience. They’ll grow out of it.

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