Nickelodeon's powerful 'I can't breathe' PSA ignites conversation around importance of talking to children about racism

Nickelodeon airs 'I Can't Breathe' PSA in solidarity with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. (Photo: Twitter)
Nickelodeon airs 'I Can't Breathe' PSA in solidarity with George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. (Photo: Twitter)

Nickelodeon went off the air on Monday evening to make room for a powerful PSA about the network’s support of “justice, equality, and human rights.” Now, people are responding to the 8 minute and 46-second break from children’s content that made way for a soundtrack of labored breath as the words “I can’t breathe” flashed on the screen.

The act of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement was announced on Nickelodeon’s social media channels before going into effect on Monday evening. The statement also included a “Declaration of kids’ rights” made up of a list of reminders to young people about their right to protection, peace, equality and education. The nearly 9 minutes that followed were the most powerful.

The above clip captured by a Twitter user shows just a few seconds of what was on television screens across the country for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time that former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pinned his knee to George Floyd's neck, while the black man repeatedly said: “I can’t breathe.” On Monday, his death was ruled a homicide by the Hennepin County medical examiner.

According to a tweet by ViacomCBS, the media company that owns Nickelodeon, a number of brands were included in the commemoration of victims of police brutality, like Floyd. The decision to air this on Nickelodeon, however, seemed the most striking to viewers.

Some had negative responses to the network, calling the PSA “creepy” and expressing that the message wasn’t fit for the demographic. One woman even referred to the material as “#ChildAbuse.”

One parent took to Twitter to say, “That's not the place. I'll have that conversation with my kids on MY time, not yours.” However, many others reacted in response to those speaking against the PSA to acknowledge the vital role of the early education of racism and racial injustice, regardless of how “scary” it may seem.

Others expressed the privilege in being concerned that the video is the scariest thing that a child has seen, while parents of black children have shared that conversations about race and the threats that face them as a result of it are something that they can’t afford to avoid.

Nickelodeon and ViacomCBS haven’t publicly responded to the conversation surrounding the video. ViacomCBS paused all business on Tuesday in honor of Blackout Tuesday in an effort to shift employees’ focus toward supporting the black community.

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