Benjamin Rosenbaum

Comments on "On "How to Read a Racist Book to Your Kids""

I was thinking about this recently as I read "The Secret Garden." One of the on-going threads in the book is how surprised Mary (the main character) is by how outspoken the servants are in her grandfather's house in Yorkshire compared with the subservient servants she was used to in India.

It seemed to me a bit hard to explain to a child my discomfort with that aspect of the book. It's not outright racist--it's could very well be an accurate portrayal of class relations in early 20th century rural England as compared to rural India. But there's something about the repeated use of this as a touchstone that seems like it is edging towards a view that the English are by nature a more independent, stronger, healthier people.

I suppose your point is that's enough--just discuss the issue.

Posted by Ethan at June 27, 2012 09:46 PM

Ethan, you're right, but yes, that's a perfect example. "I wonder why her servants in India really didn't stick up for themselves. What do you think? Maybe they were more scared because the English soldiers would be more willing to attack them rather than English servants, or maybe they were thinking the same things but wanted to be more polite about them. The author does seem to make a big deal about how the English trust themselves more. Do you think she was being racist?"

It occurs to me that maybe one other fear people have is that it will mar the magic of wonderful children's books, for our kids, if we frankly discuss their failings. My own experience suggests that this is not a big problem. Noah is, if anything, quicker than I am to skewer Asterix for racism when it occurs (and sexism, for that matter), but he's also hugely enthralled by the books and devours them over and over again. Same with Star Wars -- grasping its Kiplingesque benign condescension to droids and wookies, its girls-can't-have-light-sabres sexism, doesn't seem to have dulled the magic at all. Aviva is enthralled and captivated by Little House on the Prairie even though she has a pretty sophisticated notion of what exactly Pa was trying to pull, out there in Indian Territory.

Posted by Benjamin Rosenbaum at July 24, 2012 05:24 AM

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