Thursday, February 21, 2013

Racism in Europe's children's books

A few years ago, I followed the TinTin racism saga with keen interest. As a young black child who really enjoyed TinTin, it had never occurred to me that the Danish hero had any racist undertones but clearly I hadn't seen this or this. That being said, so many of TV and literature's sexual and other innuendoes went totally over my head as a child. As an adult, not so much. This is why I'm quite interested in the debate that is currently raging over German kidlit. I have no doubt that it is exposing the ugliest elements of European arts and culture and showing the fervent hatred Africans have been on the receiving end of for decades; in print and elsewhere.

For example, soccer fans have spent the last few years watching non-white players repeatedly insulted, jeered and attacked on and off the pitch in various European leagues. A friend of mine was recently attacked on a bus travelling through Eastern Europe by some white supremacists (true story). And now the economic hub of Europe is fighting to keep their books racist "little clack children be damned!"

German Family Minister Kristina Schröder kicked off the discussion last month by saying she cut out discriminatory terms like "Negro King" from a Pippi Longstocking story while reading to her small daughter.

But it was the decision to replace the diminutive form Negerlein in Otfried Preußler's popular kids' book Die kleine Hexe ("The Little Witch") that unleashed a torrent of outrage against what some see as kowtowing to overzealous political correctness. A pundit at Der Spiegel magazine raged: What blatant censorship! And a cover story in the respected weekly Die Zeit fumed: The feelings of little black German children be damned – important literature was being defiled!

Now, I don't condemn these people as racists, but they are guilty of willful ignorance and gross insensitivity. It's utterly irrelevant if white, middle-aged men at leading German publications don't find the use of Neger offensive. I'm certain they won't mind being called a "Nazi" on their next Greek holiday, but the only people who get to decide if a term is hurtful are those having it foisted upon them. People like the defiant nine-year-old who in a justifiably angry letter to Die Zeit defended herself and her black father from the paper's apparent contempt.

Because this isn't about political correctness or censorship – it's about respect, or the lack of it, for non-whites in German society.

Read the complete article

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