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Mon Feb 4, 2013, 07:48 AM

Racist language in children's literature: In or out?

The heated issue over racist language in children’s literature has once again made headlines across the continent.

One of Germany’s oldest children’s publishers, Thienemann, has decided to revise the text of Die Kleine Hexe (The Little Witch) after receiving a letter of complaint, the Guardian reported last week. A German father, Mekonnen Mesghena, wrote to the publishers explaining that the language was so offensive he could not continue reading it to his seven-year-old daughter.

The offending language was a passage in which two children dress up as “neger”, which can be translated from German as both “nigger” and “negro”. The book was first published in 1957 and has been a bestseller ever since. After the publishers consulted the book’s author, Otfried Preussler, who is 90, the language was edited to remove the offensive language.

But the decision has divided German opinion. Last Sunday the New Yorker reported that Denis Scheck, a German literary critic, appeared on TV with his face painted black to make the case that children’s books written in a different era should not be rewritten.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/9842757/Racist-language-in-childrens-literature-In-or-out.html

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Reply Racist language in children's literature: In or out? (Original post)
The Straight Story Feb 2013 OP
Buzz Clik Feb 2013 #1
Democracyinkind Feb 2013 #4
Democracyinkind Feb 2013 #2
The Straight Story Feb 2013 #3
Democracyinkind Feb 2013 #5
gollygee Feb 2013 #6
Tom Ripley Feb 2013 #7
tjwash Feb 2013 #8
eShirl Feb 2013 #9
Ron Obvious Feb 2013 #10
DeadEyeDyck Feb 2013 #11

Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 07:58 AM

1. In.

It's a part of history, and scrubbing the original text is artificial and unnecessary.

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Response to Buzz Clik (Reply #1)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 08:10 AM

4. Offering both seems a good middle way, though, even if I tend to agree with you.

Haven't we edited casual racism out of American books too? I'm no expert - I thought I once read that the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or something like that was rewritten in parts in order to remove the casual racism that was part and parcel of it?

I think this is a hard question. I don't know what today's kids make out of reading about someone "playing black". If there is any chance that this contributes to racism, I'd tend to swing my opinion in the other direction. These children's stories do construe the "neger" as the ultimate "other".

This is the kind of children's book that our school still had lying around when I first went to school in Europe:

https://www.google.ch/search?q=globi+in+afrika&hl=de&client=firefox-a&tbo=d&rls=org.mozilla:defficial&gbv=2&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ei=trIPUbGvAcWItAbx54CADA&ved=0CAoQ_AUoAA&biw=1280&bih=711

(I suppose you get which pictures I mean)

Something tells me it's not ok and that it contributes to racism. Something else tells me "ah, those were very different times".

I simply dunno.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 08:02 AM

2. They're planning on doing the same with other 19th century children's books

It has the Literati all divided, riled up and at each other's throats. I can't make up my mind about the issue. As a lover of literature, I think even children should come to embrace l'art pour l'art, even though maybe they're too young to understand what that means.
As someone who is troubled by the way that casual, romaticized racist notions have survived in the very heart of Europe, I'm strongly in favor of rewriting all that racist, reactionary shit that we teach our kids with "literature".

I'm quite torn on this.

Would rewriting these books change the latent, cryptic reactionary racism that offends me so much? People like my father, I suppose, insist that "neger" isn't all that bad because it was, after all, a word they learned from a children's book.

Does insisting on l'art pour l'art arguments have any merits when the focus is on children's literature? Can this be an argument if children aren't even capable of appreciating l'art in the sense implied here?

So many questions, so few answers.


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Response to Democracyinkind (Reply #2)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 08:06 AM

3. Hmmm perhaps offer both

Young kids won't care about the history, they just want the story.

In later grades cover those same, popular, stories in class with the original versions.

This way everyone gets something out of the deal.

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Response to The Straight Story (Reply #3)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 08:11 AM

5. Seems we had the same idea at about the same time.


I still haven't figured this out totally, but for now, I think your proposal is the way to go.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 08:15 AM

6. To me, it depends on the age the book is intended to

From a literary standpoint it should probably be kept intact, and parents can explain to older kids the racist history behind the books. The problem is that young kids won't understand that and might just internalize the racism. Maybe for books for kids under 8 to 10 or so, edit it so the story can be enjoyed without the racism, and older kids can have the history explained, and in fact that might be a good lesson for them. "This used to be considered perfectly OK in the US (or wherever.) This is part of our history." For older kids, I worry that sanitizing our history too much makes them blind to it, which can contribute to "color-blind" racism, where we ignore the history and expect public policy to ignore it as well.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 08:36 AM

7. So much for Pippi Longstocking's father's letters where he rants about the Jewish world conspiracy!

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 09:04 AM

8. lets just toss the books we don't like on a big ol' bonfire



Sorry ..not much into slippery slopes. Plus we need reminders of our past so that we never forget it. There was a good teaching opportunity he missed...mores the pity.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 09:13 AM

9. As long as the child already understands the full historical context, I don't see the problem.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 09:50 AM

10. Nonsense...

This sort of thing is nonsense most of the time, but particularly here, as "Neger" simply means 'negro', and has no negative baggage, other than being a bit (and only a bit) outdated.

God, I hate political correctness. I bet the complainer was a hypersensitive white person who thinks that such whingeing constitutes a blow for racial justice.

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Response to The Straight Story (Original post)

Mon Feb 4, 2013, 11:20 AM

11. As a child born in Germany to a black father

I think this social cleansing is an insult. Am I assumed to be so thin-skinned that history must be rewritten to protect me?

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