Wednesday, 12 September 2018

The bluest supremacy (once again on racism in children’s books)

I had announced I was done with posting on this topic (see previous post), but the books I come across are sometimes so outrageous that I can’t keep still.
This is a comic, with nothing comical really. I look at it and want to scream. It is disgraceful to still find this kind of books in a library for primary school children.
The Smurfs comic strips, created by a Belgian towards the end of the fifties, are widely known and loved by many, and maybe – just maybe, since I haven’t read them all – not all episodes are so disturbing as this very first one. The Black Smurfs is unapologetically racist, no matter how you look at it (the English title is actually The Purple Smurfs, but changing the colour does not change the narrative). When these little blue creatures get stung by a black fly, their skin becomes pitch black and they get wild and crazy and deprived of language. Jumping around like uncontrolled and aggressive beasts, they not only reproduce the old and all too familiar denigrating image of the savage but, read within the current white supremacist and anti-immigration framework across the West, also evoke absurd obsessions with racial purity and fears of overwhelming invasions from wherever. In a nutshell: Blackness is an illness, it is contagious and a threat to the social order. All forms of brutality seem to be legitimate in order to eliminate the problem. The violence in this book is far too explicit, and it is far too explicitly violence against black bodies (however grotesque the Smurfs might look, they are still like humans to a child’s eyes), because with the mob and all those white hoods and the nets and the rope and the sticks, how not to think of the KKK and the lynchings? How not to want to scream that, damn, BLACK LIVES MATTER and no child deserves to be exposed to such a book?
I’m thinking of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, which I read many years ago. The denigrating brainwashing that the young protagonist was subjected to by the images and narrative in her school book skilfully conveys the powerful impact of books on children’s lives. Now, as a mother of two passionate young readers, I can see this power in place, and I’m fed up, honestly fed up, with all the rubbish that kids get to read.

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