Shit People Say to Keep Racism Misogyny &, Antisemitism Alive and Well in Picturebooks…
This mind bogglingly tone deaf article “The Dangers of being hyper-aware” by Claire Hennessy was released today in The Irish Times. Note the quotations around “problematic” and “insensitive.” The condescending & gaslighting implication that because it doesn’t bother this white author, whether or not it is a problem, is up for debate.
The author of this article, an established member of the publishing industry as both editor and author of 12 books, makes several points that we often see in defense of problematic children’s books. In fact, it makes the rounds so it’s a perfect case study! Let’s explore some of the main points shall we?
Argument 1: ‘Without Racism, books won’t be good.’ “Danger in this hyper-aware, hyper-critical culture: of literary culture becoming so anodyne and sanitised it dies out entirely”- C. Hennessy
Removing racism from children’s literature will kill of culture? …whose culture exactly are you worried won’t withstand being held accountable to any standards of common decency and respect for others?
Argument 2: ‘Just give your kids the Historical Context Disclaimer.” “Contextualizing the dodgy bits within Seuss’s overall body of work Developmentally ages-3-4 Time is a completely abstract concept. Ages 5-6 they begin to understand correlation between certain days in their daily life (holidays, birthdays, etc.) Concepts of historical time don’t develop until ages 9-11. History is valuable, discussion on literary theory is interesting but learning goals should be age appropriate. How do you teach a 5 year old historical context with any level of valuable understanding, when they do not know what Friday is?
Argument 3: ‘But I liked it and it’s inconvenient you’re ruining it for me.’ “The delicious insanity of Roald Dahl’s fiction is forever tainted by his anti-Semitic comments (his family apologized in late 2020)”-C. Hennessy. Oh, his family apologized so as not to jeopardize their cash cow? Well then, that changes everything!
Argument 4: “Your fave is almost certainly problematic.”- C. Hennessy. Gosh could that be because picture books are written almost exclusively by white people, to this day? Maybe the publishing industry allowed other people traditionally to write picturebooks, we wouldn’t have such a crap selection.
Argument 4: ‘Fine, let some people of colour publish a few books and stop bothering us with your whining.’ “Focusing on diversity of various sorts, and the need for more of it, allows one to side-step the knotty business of trying to distinguish between pearl-clutching and thoughtful concern,”-C. Hennessy. Whether or not the concerns of marginalized people about how they are represented seem trivial to you is irrelevant. Shockingly, this is not about you.
Argument 5: ‘Complaints on Social Media are Invalid.’ “tempting to wonder if people-particularly within social media bubbles…are taking it all a bit too seriously, reading too much into silly, entertaining kids’ books. How could anyone take offence to, say, Dr. Seuss,” -C. Hennessy. For the first time in history marginalized people have a voice that cannot be controlled by gatekeepers, Social media.; Dismissing the medium of expression because it lacks the gravitas of print media is just another way of maintaining the status quo and of systemic oppression.
Argument 6: ‘It’s too hard to fix we better do nothing about it.’ “Hard-and-fast rules to ensure inoffensive content are impossible” -C. Hennessy. Try not starting out with stereotypes? Try researching? Try editing? Try consulting with people you’re representing? Try harder.