This year, my step daughter started her first semester of middle school. Our entire family was super excited for this new stage in her journey with education. One of her new schools first efforts at building a community began with their “open house” event. This is the event in which we all got a chance to walk around the school, meet teachers, get locker information, and class schedules. As we were walking down the hall, there was a beautiful display case. It was decorated with books and featured them as “must reads” for students at the school. My inner book nerd was uncontainable and I rushed over to see what books were being featured inside the display. As I got to the glass, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Standing tall and center was the book entitled Struwwelpeter by Heinrich Hoffmann. The book was published in 1845 and contains ten cautionary tales with horrible consequences for children who misbehave. When I say horrible, I mean horrible. For example, there’s one story of a girl who plays with matches and then burns to death. Then there’s the story of a mother wanting her son of the dangers of sucking his thumb. Randomly, a tailor cuts the boys thumb clean off. Oh, I can’t forget about the boy who refuses to eat his soup. Over the next five days, he wastes away and dies.The horror.
Yet as disturbing as the above mentioned stories are, there is one story within the book that is head and shoulders above the horrid occurrences I’ve mentioned already. It’s called, "The Story of the Inky Boys." In this story, little German boys continue to tease a black-a-moor.” The term “moor” refers to Muslims from northern Africa. The illustration of the black-a -moor is portrayed as a shirtless, shoeless, boy, with over exaggerated features carrying a green umbrella (similar to Little Black Sambo). The boys are scolded not to continue their teasing of the boy, but they ignore the demands. As a punishment, they are forced to live the rest of their lives as black boys. Yeah, teasing a black person will eventually morph you into one if you’re not careful. I’ll allow that lesson to settle in for you a bit.
Clearly this story pushes the narrative that having black skin is a punishment and something you should not attain to. It promotes to children of color that their skin (something they can’t change) is inherently wrong, negative, and unattractive. Adversely it promotes white skin as inherently right, positive, and attractive.” It is a dangerous narrative to promote no matter what race or ethnicity you are.” That’s what I wrote to the principle in an email and asked for the book to be removed. I battled with this ask because I thought about the damages of censorship and banned books. But, I don’t believe that to be the case here. Books with racist illustrations and content without a meaningful discussion including people of color, leaves the reader to interpret their own ideas and perspectives. Which marginalizes and silences the perspectives, ideas, and experiences of those affected by the racist text and images.
Gratefully, the principle received my email graciously and also invited me to have a discussion with her about multicultural children’s literature. The book was removed and all was well in the middle school world (not really but, you get it). I’m telling you this to encourage us all to be advocates for our children and others. We are, our child’s first teacher, and we should most certainly have a voice within our child’s school. Our voice doesn’t have to be angry or rude. Yet it should always carry the sounds of love, empathy, and understanding. But don’t be afraid to be firm if you have to. I’m just saying. When, your time comes, there’s a good chance it will be a bit difficult. Speaking up is tough, and speaking out is even tougher. Especially, when you’re a minority in thought, culture, and skin tone. But believe me, you can do it; and when the times comes for you, I will be here cheering you on!
Click here to download the full Story of the Inky Boys.
Sunkisses - Candid