25 October 2006

Babies and Bathwater

While surfing around for Christmas books, I came upon this website for librarians about culling out older holiday books. I found it rather sad, because I love old books.

Certainly I understand where the school may be coming from. As much as I like reading these old books, there are times when the blatant racism makes me pause. I remember how it bothered me to read old books where the villians were evil Italian organ grinders (like in The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew) or "dirty, smelly" Italians were featured; it was a big jolt to think that everyone didn't like my ethnic group. And I wince when I read the old series books with "typical Negro dialect" and lazy, shiftless "darkies" (like "Eradicate" in the Tom Swift books) and the "greasers" typically portrayed in books set out West. It baffles me after reading books, especially those for children, that used strong vocabularies, daring settings, and sturdy characters suddenly descending into portrayals of stereotypical ethnic and racial characters, how intelligent people could have ever believed these things.

But there they are. It's, for better or worse, what we were, what children had ingrained into them at a young age and then passed on to their children. Thankfully no one except some equally baffling extremists who rail on about "racial purity" believes that rot any longer.

Must the ideas in the books be tossed out, too? Perhaps, as long as they are in good shape, might the books be put into a special section for historical purposes, to be read by older people who understand "this is how it was" and discard the hurtful chaff for a portrait of the times? One of the collecting shows on the Treasure HD channel featured a young African-American man who collects cookie jars, statues, tools, etc. featuring blackface characters, mammys, Pullman porters, etc. He says they make him sad to know that people believed in the stereotypes portrayed by these sculptures, but that it happened and that thankfully we were past producing such things, that they were now tools in which to show people that times have changed for the better. Cannot the old books do the same?

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