Location: St. Vincent & Grenadines

You were driving home in the dark on one glass-slippered heel, window sliced open and bathing in the snowliquor of the night air. We heard you singing, and couldn't bear to wake you.

06 July 2005

Switch on summer from a slot machine.

Maybe we're overreacting. You tell me.

Some good friends gave Genevieve a picture book for her first birthday. This is what the cover looks like:

Six giant flaps for baby to flip. All right! We open the cover, and the first text says: "This little baby is hiding." Indeed, there's a picture of a baby hiding her face with a hat. But flip down the giant flap, and: there she is! Peekaboo! The baby is gorgeous. Brown hair, white skin, blue eyes. Onward to the next page:

Flip the flap, and:

Darned if that ain't one of the cutest little white, blond, blue-eyed girls I've ever seen. Onward!

Hee-hee is right! Sure is good to be a white, blond, blue-eyed boy, especially when that cool rainbow stacking toy on wheels is easily within your grasp!

Let's see, we've had peekaboo, hungry, happy . . . what's next? Ah. Sadness.

And just look at who we're choosing all of a sudden.

Sucks to be you, little black girl! You can't reach the cool toy, and you know better than to try, don't you? That's right, give up now. Give up and cry.

The next flap features a baby who wants her mommy. Open the flap and she's got her. Mama! Smiling. Brown hair. White skin. BLUE EYES.

The last flap, as any parent in the world could predict in a heartbeat, involves sleep. This little baby is sleepy. Open the flap: eyes are closed, so we can't tell the color. But the hair is blond and the skin is white.

That's it. That's the whole book. Six babies. Five of them are white, with brown or blond hair, uniformly blue eyes (when we can see them), and an aura of happiness. Yeah, being hungry and wanting mama can be tough -- you betcha -- but the babies in this book get their wishes granted in the flick of a flap, and you get to see how happy they are. The one baby who isn't white, who doesn't have blond hair or blue eyes, is sad and stays that way. There's no happy ending for the dark child.

Marla noticed this first, asked me to take a look at it, and we kept looking at it for a while, wanting to see some flaw in our knee-jerk response. And maybe it's just a coincidence. Or maybe it's subconscious racism. Damn, I hope so. I hope there isn't some white power nut at DK publishing, secretly pushing an agenda of black exclusion and misery. I hope we're blowing this way out of proportion.

But we're still putting the book away. No offense to our good friends.


Anonymous Freddie again said...

I don't think you're being paranoid at all. I think it's racist, whether on purpose or not, I don't know.

I had this game at school that was supposed to help kids learn how to describe people. It worked a little bit like "Battleship." You got all of these cards with pictures of faces on them, and you chose one person, and your opponent had to guess which person you chose by asking questions, like, "Does your person have a mustache? Is your person female?" etc. etc., one question allowed per turn. You both start out with duplicates of all of the same cards, and guess which person they chose by asking good questions and eliminating choices.

Well, two black boys in my class liked to play this game, and I realized one day that no picture in the game was of anyone but a white person. At first I thought, well, maybe it would make the game too hard to have more than one race, but then I realized, no, it would actually enrich the game greatly. There would be more questions, more choices, more descriptions... so, since the game is about describing PEOPLE, do the makers of the game just believe that white folks are the only true PEOPLE? And everyone else is subhuman, in some way?

Maybe the makers of that game wrote that book, too.

It's hard for me to believe that it's all completely thoughtless. I mean, how the hell could you not notice?

3:09 PM  
Blogger Wesley said...

Yeah, I agree. That shit's fucked up.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Caryn said...

Huh. I didn't notice. Then again, I had a small person clinging to me and hiding her face from that horrible staring Dora the Explorer, so I was a bit distracted. I just remembered how much E liked to rip off the flaps and eat them.

No matter. I've found the noise-making toy I couldn't find before the party, so we'll just give her a couple of those to make up for the book that disappeared.

10:43 PM  
Blogger Lorraine and James said...

I agree. It’s so funny that I just ran across this site looking for good anecdotes about food and voila'. As a black mother who purchases all manner of books for my son and daughter, I would have blown a fuse and promptly sent the same sort of correspondence to all of my friends and associates and wrote a spicy little letter to the publisher. Thanks for the acknowledgement. I guess somehow they think we will never "get it"

11:30 AM  
Anonymous Caryn said...

Uh, I didn't mean to imply that the racism was no matter. My brain has only room for one thought at a time, and "no offense to our good friends" is right over there staring at me even as I type this, see, and I was so happy to find these other things that I'd been looking for, and . . .


So part of me would like to think, oh, surely this isn't inentional! But I'm not sure that subconscious racism is any better.

3:27 PM  
Blogger Felix Helix said...

Caryn, I don't think you implied in any way that racism is no matter. And dude, I totally know you're not secret agents for the white power underground, disseminating your propaganda to my unsuspecting daughter. It's cool, Jack.

This book thing is weird for me because it's simultaneously So Not A Big Deal and A Very Big Deal. In the immediate short-term reality for me and my family, it's So Not A Big Deal because Genevieve's got a zillion other things to focus on, like THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD which at this point is basically like an endless toybox.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous grand dragon kev said...

Dammit Yosha, we wanted to help Genevieve to learn not to trust the darkies! Give it back!

9:23 PM  

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