Five decades ago I was a small child who would grow to love the books that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote and greatly enjoy the writings of Mark Twain. I admired them. I daydreamed about having similar experiences. I dreamed of writing similar books.
Four decades ago, when I was a teen I was your typical southern girl that had been taught to never mistreat a black person and yet to never mix with them. That’s the truth although I wish it wasn’t.
Three decades ago, when I was a young adult and a young married woman, I was your typical middle-class white girl who spoke out against racism and yet, was convinced that by-in-large, it was a thing of the past.
Two decades ago, we had been fostering and had started adopting our children, all of whom are black. I was no longer typical in any form or fashion. I now began to experience first hand some of the treatment that I had been convinced was no longer a real issue.
Today, I’m a different person altogether because of my personal experiences and my willingness to accept that other people with different perspectives were worth listening to and hearing. Times have changed. People have changed. Society has changed. I have changed.
A while back, I spotted an audio book of one of Mark Twain’s books and was excited to share it with my boys. The story was quite an adventure and kept us laughing. I was honestly caught off guard with the disparaging language was used towards African Americans. I apologized profusely to my boys, explaining I didn’t remember that part.
We discussed it, they chose to finish the story and hear how the adventure ended. Before we did so, I explained that this was a different time period and that things had changed. However, I cringed many other times during the audiobook and I never encouraged them to read any more of Mark Twain’s writings.
Why? You might wonder. Isn’t that just a story? Just a story told in the vernacular of the period? Well, not by my perspective. Let me explain.
Recently the outrage against the removal of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from an award gave me cause to pause and instead of telling everyone what I thought, I found myself listening to others and their opinions. Everyone has an opinion. Sometimes those opinions are valid.
While I know that we need to cautiously avoid censorship and while I understand differing opinions, I have one of my own. I have been quiet about the subject until now. I hope that if you don’t agree with me, you will at least hear me and consider my words rather than take offense at them.
The books aforementioned and others like them are not just books, they are books for children. They are books for children who are forming their own opinions. They are books for children who might be incapable of distinguishing the racial slurs or innuendos within the story as inappropriate. They are books that are, to many, the epitome of wholesome family life and childhood adventure. A cold might consider the the poor treatment and choice of words as acceptable. And to me, that makes a difference. To me, seeds can be planted in young hearts that are hard to weed out later.
Please don’t think I’m saying they should be pulled from library shelves. Don’t even think I’m saying your children shouldn’t read them. I am saying that they could make some children uncomfortable and lead others to think differently about other ethnicities. I’m saying that just because you don’t see it as a problem, others do and their perspective is worth considering.
To me, this is not about political correctness. This is not about censorship. This is not about refusing to remember our past. To me, it is about considering consequences. To me, it is about guarding our most valuable resources, our children and their young impressionable minds.
So, if you do decide that the books are right for you and your children, which is certainly your privilege, I suggest frequent discussions about the terminology used towards African Americans and Native Americans. Make sure your child isn’t so caught up in the good storytelling that they assume what was being said and implied is ok. Because it isn’t.