Racism in children's books dealing with Africa?
Guest blogger Erica Ernst writes:
Some of us who have spent some time traveling in or studying in Africa are at first struck by new observations of African life that are not the same as the ones we perhaps grew up with. As one of the few college students I knew studying abroad in Africa, I was bombarded with questions seemingly silly to me, such as "How was Africa?" (as if I had been everywhere in the continent), "Did you see any animals?" (as if safaris were the only worthwhile thing to do), and recently my classmate from Benin was unfortunately asked the particularly silly (and stupid question), "Did you ride elephants to school?" (perhaps the movie Lion King was their only source of knowledge on Africa).
This article "Are Today's Children's Books About Africa Still Racist?" sheds light onto the literary roots to this problem. Just like some academics have criticized the Disney's inaccurate portrayal of Arabs in the movie Aladdin, the author of the article Jovita dos Santos Pinto recognizes that literature about Africa has had a similar effect. Books such as Babar the Little Elephant and Tin Tin in Congo, although much loved stories, he argues they are racist and full of colonial thinking:
Babar tells the story of a lost elephant who meets civilization when he wanders into town. He returns to Africa wearing a suit and standing on two legs. Upon arrival, he is made king of the animals. Tin Tin tells the story of a colonial adventurer who makes his way into the jungle, where he encounters stupid people whom he easily outwits. Tin Tin, the superior and rational European, is cast in juxtaposition to the Africans, whom the comic depicts as wild, lazy and superstitious.
He notes that even the books that try to highlight African culture in books such as "Tell Me, How is Africa" stereotypes that Africa is a primitive place. Fortunately, there is some advancement to the past shortfalls of this literature. The article does draw attention to books with more accurate portrayals such as Aya, a FAVL favorite! If children's books like these were circulated in the U.S., I'm sure Americans would have a much different perception of Africa than they do now.