JUDY WOODRUFF: Hopefully, summer vacation has allowed many of you to catch up on your reading.
Tonight, beloved children’s book author Grace Lin asks us to think back on the books we read as children and are still reading today.
She offers her Humble Opinion on how some of our favorite characters may need some reconsideration.
GRACE LIN, Children’s Author: Do you have an old children’s book you love, one of those classic books that you read with your kids because your parents read it with you, and so on?
Well, there’s a good chance that it might be racist.
Whenever I say this, people get so offended, and I’m always a little surprised. You do realize that these books were written 60, 70, maybe 100 years ago? Don’t you think the world was a little more prejudiced back then? So, why wouldn’t the books be too?
Here’s an example. When I was about 8, all my friends were reading “Little House on the Prairie.” Do you remember it? Well, one of the lines repeated throughout the series is, “Ma hates Indians.”
Anytime Pa tries to say something good about Indians, Ma bristles. She just hates them that much.
I never really thought about that, until one day, a friend and I decided to play “Little House on the Prairie.”
My friend said to me: “You be Ma, and I will be Laura. I’m going out, and you’re worried about Indians, because Ma hates Indians.”
So, my friend leaves, and I am all alone, telling myself, I’m worried because Ma hates Indians. Ma hates Indians.
And as I repeat these words, suddenly, it hits me. If Ma hates Indians, what would she think of me, an Asian-American girl? If Ma hates Indians, wouldn’t she probably hate me too?
And, at 8 years old, I felt the impact of that racism. It was a horrible feeling. In that instant, I realized I might always be a foreigner in my own country, and that people could hate me just because of the way I looked.
But here’s the flip side. A few years later, I heard my uncle say that he didn’t want my cousin to be friends with another kid because he was black.
I did a double-take. How could my dear uncle say something like that? But then I remembered “Little House on the Prairie,” and how Ma, loving, kind Ma, hated Indians. And I suddenly understood.
Sometimes, good people, people you love, aren’t always right.
And that is how I feel about these classic books. I’m not saying we should ban them. I’m saying we should treat them like out-of-touch relatives. We all have that aunt or uncle, or maybe even a parent, who believes in things you don’t agree with.
You can still love that relative, and you can still let them be a part of your child’s life. But because you know they might say something you don’t like, don’t you try to keep an extra ear open, in case they say something in front of your child? And then, don’t you explain afterwards?
That’s what I’m saying about these classic children’s books. Read them, share them, even love them, but make sure you talk to your kids about them, too.