Racism (was Re: Hugh Lofting)

Gili Bar-Hillel abhillel at hotmail.com
Fri Feb 7 15:07:43 EST 2003

Rosie wrote:
>can someone remind me of the racist parts of Dr Dolittle?
>I haven't read all the books, and none of them for a while, but those
>elements can't have made much of an impression on me

They you're in for a shock if you do reread them. They are rife with racist 
views and racist expressions. I loved them as a child, and never noticed 
these. But reading them through older eyes, I kept saying to myself, "this 
is rather offensive. Was it always there?"
The only example I can think of offhand, other than the one already 
mentioned from the first book with the black prince who wants to dye his 
face white in the hopes that this will advance him in the world (but of 
course, we all know that underneath the white he is still lazy, cruel and 
stupid), is from "Doctor Dolittle's Post Office", where Dolittle has a very 
difficult time setting up his postal service because the stupid natives love 
the sweet taste of the glue on the stamps and buy them just to lick them.

There are some very racist Israeli children's books, in particular what was 
once a popular series about "Danny Din the Invisible Boy" in which the bad 
guy is always an evil, greasy and stupid Arab. There have been many cries to 
ban these books, and during annual book week there is always someone walking 
around dispersing flyers about their evils. I find the assumptions implicit 
in these books deeply offensive, and I would not buy them for my child or 
encourage him to read them. But neither do I condone banning or censoring 
books. A very good friend of mine LOVED these books when she was little, 
read and reread them all, and grew up to be one of the most pro-Arab 
Israelis imagineable. I think a solid upbringing far outweighs the influence 
of any book a child can read, and parents wishing to bring their children up 
with certain beliefs should invest more in the examples they set and in 
encouraging positive values, than in hiding away evidence that other people 
have different values. In my opinion, if these books are out there and kids 
are reading them, and your kids want to read them too, it is better to arm 
your children with the sensibilities to identify racism and with the 
arguments to counter it, than to attempt to keep them from reading the books 
- which simultaneously enhances their mystique, and leaves your children 
naive and defenceless against racist manipulation. This of course means that 
parents need to be aware of what their children are being exposed too, but 
I'm all for that.

Gili Bar-Hillel
Tel-Aviv, tel.(03)5250014


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