Racism (was Re: Hugh Lofting)

Tanaqui tweaver at imbolc.ucc.ie
Sat Feb 8 02:07:10 EST 2003

+ 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), 

Actually, Bumpo's motivation for being all white was that the "Sleeping
Beauty" he kissed was apparently a bit shocked to wake up and find herself
being kissed by a black. Our fairytale-reading Prince is mocked at this
point by a snobbish character who assumes he just found a farmer's fat wife
having a snooze. If you can have a pushmi-pullyu, though, the Sleeping Beauty
is not at all unlikely, and Bumpo is here shown as a hopeless romantic rather
than a hopeless racial cypher.

Bumpo is fobbed off with just a white face, which is as much as the Doctor
can manage. His skin is tough as well as pigmented, which is lucky when it's
chemically assailed so that the stench of burning brown paper fills the room.
The physician is admirably reluctant to carry out a non-healing medical

It's not until _The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle_ that Bumpo gets into serious
self-advancement (i.e. going to Oxford, because his daddy knows its the fashion
for black royal heirs), and that's when we get Polynesia the parrot scorning 
his allegedly silly preconceptions (white cannibals, the very idea) with the 
charming phrase "You know what those niggers are--that ignorant!" and learn 
that he settled for an "albino niggeress" with red hair and enormous feet when
he completed his Quest for the Sleeping Beauty. Yes, "nigger" is derived from
"nigra", and can be seen as simply descriptive of pigmentation , but Crown 
Princess Bumpah is not a rational colour-concept! Surely she can't be the same
Sleeping Beauty, who would equally surely not have the tastes of a Michael
Jackson fan?

oh, and the bleaching wore off, so that Bumpo no longer looked silly in his
bathing suit... luckily, his wife didn't demand a divorce at this point.
+ 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. 

Would my hearty mockery make a child automatically defend the books with
the cute talking animals? hmmm... I'm not sure it matters, actually, since
no one could mistake John Dolittle's world for ours. There is an awful lot
of silliness and inconsistency in them, as well as plenty of obsolete
cultural habit. Lofting at least hates overt nastiness and tries to play nice.

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