Racism and Offence
Does banning certain books and even words really solve the problem of racism?
I was watching the eighth episode of Season 2 of Anne With An ‘E’ tonight, and it got me thinking. Before I write any more, I will say “Spoiler Alert”.. You know, just in case…
In this episode, ‘Bash’, a black man, and friend of Gilbert, and Anne (and the Cuthbert’s) has a tooth ache. He attempts a self extraction, but there are complications, which require him to seek medical help. He goes to the chemist, but is refused any help, and it is suggested that he go to the ‘bog’, where the other ‘coloureds’ are.
Bash is accompanied by Gilbert on the train to a doctor. During his attempt to get on the train, he is refused admittance, and it is suggested that there might be space for him in the luggage cabin (even though he paid for both tickets), and it is only when Marilla, speaks up, saying that she has saved seats for them.
These scenes left me feeling as if I had been kicked in the gut. It is beyond me to treat any human being in that way, simply based on the colour of their skin. In fact, it is beyond me to treat anyone in this way, based on anything other than their actions — things that they can control.
However, it got me thinking. Lately, there is so much talk about race and discrimination, and so much of it, seems to me, if I’m being blunt, to be political correctness gone mad.
As an example, the children’s books by Enid Blyton, “The Magic Faraway Tree” series was released on Kindle. As someone who read these books many, many times as a child, I bought it, looking forward to a little light reading, and reliving my childhood before bed. However, this is not something that I got to experience.
To my horror (yes, horror. I know it’s a strong word, but it is appropriate here), the names of the characters have been changed, and all references to “gollywogs”, and other such things have been removed (I also consider this sacrilege, but that’s a topic for another post entirely). Effectively, the book has been ‘whitewashed’ with PC creosote.
I’m not saying that I agree with the use of the word ‘gollywog’, or any such other term, to refer to people of colour. As far as I am concerned, the only appropriate way to refer to any person is with their name, or as ‘a man’, or ‘a woman’. I take people as I find them, and on an individual basis, but to deny the use of these words, historically, is to allow us to forget our history. This is something that must never be allowed.
If we forget our history, however checkered, then we run the risk of falling into the same traps once more. If we deny that these things happened, as they are ‘offensive’, then we risk them happening again, and causing far more damage than a little offence to a select few.
This is also true of certain banned books, such as “To Kill A Mockingbird”. This text is one that I studied for my GCSE in English literature. It is a brilliant book, and a wonderful (albeit, difficult to read) piece of literature. Only recently, this novel has been removed from school syllabuses, as it is deemed “racist”. I guess that’s kind of true. It is racist, but it is not written in modern day, when we have the awarenesses that we now have. It was published in 1960, and was based around events in Harper Lee’s own home town.
The events in the book were not things that were thought up by the author to increase sales. These things really happened. This is what people in the early twentieth century had to deal with, and to erradicate all knowledge of these events is not only callous, but extremely disrespectful to the people who actually endured this persecution.
The truth is that the one, surefire way to ensure that racism will happen again, is to whitewash a past, that is splattered with prejudice and inequality and injustice. We always tell children to learn from their mistakes, and yet, here we are, encouraging them to forget our own, and those of our ancestors, effectively preventing them from doing this!
I find it horrifying that human beings were ever treated like that, but I refuse to forget, or ignore that. I refuse to allow my own need for comfort to prevent me from learning the lessons that the past has to teach us.
Racism always has, and always will exist, until we are willing to acknowledge it and learn from it, rather than trying to sweep it under the rug, or put some flowered garlands on it, so that it looks just that little bit more acceptable.
These things are not comfortable. They are not meant to be comfortable. I dread the day that we ever become comfortable with them, because that day will be a very dark day for the world.
I guess what I’m trying to say, is that we need to educate, and not sugarcoat. Racism happened, and it’s happening now. Ignoring, and hiding the past will not change anything. The only way for change is for us to accept that these things are a part of our history and that we must learn from them in order to move forward.
Li Carter is a writer, artist and crafter. She lives in South Wales, UK, with her family, and five rescue dogs. She’s on Twitter @rbcreativeli , Facebook: Rainbow Butterfly Creative, and Instagram @rainbowbutterflycreative and is the author of My Only True Friend: The Beginning. She is currently working on a new series titled The QuickSilver Chronicles. She is the original Rainbow Butterfly, and wants to fill an ever darkening world with a little bit of beauty and creativity.