The recent interview of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry by Oprah Winfrey hit headlines for their disclosure that the royal family was concerned over the skin tone of their son, Archie, as well as the security he would be entitled to. If their perception is true, it is a sad affirmation of how colour is still an issue in this day and age.
News of six books by a famous children’s author being banned by his own estate over “racist and insensitive imagery” has raised concerns over an over-the-top “cancel culture”. The issue came to attention when Us President Joe Biden omitted Dr Seuss from the list for Read Across America Day where Dr Seuss has been a staple for many years. The move comes in the wake of growing criticism at the way in which blacks, Asians and others have been portrayed in some of these books.
But there are a host of children’s books that have drawn ire years after they were published. Growing up, my favourite author was Enid Blyton. Her stories of ordinary children experiencing extraordinary adventures set my imagination afire and I would do anything to lay my hands on her books. My collection of her books were prized possessions and woe betide anyone who tried to borrow these without asking. Decades later, it was revealed that in 2016 the Royal Mint had blocked a proposal to honour her with a commemorative 50p coin on the grounds that she was “a racist, a sexist and a homophobe” and the Mint feared a backlash. And then the disclosure by a daughter that as a parent she was far from brilliant. Do these revelations make me like her less? No way. What she was as a person has nothing to do with the joy she has given to so many for so many years.
Roald Dahl, the author of “Charlie And The Chocolate Factory” has also been slammed by some for racism. I have introduced his versions of popular children’s tales, called Revolting Rhymes, to students who enjoyed them thoroughly as we laughed at his spin on these age-old stories. Other famous books that have come in for criticism are JM Barrie’s classic ‘Peter Pan’ and Michael Hague’s ‘Dr Doolittle’. ‘Tintin In The Congo’ was pulled from the children’s section of a UK bookstore chain. The list goes on.
The point I am trying to make is that perhaps we are more easily offended these days. Are we going overboard in our political correctness? I don’t think anyone wants to be deliberately offensive and hurt people’s feelings. Even those who set out to make us laugh such as stand-up comedians are getting into hot water. In India, several have even been arrested which has stirred a hornet’s nest.
In these troubled times, laughter is certainly a therapeutic way of handling stress. Do we really need to take matters so seriously? This super sensitivity now extends to entertainment with some people objecting to titles or even scenes in films for allegedly portraying places or personalities in a poor light.
As far as I am concerned, if you feel offended by the depiction of events or places or even people, just stay away from these. Most people form opinions based on hearsay or reviews even if they themselves haven’t seen the film or read the book in question. As children if we complained to our parents about a sibling’s teasing, we were simply told to ignore the source of irritation. Simple advice but effective.
Another disturbing trend is the rise in polarising public language. The culprits are often politicians suffering from a serious case of foot in mouth disease who spew divisive views which, sadly, find resonance among their followers.
The UAE had set the right example by setting up a ministry of tolerance some years ago.
Vanaja Rao is a freelance writer based in Hyderabad, India