“I did not know that people like me could exist in literature”
A wonderful TED Talk by Chimamanda Adichie about how stories that are one sided rely on incomplete stories, and lead to stereotypes.
Most of the time when people think of Babar, they immediately sometimes have a fond memory of an elephant. But the newer versions have been cleaned up - and if you’re able to get your hands on a very old copy of some of the books (as I did), you will see the racist undertones and subtleties that would make your jaw drop now.
I was able to find this copy of Babar’s Picnic where I work, and had two copies immediately removed. Still trying to figure out why they were still there after so many years. Looks fairly innocent on the cover…
The premise of this story is of how two of Babar’s children leave the picnic area to explore, they dress as “Indians” (first warning sign). They see a boy, who runs away for help after being spotted and the two elephants decide to go after him to his village.
What you see in the coming pages are pretty much vile depictions of natives in grotesque stereotypical native illustrations.
One of the pages had this, I don’t blame the child for wanting to do it either.
I tried to see if there was any information on the racism of these books, and was able to find this tidbit from the author (HERE) about how in the time he wrote them, it was okay and the norm for this to happen. That however, does not make it okay now nor justify what the book represents now or ever.
The concept of the story of Babar is of an elephant orphaned after his mother is shot by poachers, in grief, Babar runs away to the city and is picked up by a wealthy woman who educates him and turns him into a gentleman. But Babar is sad and eventually returns to his village of elephants, he finds a wife and becomes king of the elephants because he is wise now, and he can teach them his civilized ways. On the surface the story seems fairly harmless, but it stands for the corruption and rape of society done by colonialism. You could easily replace Babar with a human and the story would be depressing and inhumane, but something done to millions of people during the periods that Europe was colonizing other places.
This book is just one of hundreds, thousands of books that still exist that are in similar vein, it is just scratching the surface.