One of my favorite peeps, Moms Who Drink And Swear made some great points this morning against the practice of "pinkwashing" - that is, amending books to be more age-appropriate, aka childproofing Harry Potter, an arguable classic. MWDAS was responding to a mom who admits weaving in better lessons and plucking out offensive parts of the Harry Potter series she reads to her five-year-old. As usual, I found myself nodding in agreement with Knepper . . . until I realized I pinkwash all the time. Whoops. Let's tackle this.
First, I commend someone reading a long book like Harry Potter to their five-year-old. I've got one turning five next month, but I'm also basically a liberal version of the Duggar woman with baby after baby coming after that making us a house full of pooping, hungry people. I just don't have the time to read 900-page books out loud to my child. She'll probably wind up in an alley one day cooking beans over a can and cursing her neglectful parenting. Then I'll have to show her dance class and theater class and preschool receipts. And then we'll face off in an epic mother-daughter battle and champagne glasses will crash all around us. I'm still not reading Harry Potter out loud.
My husband, however, has the patience of a saint and not nearly as many household tasks. He reads to them. Their favorite books right now are those old school choose-your-own-adventure books. You know, the second person narratives from the 80's that are like, "you are the master of the universe and your minions await your decisions. Will you attack the aliens (turn to page 23)? Will you embrace the aliens and make world peace? (Turn to page 45.) Or will you go home to eat mom's pancakes? (Turn to page 67.)
For whatever reason, one of these books we have is about civil rights and "you" are Martin Luther King Jr. The whole adventure is about navigating the realities of segregation and fighting for human rights. Okay, this heavy and you might judge us, but hear me out. We changed the story from being about the oppression of blacks to being about boys vs. girls being able to drink at the water fountains and sit where they want on the bus. I KNOW. We seem like terrible people to pinkwash the civil rights era.
Reasons why we pinkwashed the story of MLK:
1. She believes this is a made-up story and for the most part, it kind of is since it's a choose-you-own-adventure book. The civil rights era, however, was real and I don't want her getting confused about fact v. fiction, like, "oh, that silly dreamy universe where people are treated unequal". NOPE. People really were and (and still are, to a large degree) treated unequally and I don't want that dusted over and shoved to fairy tale land.
2. I want injustice to be relatable to my child, where she puts herself in the position of the disenfranchised in order to better illustrate the point. In the MLK book, she's the white kid getting to go to school. How is her little brain supposed to feel the feels of oppression if she learns the story from the point of view of the privileged? So we made the story about girls not getting to do boy things and she's like nuh-uh. Raise that little solidarity fist, child.
3. Slavery and the Civil Rights Era are really ugly, shameful chapters in American history. I feel my daughter needs to have more maturity before we delve into the truth about race in this country. I want her to have a solid foundation of seeing the sameness in people before the differences and THEN, when she's ready and she learns about that stuff I want her to feel the reaction in her gut, like, no way. You cannot own a human being. Skin color doesn't mean jack shit. This is an OUTRAGE! We're just not going to get there if the story is watered down and read at bed time with fun choose-your-own angles. #sorrynotsorry
4. I'm secretly a little scared that by introducing the concept of racism too young, it actually might get normalized or internalized like, "oh, black people were second class for a long time. That's usual". Nooooo. Not that there aren't real gender issues that might get normalized, I suppose, but women have never been denied the use of a water fountain.
I'm conflicted because usually my parenting is very fact-based. You ask a question, you get the real answer. This realm of fiction is a different animal though.
I don't think pinkwashing is appropriate in every or even many situations, but there are times when the parent has to impart a lesson or scrub a few thoughts from outside media due to the maturity of the child. Maybe a five-year-old isn't ready for Harry Potter altogether? I'd certainly argue the Harry Potter series is literature more deserving of integrity than these poorly written choose-your-own-adventure books. Like, it's cool to draw a moustache on the back of a fast food menu, but don't go to the Louvre and try that with the Mona Lisa.
Here's to being on the pink side of history. At least until she can read her own damn books.
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Filed under: Dicey Mom Territory