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Pippi Longstocking books charged with racism

17 July 2017

From The Guardian:

Astrid Lindgren’s much-loved books about Pippi Longstocking, she of the red hair, incredible strength and impossible lies, have been described as racist by a German theologian.

Dr Eske Wollrad, a feminist theologian from Germany’s Federal Association of Evangelical Women, has claimed that Lindgren’s classic children’s novels “have colonial racist stereotypes”. In Pippi in the South Seas, “the black children throw themselves into the sand in front of the white children in the book,” she told German paper the Local. “When reading the book to my nephew, who is black, I simply left that passage out.”

Wollrad neglected to mention that Pippi goes on to mock white children for their obsession with school. “If you come across a white child crying you can be pretty sure that the school has either gone up in flames, or that a half-term holiday has broken out, or that the teacher has forgotten to set homework for the children in pluttification,” she says.

The Pippi Longstocking books were written by Lindgren in the 1940s, covering the adventures of Pippi, an inveterate liar and eccentric whose parents are dead and who shares her house with a monkey and a horse who lives on the porch.

“It is not that the figure of Pippi Longstocking is racist, but that all three in the trilogy of books have colonial racist stereotypes,” said Wollrad. “I would certainly not condemn the book completely – on the contrary, there are many very positive aspects to the book, as well as being very funny, it is instructive for children as it not only has a strong female character, she is against adultism, grown-ups being in charge, and she is fiercely opposed to violence against animals – there is a very strong critique of authority in the book,” she told the Local.

But Wollrad believes footnotes should be added to the text to help put racist terms in context and to prompt discussions. “The question to ask yourself is whether you could read a certain passage out loud to a black child without stopping or stumbling,” she said. “Only then can you say whether it is OK or not.”

Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.


Children's Books

35 Comments to “Pippi Longstocking books charged with racism”

  1. There are some very sexist passages in the Dr Seuss books that I used to edit when I read aloud to my daughter. There is no point in pretending that even beloved books written in a different age didn’t have attitudes we no longer find acceptable. Finding a way to deal with it while preserving all the good that is in them is very worthwhile.

    • Makes you wonder which of our modern attitudes are going to be considered unacceptable two or three generations from now. Political correctness, perhaps?

      • Two to three generations?
        You’re overly pessimistic.

        The penduluum swing has already started: Even the center left is getting sick of the snowflake carping and rioting. Just this week NBCNEWS, of all places, ran an op-ed that wouldn’t have been out of place at Fox on the sad state of freedom of thought in university culture.

        Besides, sooner or later those millennials will be graduating out of the ivory towers and start dealing wth real life, ready or not.

  2. Yeah, I have a kids’ book from Australia I was absolutely loving until it turned extremely anti-semitic in the last chapter.

    But it’s hard for me to get past the fact that this kind of analysis has become a paint-by-number critique style that can be done just as well by middle-schoolers on tumblr. So I’m in the odd situation of saying ‘valid insight’ and ‘intellectually vacuous no-brainer’ in the same breath.

  3. When written many books were considered neither racist nor sexist but are now – the words didn’t change – the world did.

    Anyone here remember when ‘the gay ’90s’ referred to the 1890s before the great depression and not the 1990s and two guys living together? A while back I heard a teen tell another, “That’s so gay.” When I asked what she meant by that she told me ‘gay’ meant ‘cool’. Deities know what it’ll mean next decade …

    • Your teen was lying to you. “That’s so gay” pretty much translates into “that’s so lame.”

      • DaveMich, your definition is the one I hear. Teen rolls eyes, and sighs, “Dude, that is so gay.”

      • Wouldn’t be surprised, they were the kids of a friend of mine – and always in trouble. (I’d left the area, but I heard she ended up ‘with child’ before getting out of HS.)

    • I’m 76 so I remember the time before “gay” referred to anything homosexual. I was an adult when that meaning entered the vocabulary.

      In middle school (called junior high school back then) I had a friend named Gay. I lost track of him when I moved away but I can imagine his life became hard in later years. A boy named Sue would have it easier. In those days, though, no-one thought anything about it. Gay meant happy. Nothing more.


  4. the Other Diana

    I’m surprised Dr Eske Wollrad didn’t use that as a teachable moment for her nephew.

    Some time ago, I was reading an original Grimm’s Fairy tale to my children. I was surprised by the “God turned the women black because they were bad” message as well as the “Prince fell in love with the heroine because she was beautiful” message. Both in the same story!

    It was a teachable moment for my children (who are biracial).

  5. “The question to ask yourself is whether you could read a certain passage out loud to a black child without stopping or stumbling,” is sexist all by itself. If you can’t read it to a black child, you shouldn’t be reading it to a white child, either.

  6. Al the Great and Powerful

    I like that this wrongheaded theologian didn’t have any quibbles about Pippi living alone with a monkey and a horse… shows where her (Wollrad’s) priorities are, I think.

  7. “Adultism” is a new one on me.

  8. Good grief. PC truly is running amok. Everything is racist, sexist, or otherwise bigoted these days. You can’t enjoy a song, a book, a movie, or just about anything else without someone saying it defies some aspect of ever-changing and always-expanding political correctness. Just ask the PC crowd. They’ll fully enlighten you on how evil things are. PC is choking the very life out of society.

    I remember reading Pippi stories as a kid. Watched the movies, too. My parents didn’t agree with many of the ideas put forth in the stories (or many other books we read or TV shows or movies we watched). They discussed them with us and helped us understand why some attitudes, behaviors, and ideas were wrong. As another commenter above said, parents should use such things as teachable moments.

  9. God Save Us! People in other times and places weren’t PC? Don’t let anyone know they had different ideas.

    Wait until they get to the three-fifths clause in the US Constitution. Footnote please?

    And Leave It To Beaver reruns? Barbara Billingsley dusting in high heels. Footnote please?

    • Barbara Billingsley dusting in high heels.

      And pearls. She always wore a pearl choker.

  10. “Pippi Longstocking books charged with racism”

    Is that “accused of racism” or “full of racism”?

  11. I’m not sure if the first few commenters were being serious about being horrified by the bias/prejudice in the children’s books they read (Dr. Seuss? please), but I’ve always found it seriously annoying that people would try to condemn culture from yesteryear by applying their warped PC notions to.

    I remember decades ago when someone was doing a book review on “Babar” and they proceeded to slam it for being racist etc. The problem they had and failed to see was that the mores/morals of yesteryear were radically different than the warped values of today.

    As an fyi, this particular college radio show that had the book review proceeded to knock one of the songs he was about to play (Hey Joe by Jimi Hendrix) by saying that although he liked the song, he didn’t realize it was about domestic violence then, but I’m going to play it for you anyways.

    • Richard Hershberger

      Yabbut… There have always been people on the right side of history, people on the wrong side, and a huge mass of people who didn’t care. A hundred and fifty years ago you could find people pushing for civil rights for blacks. You could find people pushing against civil rights for blacks. Most people didn’t care much one or the other. That last group largely adopted attitudes we (correctly) see today as racist, but they weren’t committed to this. These attitudes were cultural background noise, not central to their sense of identity.

      So when considering works from the past, we shouldn’t give everything an automatic pass because that is how they were back then. Neither should we assess everyone by comparing them with early 21st century attitudes. But we can and should assess it by how it fell within the context of its time.

      “Birth of a Nation” was the work of a racist and should be assessed as such. “Huckleberry Finn” is on the right side of history. We shouldn’t be hyperfocused on the fact that it uses That Word. Context is everything. “Pippi Longstocking”? I’ve never read it. My suspicion is it falls in the indifferent middle. Use it as a teaching moment, but don’t obsess.

      • That last group largely adopted attitudes we (correctly) see today as racist, but they weren’t committed to this.


        Just this week we learned from a couple of professors who lean to the right side of history that citing white academics in papers is racist.

        “An increasing amount of scholarship in critical, feminist, and anti-racist geographies has recently focused self-reflexively on the topics of exclusion and discrimination within the discipline itself. In this article we contribute to this literature by considering citation as a problematic technology that contributes to the reproduction of the white heteromasculinity of geographical thought and scholarship, despite advances toward more inclusivity in the discipline in recent decades.”
        Carrie Mott & Daniel Cockayne
        Gender, Place & Culture
        A Journal of Feminist Geography

        What side but the right side of history could ever spawn a Journal of Feminist Geography?

        • Richard Hershberger


          Yes. The idea of racial equality was considered quite outre, even among the middle ground that acknowledged that blacks have basic human rights.

          I have not idea what the rest of your comment has to do with this discussion.

          • I have not idea what the rest of your comment has to do with this discussion.

            OK. I accept you have no idea.

            Many of the rest of us will laugh at the correct folks on the right side of history who instruct us on racism. Watch out for that white heteromasculinity. It’s catching.

    • It’s not so much condemning a book, but having to decide whether you can give it to a friend’s child as a birthday gift. 🙂

  12. One of my favorite books as a child was the Little Golden Book version of Little Black Sambo. In the seventies, it came under severe criticism for being racist. I’ve never understood that. To me, it was the story of a clever little boy who outwitted a bunch of hungry tigers.

    In addition to what others have said about the mores of other times being different from what they are today, sometimes people go looking for racism/sexism where there is none intended.

  13. When I find someone complaining about “adultism,” I figure that she (it’s almost always a she) suffers from “juvenilism,” and I know that nothing else in her remarks is going to be worth taking seriously.

  14. Well this certainly explains Sweden’s long history of abuse and exploitation of indigenous peoples in its many third world colonies.

  15. OMG! The S** Brigade is out in full force on this one.

  16. And so is 99% of all Western Culture. We devolved to such a pathetic state of sensitivity that we will whitewash or destroy everything that was created in the past. ISIS destroyed Palmyra. We are not far behind them in our hatred before we will destroy our monuments, erase the names of our founding fathers, or rewrite/rename everything unsuitable to our modern norms. Typical of what Communism did.

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