Once upon a time there was a Master Race
By Nury Vittachi
It told the story of a fair-haired princess and her eleven fair-haired brothers. What a happy, idyllic, blond life they led, running around the palace gardens, their blond hair flopping around blondly!
But then they get a wicked stepmother. Oh no! How do we know she is wicked? She has black hair. She tangles up the princess’s blond hair and puts walnut juice on the girl’s face to make it brown. Her horrified father, now repulsed by her looks, banishes her from the palace.
I’m not going to tell you the rest of the story, but suffice it to say, the princess washes the brown stuff off her face and becomes pale again. All the fair-haired people in the story end up united and happy, and live blondly ever after.
My daughter had earlier brought home a picture book from school called “The Three Brothers”. Two of the brothers have black hair and turn out to be evil slime. The other has blond hair and turns out to be a god-like hero.
Now here’s a thing. I have a creeping suspicion—not sure where it comes from—that children’s books are actually produced by a secret group of people furtively espousing neo-Nazi ideology.
Feeling uncomfortable about these tales (after all, my children and I all have black hair), I reached for a textbook. First off the shelf was Naima, Daughter of the Desert, a volume from Adventure Box, a monthly educational series given to my child from school.
The story was about four siblings from a dark-haired family. That seemed hopeful. It opened by telling us that the children all had dark eyes, except Naima, who had blue eyes. “Everyone loved Naima,” it said. “Her parents loved her much more than her three older sisters who had black eyes.”
The dark-eyed children turn out to be evil and cast the blue-eyed girl into the desert. She gets picked up by nomads (yes, with dark eyes) who treat her as a slave until she is rescued by someone with green-eyes. A handsome prince then marries her after noticing her “big blue eyes”.
Yes, once more, people with the characteristics of the European Master Race defeat evil, sub-humans, ie, people with dark hair and eyes.
The following morning I went out to buy my daughter a book set in Asia. The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling is about an Indian kid, right? Even in the Walt Disney movie, Mowgli has black hair and brown skin. So I bought a copy from the bookstore—but in the illustrations of the recent editions, Mowgli’s brown skin has turned pink, and his black hair has become brown.
I hate to sound like a whiner, but is it unreasonable to ask that children’s books don’t have a subtext Hitler would have loved? The books mentioned are not anomalies from small presses: they are randomly selected volumes from some of the world’s most successful publishers of children’s books: Usborne, Bayard Press and Ladybird.
I decided I’d have to make up a story. “Once upon a time, there was a planet where most people had dark hair.”
“What was it called, Daddy?” my daughter asked.
“Like this planet?”
“Yes, dear. Like this planet.”