How to Read a Racist Book to Your Kids

innerstanding isness

“Dad, why do the pirates have a gorilla?” This unexpected question intruded on a recent intergenerational cultural exchange: I was introducing my 6-year-old son to Asterix the Gaul. The pirates in the “Asterix” comics don’t travel with a gorilla, of course. One of the pirate crew is a grotesque caricature of an African who does indeed more closely resemble a gorilla than a person.

Freeze-frame on this parenting situation. What am I supposed to do? I figure I have three options.

1) Explain that the gorilla is supposed to be a black person.

2) Try to explain the history of French colonialism, how the economics of exploitation in sub-Saharan Africa led to an ideology of racism, which survived in a ghostly transfer even after the conclusion of the French Empire, infecting even silly comics about ancient Gaul.

3) Say, “I don’t know why the pirates have a gorilla” and…

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