“Sensitive. That killed me. That guy Morrow was about as sensitive as a goddamn toilet seat.”
― J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
Joni came home from school saying “I told my classmates they look like Smurfs, and they told me I look like Godzilla…” Which is what happens when you do your growing early, while living in a continent of short people.
On fictional characters, we discovered while we were in the UK this time that it isn’t The Done Thing to let one’s children read the original versions of Noddy these days, owing to the Black character Mr Golly. I get that it’s a stereotype, and I get the desire to promote helpful images. Which I guess is why I’m not sure whether removing a character who is a gainfully employed and integrated member of his community and replacing him with, er, well, nothing at all would be seen as progress, especially since the only human-looking characters left in the series are now 100% white. And I’m even less certain how many more black engineers, scientists, PhD holders, lawyers, judges, members of the house of Lords, (should I continue..?) there are in the UK as a result. It does rather look like fiddling with silly details in order to have done something, while carefully avoiding the real issues of racism.
Last weekend I went on a regional Scout leadership training. They split us into patrols and had each patrol represent a country. I think it would be reasonable to say that cultural sensitivity hasn’t yet reached Argentina as a concept, and some of the ultra stereotyped portrayals made even me wince and probably would have had someone arrested had the event occurred in the UK. So, here’s the question. In these circumstances where do I aim my cultural sensitivity? Do we say that here this counts as humour, so to be culturally sensitive is to understand it within that category. Or do we say actually your culture needs to change, on behalf of the other cultures being trashed by your bad jokes about famines and suicide bombers? When does tolerance become tyranny?
And as for teaching our own kids about culture, I asked Joni and Danny the other day if they had heard of Shakespeare. “Oh yes” says Danny. “He’s the one who writes stories about naughty pets… like when Lula (the dog) is being naughty and Daddy says ‘Out damned Spot, out I say...'” I give up.