Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How Ugly, How Soon?

A couple posts about race today and tomorrow. This one is about a book. Dan Gutman has written a nice series of books that the shorter of the short people enjoys. The protagonist is a boy living with his mother after a divorce who loves to play little league. He discovers an old baseball card in the attic and finds that he has the power to travel in time by rubbing the cards. He is transported back to the time of the card and finds himself in adventures with famous ballplayers.

They are thoughtful and well-researched. The Shoeless Joe Jackson book, for example, not only shows great empathy for what it must have been like for Joe to be famous and illiterate (his wife signed the autographs), but also showed how organized crime was a part of the times and the fear and frustrations that came from living through the flu epidemic.

He's been reading them and we were pleased to see a Jackie Robinson book in the series because we are always keen to bring up questions of social justice and do not want to hide from our children the explicitly racist past of this society and the way in which racist echoes still remain. They need to see injustice to be moved to help.

But then we read through before giving it to him and found an artistic decision that worried us. Gutman, not wanting to sugar-coat the treatment that Robinson received has him regularly called the n-word in the course of the book. On the one hand, it does perfectly well mesh with his historical accuracy and demonstrates how bad it was for Robinson. At the same time, I don't want my child exposed to that word yet. On the one hand, we have obliquely discussed lynching, but left out much of the gruesome nature of the act. On the other hand, this is a form of linguistic racism that is still live.

So, the question for today is how soon, how ugly? How much of our history should we be honest about and when?