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.”
Astrid Lindgren’s daughter Karin Nyman emphatically rejected the charge. She told the Guardian: “She is not a racist. She is the opposite. She is not only ‘against adultism, grown-ups being in charge, and fiercely opposed to violence against animals’ she certainly is also against racism. The passage quoted by Eske Wollrad, where the ‘black children throw themselves into the sand’ in front of Pippi and Tommy and Annika, is explicitly preceded by the explanation that they did so thinking,’for some incomprehensible reason’, that white skin was to be revered. This passage is, of course, referring to ‘colonial racist stereotypes’, but since it is immediately questioned by Pippi, who refuses to be knelt in front of, who makes a very strong point of the children being all alike, black and white, and enjoying the same games in the two books dealing with the South Seas, it is difficult to see the books as representatives of a dubious racist conception and thus harming reading children of to-day. But, of course, the old harm of colonial racism itself remains!”
Pippi is not the first classic children’s character to be hit with similar accusations. Earlier this year, a French academic said the Smurfs were antisemitic, racist and communist. Antoine Buéno, a lecturer at Sciences Po university in Paris, pointed out that the little blue creatures live in a world where private initiative is rarely rewarded, where meals are eaten communally and where there is one leader. “Does that not remind you of anything? A political dictatorship, for example?” he asked.