If the main character of your children’s book is a slave, watch out, warns Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal. It’s hard to satisfy the PC police.
A Birthday Cake for George Washington was criticized “for an excessively jolly portrayal of enslaved people,” writes Gurdon.
“The picture book valorized Hercules, Washington’s chef, who is regarded as America’s first celebrity cook and who, in the story, dazzles his daughter by confecting a cake without sugar.”
The author is Ramin Ganeshram, a woman of Iranian-Trinidadian descent, and the illustrator and editor are African-American. That didn’t help. Scholastic pulled the book after weeks of criticism.
A 2015 picture book with an enslaved chef, A Fine Dessert, was called “degrading” because it showed a mother and daughter, slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1810, enjoying making “blackberry fool.”
“In some images, the daughter is smiling,” notes the New York Times.
Critics especially disliked a scene in which the black cooks hide in a closet to “lick the bowl clean” after serving the white family. (You’d think this would imply that being a slave is not all fun in the kitchen. )
Author Emily Jenkins, who is white, apologized in an online statement on Reading While White. “I have come to understand that my book, while intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive,” she said. She pledged to donate her writing fee to the campaign We Need Diverse Books.
If I were writing children’s books, I’d eliminate all slave characters, unless they’re escaping on the Underground Railroad. It’s not OK if they’re successful masters of a craft. It’s not OK if they’re humiliated. What’s left?