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There is a fundamental difference between "changing history" and "choosing not to celebrate behaviors or beliefs in 2018 that might have been acceptable in 1818."

If people were going back and reediting her books to remove what they found offensive, THAT would be a problem. And I 100% oppose these sort of things because I believe if is vital to leave books alone and read them IN THE CONTEXT of the time they were written. They have value that way by reminding us of what we use to think was normal and how far we have come...and how far we have left to go.

But deciding to change an award name to better reflect how the world is now is called progress.
 
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OK, so they have the right to change the name of their award.
But if the name of Pulitzer Prize is changed after I win it, I'm still gonna say I'm a Pulitzer Prize winner.

So society changes. Guess that's why Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn get pulled from some public libraries. Etc.
The hell with Literature. It doesn't stand the test of time.
 

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This is not about rewriting history.

It's the slightly different issue of what's considered a 'classic', 'teachable' literature, and so on.

Some people would like to think that there's some sort of process that naturally accretes the cream of the crop to the top, that the best art emerges as some sort of entirely meritocratic and spontaneous zeitgeist of an age, and that it's what magically ends up in classrooms. And to some extent it does.

But it is also in fact a quite active if not always entirely conscious cultural process, and the discussion of how works get selected, by whom, why and to what purposes is a very worthwhile one. Do you insist on promoting a canon that you may genuinely love, but whatever its true worth and permanence is also effectively, collectively wielded as some sort of selective tool against kids who are not bathed in some of that same culture at home ? Do you strive to gather literature that is as good as you can find it but also more reflective of the world as it can be seen now or could be ?
 

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Had Wilder been racist herself and promoted or endorsed the opinions of the third parties whose conversations she reported in the books that are causing all the fuss, then I could certainly understand the reasoning behind this. The award name wasn't stripped from her because of what she said or thought, though, but for what she reported others saying, despite it being fairly clear from the context and in some instances stated outright that neither she nor her father approved of those things.

It makes as much sense as stripping a literary award from a Civil War historian who accurately reported the attitudes of whites towards blacks during the 1860s, while obviously not agreeing with those attitudes herself. We don't want her name on the award because some people who lived during the time period depicted in the books were racist? Seriously?
 

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As I am not on the board of that organization, their decision is no more my business than what color you want your bridesmaids to wear at your own personal, private wedding.

I doubt my books will outlive me, but if they do, and someone decides anything at all about them, for good or ill, I'll be DEAD, and burned into ash, and so it won't matter one whit to me, as I won't in any sense be there.

Time's arrow keeps moving along in that one direction for everyone I've ever met. We each are certain to die. Many things move on in society as a whole without needing or wanting my approval or disapproval. All empires fall and new empires come along to replace them. Technologies change, and lives are changed because of it. Amazon giveth, and Amazon taketh away. I'm singularly unimportant and 7.5 billion people living today have never heard of me and never will. Those are, I've deduced, the rules of the road.
 

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The above is pretty much what I thought. She's long, long gone, not around to be crushed by the blow, and times change. Can't really say it better than Annie B or the ALA itself.

I don't think young kids are reading Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn in grade school these days. I believe they're more in the curriculum for higher grades (I read H. Finn in college--not for the first time, but that's when it was taught). The reason for that is so the historical context can be part of the conversation in a way you can't really explore with 10-year-olds.

(from the NYT article):

The American Library Association said that the name change was aimed only at aligning the award with its values, not at limiting access to Wilder's books.

"Updating the award's name should not be construed as censorship, as we are not demanding that anyone stop reading Wilder's books, talking about them, or making them available to children," Mr. Neal and Ms. Lindsay said in the statement. "We hope adults think critically about Wilder's books and the discussions that can take place around them."

In recommending that the organization move away from using Wilder's name for the award, a task force for the children’s division noted last month that the books had been both "deeply meaningful" to some readers and "deeply painful" to others.

"Both of these things are true," it said in a written recommendation, adding that such a move would not demand "that anyone change their personal relationship with or feelings about Wilder's books."

The task force also said that the books, and Wilder herself, were products of her era and reflected the mostly mainstream perspective of a white woman at the time.
 

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It's not just the Native American stuff, either. Those books contained at least one minstrel show with Pa participating in it, if I recall--I read them all when I was a kid, and that stuff made me so intensely uncomfortable I still remember it. It made me uncomfortable because I liked Laura and Pa and the family, but they were being really racist and in the modern world, children are taught that racism is wrong.

If I had kids now, I would let them read these books, but with a heavy dose of history and probably alongside something like the Birchbark series, for contrast. I believe children would notice these racist things in Little House and ask about them--I did, at least 20 years ago--because the world is a different place now.

There's nothing wrong with kids reading these books, but they're probably not going to swallow the racism without question, and that's a good thing.
 
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I also have to wonder how many people who are outraged by this have actually READ the books. In all seriousness, I was having a conversation with someone about this who said, "There was nothing racist on the TV show." How many people expressing outrage are ONLY familiar with the books through the old TV show and have never actually read the books?
 

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Marty South said:
But imagine being a person of color about to receive an award named for an author of books that had likely made you uncomfortable, if not caused you pain.
It is possible to reject an award you do not consider worthy. No problem and at least showing integrity.
 

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KelliWolfe said:
Had Wilder been racist herself and promoted or endorsed the opinions of the third parties whose conversations she reported in the books that are causing all the fuss, then I could certainly understand the reasoning behind this. The award name wasn't stripped from her because of what she said or thought, though, but for what she reported others saying, despite it being fairly clear from the context and in some instances stated outright that neither she nor her father approved of those things.
Yes, but the way fiction conveys cultural values (of all types) is too complex to boil down to whether the narrator/characters explicitly endorse those values, IMO. There's a complicated interplay among the narrator's tone, explicit versus implicit endorsements, the way the plot and character development lean on values, the reader's established attitudes toward the characters who espouse values, and probably other elements I'm not thinking of. For instance, if an utterly loathsome character makes a racist remark, the reader is probably likely to see that remark as bad, even if the narrator doesn't point out that it's bad. But what if a beloved character says or does something racist? That might be a murkier situation.

In the Little House books, both Ma and Pa -- the central positive adult figures in Laura's life -- do/say racist things. Laura, as a narrator, is both a child and a product of her time, so she doesn't pause to reflect, "Wow, Pa wore blackface, and that's racist! Bummer!" That kind of explicitly critical reaction obviously would not be convincing from her character. But there's also no implicit critique of that moment. It's just presented as delightful, harmless fun, which is probably an accurate reflection of how people like Laura felt about minstrelsy and blackface, the term "darky," etc., in the 1880s. Ingalls Wilder is not going to critique racism she doesn't see as such. But from the modern perspective, Pa's blackface pulls the moral rug out from under the character we've been leaning on as the counterpoint to Ma's racism toward Native Americans.

Considering Pa's resistance to Ma's racism toward Native Americans separately, what if readers like Ma more than Pa? As a young child, I found Pa a little scary, but I loved Ma.

And some of the ways Laura expresses her own more positive attitudes toward Native Americans are still problematic, in a noble-savage kind of way.

It's all rather knotted and difficult, and a child reader may consciously ignore the messiness while unconsciously absorbing the values portrayed: Yeah, saying an entire group of people should die might not be nice, but you can think that sort of thing and still be a good person overall, and something like blackface is really no big deal.

All of the above is me thinking through the books as something I read myself as a child and could read to my kids. I'm white, and so are my kids. But the U.S.'s children are "majority minority" these days, so there's no good reason to focus on white kids' experience of reading these books. It just happens to be the perspective I have direct access to.

So ... yeah. I think books are always embedded in culture and tend to propagate culture in really complicated ways that are hard to tease out -- hard even to notice, in some cases. Older books like Ingalls Wilder's tend to be fascinating repositories of past cultural values, which makes them important historical artifacts. But they're living artifacts, capable of seeding their values into the future. Art has tremendous power that way, and that property is well recognized when it comes to books: "positive messages" tend to play a big part in children's literature, especially in books written for younger kids. But books can convey all kinds of ideas in addition to the values they've been consciously designed to instill. Those subtle messages are not easily recognized, controlled, or banished, IMO. Rather, they live inside books in the same messy, contradictory, uncomfortable ways they're present in culture itself.

*Here are photos of the minstrelsy scene from my childhood copy of Little Town on the Prairie. I don't personally think the illustration is desirable to embed in a post, so I'm just going to link to it here and here. If you follow the first link, you'll see an ink illustration of five men dancing in blackface, with associated text. The second link is text only.
 

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Becca Mills said:
Yes, but the way fiction conveys cultural values (of all types) is too complex to boil down to whether the narrator/characters explicitly endorse those values, IMO. There's a complicated interplay among the narrator's tone, explicit versus implicit endorsements, the way the plot and character development lean on values, the reader's established attitudes toward the characters who espouse values, and probably other elements I'm not thinking of. For instance, if an utterly loathsome character makes a racist remark, the reader is probably likely to see that remark as bad, even if the narrator doesn't point out that it's bad. But what if a beloved character says or does something racist? That might be a murkier situation. ....
At this point I am starting to find the whole thing extremely amusing. ;D

I can't count the times that I have been told, and in no uncertain tones, that fiction is fiction and not reality. Usually the inciting topic wasn't Laura Ingalls' ma's racism. Instead it was the abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey, the misrepresentation of reality in romance or the sexism in erotica. The moment you reflect on rape culture, or the distortion of the gay experience, or the abuse and torture porn so prevalent today in romance and erotic fiction, and widely read by youths and young adults, that's the exact answer you get: "But it is not reality. It is fiction, and we can discern reality from fantasy. Books do not influence anyone. We can consume what we want."

And now this gets turned around, because now it is helpful to some other agenda? People really need to make up their minds. It is either this or that in this case. Not both.
 

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Nic said:
At this point I am starting to find the whole thing extremely amusing. ;D

I can't count the times that I have been told, and in no uncertain tones, that fiction is fiction and not reality. Usually the inciting topic wasn't Laura Ingalls' ma's racism. Instead it was the abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey, the misrepresentation of reality in romance or the sexism in erotica. The moment you reflect on rape culture, or the distortion of the gay experience, or the abuse and torture porn so prevalent today in romance and erotic fiction, and widely read by youths and young adults, that's the exact answer you get: "But it is not reality. It is fiction, and we can discern reality from fantasy. Books do not influence anyone. We can consume what we want."

And now this gets turned around, because now it is helpful to some other agenda? People really need to make up their minds. It is either this or that in this case. Not both.
Who is this "people" to whom you refer? Are you sure that both groups that you describe are identical? I would doubt it.
 

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Having a teaching background, I had to get into this. I've seen books go through culture attacks when they state things that were at the time they were written, acceptable. Society changes, but the book does not. It is a frozen time capsule of what was acceptable at the time it was written. Another good example is Huck Finn and the use of the "n" word. When it was written the use of the word reflected the mid-1800s use. It's almost a 200 year old book now. Laura Ingalls Wilder's books are also almost 100 years old now. They are going to have phrases that might be objected to now, but back 100 years ago, it reflects the feeling of the times. Do we agree with them now? No, of course. But they are a capsule of first hand literature that reflect how we have changed as a society. Banning her name from an award? Why, because she reflected or wrote about the society at the time? I mean, big whatever. I guess they just wanted to make a statement with it.

Any foundation or organization can name an award what they want. Taking her name off of it just sends a message society is changing. But it's always seemed strange to me to get mad at an author from like a century or even half century ago that was writing in a different time. Books always reflect the age they are written. So, I'm sure her books will be put on lists similar to Mark Twain now. But I doubt it will change how she is perceived as an author, or it shouldn't. She wrote about her time period having lived through it whether it is absolute fact or embellished from the truth. All writers write from their experiences.

Putting in a phrase about Indians like that, in fact, calling them Indians and not Native Americans, just reflects the feelings of people in the past. It is history now. It should be taught as such. At least, that's how I would teach it. People believed and thought different ideas in the past. Studying those ideas and how they have changed is part of the process of studying history, or at least it should be.

**Gets off her teacher soap box***
 

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Nic said:
At this point I am starting to find the whole thing extremely amusing. ;D

I can't count the times that I have been told, and in no uncertain tones, that fiction is fiction and not reality. Usually the inciting topic wasn't Laura Ingalls' ma's racism. Instead it was the abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey, the misrepresentation of reality in romance or the sexism in erotica. The moment you reflect on rape culture, or the distortion of the gay experience, or the abuse and torture porn so prevalent today in romance and erotic fiction, and widely read by youths and young adults, that's the exact answer you get: "But it is not reality. It is fiction, and we can discern reality from fantasy. Books do not influence anyone. We can consume what we want."

And now this gets turned around, because now it is helpful to some other agenda? People really need to make up their minds. It is either this or that in this case. Not both.
Welcome to the WWDS-- the World Wide Double Standard. Some people don't like peaches because they're juicy and messy, but don't have a problem with watermelon, even though the same qualities apply. Other people take offense at horror movies/video games because of (for one thing) the common damsel-in-danger trope, but don't have any problem with superhero movies/games with the token female character in a tight, form-fitting costume. Getting back to the fruit metaphor, it's called cherrypicking.

Edited for clarity.
 

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Nic said:
At this point I am starting to find the whole thing extremely amusing. ;D

I can't count the times that I have been told, and in no uncertain tones, that fiction is fiction and not reality. Usually the inciting topic wasn't Laura Ingalls' ma's racism. Instead it was the abuse in Fifty Shades of Grey, the misrepresentation of reality in romance or the sexism in erotica. The moment you reflect on rape culture, or the distortion of the gay experience, or the abuse and torture porn so prevalent today in romance and erotic fiction, and widely read by youths and young adults, that's the exact answer you get: "But it is not reality. It is fiction, and we can discern reality from fantasy. Books do not influence anyone. We can consume what we want."

And now this gets turned around, because now it is helpful to some other agenda? People really need to make up their minds. It is either this or that in this case. Not both.
I agree that these kinds of arguments can be applied in contradictory ways.

My personal feeling is that books can be tremendously influential, especially in aggregate, but that people should still be able to read pretty much whatever they want ... but that it's generally a good idea to take in art in a somewhat critical, self-aware way. That mode of reading could be quite rigorous or could be as basic as recognizing there's an essential difference between enjoying reading about rapey sex (for instance) and thinking actual rape is okay. Which I think most people who enjoy rape fantasies do recognize -- people tend to get big picture distinctions like that. It's the more subtle stuff that might sneak in under the radar. For instance, most people are now probably decently equipped to recognize when something is grossly homophobic, but they might be less well equipped to watch a movie like Brokeback Mountain and recognize that for all its beauty and quality, it nevertheless fits into a larger artistic pattern of gay lives being presented as miserable and tragic. That doesn't mean the film isn't terrific, but it is useful to be able to recognize the larger pattern it participates in and, in so doing, bleed off some of that pattern's potential to create assumptions. I needed some help thinking about the film that way myself. The subtle currents running through one's own culture can be tough to notice, even as they push one inexorably along.

Anyway, that's my personal take on it -- consume whatever you enjoy, but respect the power of art and culture, keep your eyes open, and think about it.

Children may need coaching in maintaining some distance and ability to draw distinctions while reading. If my kids wanted to read the Little House books, I'd encourage them to do so, but would want to talk to them about it to help them think critically about what they were reading. Ma's comments about Native Americans would stand out to them as terrible, but I suspect they wouldn't immediately see anything wrong with blackface.
 

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Jena H said:
Welcome to the WWDS-- the World Wide Double Standard. People are don't like peaches because they're juicy and messy, but don't have a problem with watermelon, even though the same qualities apply. Other people take offense at horror movies/video games because of (for one thing) the common damsel-in-danger trope, but don't have any problem with superhero movies/games with the token female character in a tight, form-fitting costume. Getting back to the fruit metaphor, it's called cherrypicking.
How is it cherry picking or a double standard when we don't even know if the same people who are saying that readers of Little House on the Prairie will be affected by its content are the same as the people who say that "fiction is fiction, not reality" and "books don't influence anyone"? Are we sure that it's the same people saying both those things?
 
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As it bears repeating:

Nobody has removed the books from schools, libraries, Amazon, or anywhere else. They are still available and sold and nothing is restricting access to them.

All that has happened is that the people who oversee the award have said, "We have decided, in 2018, that the award should reflect the nature of the children's book community as it is TODAY, instead of clinging to a worldview that is over a century old and does not reflect the diversity of modern children's book writers."

This isn't a bad thing, regardless of how some may want to spin it otherwise.

Remove the race issue from the equation and think about it from a wider view. Traditions are traditions because they have value. When a tradition ceases to have value and is still enforced, it is no longer about VALUE to society, but CONTROL. Traditionally, the bestseller lists only considered trade published books. But the industry evolved and the bestseller lists eventually did away with the "tradition" and began to include indie books because doing so more accurately reflected the nature of publishing. And the only people who really complained with the trade publishers, because they benefited from the control that tradition gave them.
 

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SalomeGolding said:
How is it cherry picking or a double standard when we don't even know if the same people who are saying that readers of Little House on the Prairie will be affected by its content are the same as the people who say that "fiction is fiction, not reality" and "books don't influence anyone"? Are we sure that it's the same people saying both those things?
Not to mention that no one is naming a children's book award after EL James. There is a different standard with children's books because they haven't learned the historical context yet, and some might still not be mature enough to differentiate fiction from reality.
 

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kw3000 said:
I think the conversation about race and cultural attitudes in this context is beside the point. What is the intent behind the name change? If the intent or motivation behind the name change is coming from a place of "knowing better" or "this is superior to that"; if it's an expression of one's 'greater virtue', or begins to present itself as something akin to Winston Smith surgically removing certain narratives and dropping them to the memory hole furnaces...well...while I would not presume to tell others to cease from it outright, I would certainly suggest moving with caution.
Maybe you should read the article. The organization clearly states its intent and its reasoning.
 
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