A couple people have told me that all stories are neutral, they can be good or bad, it just depends on how you tell it. Although that does apply to many examples and it might make people feel good, it’s not true. There are some stories that are hurtful and harmful no matter how they are told. Some stories are weaponized and others infused (sometimes unconsciously) with hurtful elements that define the story. Good examples of inherently harmful stories are Tales filled with Bigotry or Prejudice.
Let’s look at two types of prejudicial stories:
- Stories created especially to promote and increase hatred of a specific group of people.
- Stories with characters that encourage and promote negative images or beliefs around a specific group of people.
Stories that Promote Hate
Example – Blood Libel
This ‘traditional tale’ has been told and retold for centuries. Specific names and places change with time but the plot is consistent. This anti-sematic story usually begins with the death or disappearance of a non-Jewish child. Then the discovery of some evidence is found that ties the death to the Jewish community because they needed the victim’s blood to make matzah or wine for a holiday or ritual. This is one of history’s cruel ironies because Jewish law prohibits murder, sacrifice, and consumption of blood. (note- that’s why kosher meat is salted after it is butchered-to draw out the blood.)
One of the earliest examples of the story can be traced back to 1144 in England. The story then spread through Europe and beyond. The myth has been used to justify violence against Jews, leading to the deaths of hundreds of men and women. Unfortunately this story hasn’t gone away and has been mentioned as recently as 2014 when terrorists sited blood libel as the reason for a shooting in synagogue in Israel.
Stories that infuse Negative Stereotypes into a specific group or race:
Example – Little Black Sambo
Little Black Sambo was written by Helen Bannerman in 1899. The illustrations, some story elements, and names of the three main characters – Little Black Sambo, Black Mumbo, and Black Jumbo – are especially offensive. Although the story isn’t inherently racist, the hurtful images linger and have taken on significance as racist symbols. A new version of the story was released in 1996 with new names and pictures, but many objected saying the story carried too much hateful history. I suppose you could argue that this story can be retold, but only by changing the elements that connect it to the original story. By doing that, you’re creating a different story.
Some stories carry histories of hurt that are not easily forgotten. I’d like to take it one step further. Maybe they shouldn’t be forgotten. Are we ignoring or glossing over this history of hatred by changing names, titles, and plot elements of stories that carried prejudicial messages?
(note: I considered adding pictures of the cover of Little Black Sambo but decided against it. I thought it might be hurtful or triggering to some of my blog readers. If you’d like to see the varied art, search google images using the book’s title.)