Wednesday, March 07, 2007

my many colored days

I'm disappointed. I took my son to a thrift store today and bought a few toys, including a pink stroller and a black doll, and books. He was getting a bit antsy, so I only skimmed the books before I bought them.

When we got home, I read one of them, My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, with my son. The illustrations are beautiful paintings by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. And my son and I usually enjoy Dr. Seuss books, but this one... oy vey!

The "narrator" of the book is a yellow-orange gingerbreadman-like figure who talks about the different ways s/he feels on different days. The feelings are all based on colors. The pages dealing with colors that don't usually describe skin colors are fine: "Gray Day... Everything is gray. I watch. But nothing moves today." or "Then all of a sudden I'm a circus seal! On my Orange Days that's how I feel." Okay, fine. Those are generally happy or neutral, inoculous feelings and pictures.

But when we get to colors that are typically used to describe skin color or race, take a look at this:

"Some days, of course, feel sort of Brown. Then I feel slow and low, low down."

"Then come my Black Days. Mad. And loud. I howl. I growl at every cloud." This page, of course, has some sort of a wild boar or dog with big teeth and a mean expression, growling at the sky. Scary!

How about our "multiracial page" with gingerbread people of all different colors? "Then comes a Mixed-Up Day. And Wham! I don't know who or what I am!"

Of course, there is also the yellow page. I really hope that no one describes Asians as yellow anymore, but I have to quote here: "Then comes a Yellow Day. I am a busy, buzzy bee." Where the other pages had just one animal each, this one has a swarm of bees with indistinguishable features, all flying in the same direction.

Finally, after going through all the colors, including the confusing multi-color page, the narrator concludes: "But it all turns out all right, you see. And I go back to being . . . me." Phew! So relieved our gingerbreadman with green eyes doesn't have to feel black, brown, or all mixed up from too many colors confusing his days.

Well, I could go into a detailed explanation of what racial stereotypes each of those skin color pages reinforce, but I'll just leave it that. So much for a book linking certain colors with certain feelings or characteristics. Very disappointing, to say the least.


just me said...

I've never thought of it like that before. Do you believe it was written that way on purpose?

Tereza said...

just me, thank you for your comment. I guess I don't care so much about the intent of the author or illustrator as much as I care about the result. It's likely that the book wasn't written like this on purpose. These subtle messages are so pervasive that it's easy to perpetuate them without being conscious of them. Regardless, this kind of conditioning and association-formation (black = scary, brown = slow or low, yellow = bee-like, obedient, hardworking, indistinguishible from others....) has negative results on all of us - especially children who are so impressionable. I don't want to overanalyze everything, but I think it's good to notice and question how words, images, and the meaning they evoke intersect in children's books.

just me said...

To be honest I'm just new to the whole thought that our positive or negative use of color could have an impact on our children at all. I was watching a video on youtube, sorry it can't find the link, look up "a girl like me".

I cried and cried when I saw that black children were picking out a black doll as the "bad" doll, and though my daughter is white it horrified me to think that perhaps someday she would have the same subtle associates from the world around us.

kimb2425 said...

Seriously? Do you actually believe that Dr. Suess might have been trying to make some kind of racial statement? I am an elementary music educator and I use this book all the time to talk about how music makes you feel different emotions. Dr. Suess took it a step farther and added color...brilliant! It's abstract but the kids get it. Guess you didn't.

Tereza said...

kimb2425, as a response to your comment, see my comment above from March 8, 2007.

Betsy said...

I think seeking a racial meaning where there really isn't any is not a good thing at all. The bottom line is colors DO evoke emotions, and although the emotions portrayed here aren't the only ones attributed to each color, they definitely are some of those. Perhaps, if you feel that there is a problem, a discussion with your son about the other emotions the colors evoke would be appropriate. For example, while black can evoke fear, anger, evil, darkness and such, it also is a very elegant color, as seen in the connotation that a black suit has.

salvades said...

The colors of our skin are not the colors on a color wheel. It's a story. Not everything has to be negative. Precisely what's wrong with man kind! "let's find the negative and translate what this person REALLY meant." Look in the mirror and ask yourself how you have the ability to make nothing into something? This may help you with your outlook on many things in life. This comes from an individual who is mixed, not confused and does not relate the tone of my skin to a color wheel. Best of luck to you.