Kids Of Many Colors

R is for Racism: How ABC Books Taught Children To Hate

When I was around 8 years old, I checked out some books from the Lewis & Clark Branch Library located off of the historic Route 367 in North St. Louis County. One of the books was an ABC book. I mostly checked it out because I wanted to look at the images. As I flipped through the pages, I came to the letter N and did not recognize the word. I showed the book to my father and asked him what the word was and if he could tell me what it meant. He took the book from me and walked away. He never told me what the word or the image was and I never saw the book again. Last year, the thought of this book popped into my head and I realized then that the word was Nigger.

I wanted to see if there were other books like this. I asked friends and family members if they can recall ever seeing children’s books just like the one I saw when I was a child and no one could tell me that they had. After doing some intensive researching online, unfortunately, I found many. The books, some ABC books and some not, had negative imagery of not just black people but other people of color. The earliest production I found of some of the books were the late 1850s when linen books were primarily made. Surprisingly, another linen book I found was produced as recently as 1956. The books I’ve found ranged in price between $10 to as much as $1,000. Resellers recognize these books as collector’s items and if they’re in good condition, antique book collectors are willing to pay these prices. As I continue this project, I’m hoping to find funding along the way to purchase the more expensive books. It is quite sad that the more expensive books are the most offensive and derogatory that I’ve found.

The ultimate purpose of this project is to emphasize how racism is taught and that it starts at a young age. It is seemingly snuck into materials like children’s books that we assume should be innocent, yet educational, and sometimes entertaining. Please pay attention to how the images contrast with others — how other images or words could be used with helping a child learn to recognize the letter N and the nonsensical stories written in the Kids Of Many Colors book. These books may have been the first record of discrimination in an educational tool, however, it is a reminder that the more things change, they remain the same. With the latest trend of corporations and businesses like Gucci and H&M failing to be aware of the images they produce, specifically offensive images of black people, it is yet another way to inform the public on how to feel and think when they see black people in their daily lives.

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