A recently released children’s book titled A Birthday Cake For George Washington is being pulled off the shelves by Scholastic Inc.
The book happens to be a very well-illustrated, lighthearted ode to Washington’s slaves.
“While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator, and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn,” Scholastic reportedly said in a statement.
The story's focus is on Washington’s “head chef,” a slave named Hercules and his daughter, Delia. The description of the book on Amazon reads:
“Everyone is buzzing about the president's birthday! Especially George Washington's servants, who scurry around the kitchen preparing to make this the best celebration ever. Oh, how George Washington loves his cake! And, oh, how he depends on Hercules, his head chef, to make it for him. Hercules, a slave, takes great pride in baking the president's cake. But this year there is one problem — they are out of sugar.”
The book is further described as highlighting the “loving exchange” between a father and his daughter who must come to terms with the fact that “no matter how delicious the president's cake turns out to be, Delia and Papa will not taste the sweetness of freedom.”
It’s pretty evident without even reading the book that it is a very watered-down, almost glorified view of slavery in America which has sparked criticism from parents and educators, according to USA Today.
Perhaps the tone of the book can be viewed as an upbeat lead-in for parents to begin the discussion about slavery with their young children, but the problem is that it simply isn’t the truth.
The last thing we need is for young, impressionable children (especially those of black/African descent) to be introduced to slavery as a "happy" time in American history.
The book’s author, Ramin Ganeshram, claims that the story was meant to highlight the “complex and varied nature of enslaved existence,” which includes “enslaved people who had a better quality of life than others and 'close' relationships with those who enslaved them.”
Or in other words, vaguely and inaccurately explore the differences between the house slaves and the field slaves that penned slaves against one another.
This, in itself, is a touchy subject to attempt to explain to children because the black community still suffers from a divide that stems from the notion that your worth is measured by how accepted you are by white people.
That kind of complexity can’t be explained in a picture book. Not to mention, it's insulting to black culture and history to imply that there was a such thing as a "happy slave" regardless of whether their "quality of life" was considered "better" than the others. A slave is a slave.
Ganeshram also only included historical context about slavery and the real Hercules' eventual escape in the notes section of the book — which nobody usually reads — instead of in the main narrative.
Ganeshram is of Trinidadian and Iranian descent, according to the Huffington Post. As a woman of color, one would think she would have used this opportunity to create a profound, digestible and realistic slave narrative for parents and teachers to use with children.
It’s disappointing enough that school curriculum mostly erases and/or white-washes black history; we don’t need more of that.
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