HomeCampusSpeaking up works. Publisher to stop offering racist children's book

Speaking up works. Publisher to stop offering racist children’s book


Dr. E.J. Ramos David is no shrinking violet so when he saw a book denigrating his Filipino heritage, he immediately launched a Twitter campaign exposing the book’s harmful effects on his children.

The good news is that the publisher agreed with David, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska, Anchorage, and vowed to remove the book from his stock.

EJ Ramos David Via Twitter

The “Brown Skin, White Minds” author’s latest campaign began when he went to the Anchorage school to  pick up his kids — who are Filipino and Athabascan (Indigenous Alaskans).

“I picked them up from school just like everyday. We were driving home and then my 10-year old, my oldest son, from the back of the car, I heard him ask me if I ate balut. It seemed like out of nowhere … but I just said yes, I have. Then, a few minutes later, I heard him say, ‘What? They have maktak on here?'” David told The Arctic Sounder. “So, then I looked in my rear view mirror and I saw him reading a book.”

The book his son was reading was Capstone Publishing’s Take Your Pick of Disgusting Foods by G. G. Lake. It features descriptions of dishes from around the world.

David posted the book on Twitter: “My 7 yr-old came home with this book from his school library. It has 2 Filipino foods & 1 Alaska Native food. This book is explicitly telling my Filibascan kids that their cultures are ‘disgusting.’ It’s 2020, & the books in our schools are still teaching our kids to be racist.”

As most visitors to Southeast Asia or watchers of the TV show Survivor know, balut is boiled fertilized duck egg, most common in the Philippines.

Maktak (which appears in the book in question as “muktuk”) is whale skin and blubber and is a traditional food of Alaska’s indigenous people.

As social media does sometimes, David’s tweet went viral and was quickly shared not only with the parents of his childrens’ school but within less than a week, it caught the attention of the publisher.

Remarkably, the publisher agreed with David’s assessment tweeting that “We are mortified and ashamed.”

“It was actually a lot more than I expected,” said David to the Arctic Sounder. “I’m happy. Creating some kind of change is not always going to be this easy. Many times, there’s going to be a lot of resistance or a lot of denial, or even people arguing back and fighting back and doubling down on their bigotry. So, to get this quick and this easy and this powerful of a response was refreshing and I hope it happens more.”

“They were decisive about it. They did not make any excuses. They acknowledged there was something wrong that happened. And then they corrected it immediately,” continued David. 

Kudos to the publisher. If only more publishers were as quick to correct their mistakes. 

“We are mortified and ashamed,” wrote @CapstonePub, the publisher’s official account. “You are right to call this book out as racist and we are taking steps to remove it from active sale. We specialize in titles that attempt to reach reluctant readers; topics that are gross and disgusting are popular hooks. However, cultures and traditions never fit this description and the myopic view that produced this book is inexcusable. We will be reviewing our staff training and looking across our list to make sure we are not perpetuating the problem in other titles. We’re deeply sorry that bringing this to our attention was necessary, but thank you for doing so.”

The moral of the story: Don’t be afraid to speak up. If you see something racist. Report it as racist. You don’t have to be belligerent, but don’t hedge your words just to be overly polite. Racist is racist.

David, who has written extensively on internalized oppression and postcolonial psychology, concludes:

“I just hope that this serves as a lesson to always speak up,” he said. “Even when we think nothing might come of it, even when we might feel alone or even might feel afraid to speak up, we should still try to speak up because we never know who might be listening. We never know who might become our allies. We never know who might become our supporters. We never know. Things might actually change.”

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