Saddened by racist children's book published by Marshall Cavendish Education

By Umm Yusof

On Racial Harmony Day, ironically, I borrowed an astoundingly racist local book from the National Library Board, Singapore. The villain (毛毛... meaning HAIRY) is described in explicitly racialised terms, and in contrast to all the other characters who were depicted as fair-skinned.

Quote: "Mao Mao is the school bully, everyone is afraid of him. Mao Mao is dark-skinned with a head of oily curls. Mao Mao does not respect anyone, not even the teachers."

It goes on to describe how Mao Mao bullies the protagonist Pi Pi - making him do his homework, use his own money to buy Mao Mao his favourite food, etc. And after Mao Mao gives Pi Pi a bloody nose, the latter walks home lamenting Mao Mao's "smelliness".

This book doesn't use the common redemptive tropes of the bully just being misunderstood, or the protagonist turning him into a friend. Big Bad Black Boy is aggressive from start to end, spurring Pi Pi to learn martial arts (a la "Karate Kid"). The book ends with both boys fighting in the canteen and getting hauled to the principal's office.

This author basically channeled the old-school Chinese parent threat of "Behave or the Ah Neh will get you", with a dash of the "Oily Man" and "smelly Indian" bogeys thrown in.

What on earth possessed Marshall Cavendish Education to publish a book in which the sole dark-skinned character is irredeemably nasty - especially when his appearance is irrelevant to the plot?

Sadly, this book is going back to the library with a note requesting the NLB to take it off the shelves.

Title: "谁赢了?" (Who Wins?)

Author: 吴星华 (Wu Xing Hua)

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Education (2018)

Printed in Singapore

This first appeared as a post on the Facebook wall of Umm Yusof on 17 July 2020. Do join in the discussion over there if you have thoughts to share.


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