A 9-year-old German girl wrote an impassioned letter to Die Zeit, a German newspaper, over a column defending racist language in old children's books.
The columnist had written: "What do you call it when a book publisher announces that it plans to neutralize any terms in its books ‘that could be felt as hurtful’ by readers—if that’s not censorship, what is?” The piece was in part a response to German Family Minister Kristina Schroder, who said that when she reads old stories to her daughter, she edits out offensive words.
After reading the column, the girl, Ishema Kane, penned a hand-written letter to Die Zeit. She wrote it in German, but here is a translation provided by the blog Stop! Talking:
You’re in luck that I'm at least writing this letter to you in my best handwriting because I am very angry at you. Why should it not be prohibited to write 'Neger' in children's books? One has to be able to put oneself in somebody else’s shoes. Because my father is Senegalese, and he is a very dark shade of brown; I am café-au-lait brown. Just imagine if you were Afro-German and lived in Germany. You're a newspaper reader and unsuspectingly buy the ZEIT of January 17th 2013. Suddenly, you note the article 'The Little Witch Hunt.' This is when you read that the word 'Neger' is supposed to be deleted from children's books, and that this would allegedly spoil the children's books. I find it totally shit that this word would remain in children’s books if it were up to you. You cannot imagine how I feel when I have to read or hear that word. It is simply very, very terrible. My father is not a 'Neger' [lightning bolt sign] nor am I. This is also true for all other Africans. Right. That was my opinion. This word should be deleted from children's books.
Ishema Kane, 9 1/2 years old
P.S.: You're welcome to send me a response.
Die Zeit did write a response thanking Ishema for her letter and noting that it had received many comments about the column. Editor Ijoma Mangold also mentioned that the date of the book's publication should be taken into account as acceptable language changes with the years.
The full response as translated by Worldcrunch:
Thank you very much for your letter. Our paper will of course get back to you and probably also publish your letter. But I didn’t want to let the opportunity pass to answer you directly because an article I just published in Die Zeit shared, it seems to me, something of your opinion. Not exactly the same opinion, but a similar one—so you see that the paper has looked at the issue from various positions.
You write that your skin is the color of coffee with milk in it. So is mine, so I know what it feels like when somebody uses the n-word. […] But I also think it makes a difference if the word ‘negro’ is used in an old book or not. ... Many other readers also reacted to the article you wrote in about, and having read the many starkly contrasting views I want to give this issue a lot more thought. I now also feel that I can understand the point of view you expressed in your letter a lot better.”
A recent poll conducted in Germany found that when it comes to removing offensive and racist words in children's books, people were largely split. Around half the respondents were in favor the changes, while 48 percent were against them.