Actually, I’m not grumpy today! I sure was last week, but I’m in full on work mode this week. I got my trainer today, canned my tomatoes and am knee deep in Simianization: Apes, Gender, Class, and Race .
There’s such a long, ugly history behind the thoughts that want to correlate people of African descent with simians. My continued research has traced the beginnings of these thoughts to ancient Greeks and Arabs. Back then, the equation was more on religious terms but, they eventually became based more in scientific racism. It’s almost easy to see with so much illiteracy in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and with such limited human diversity in everyday situations that it would be easy for the everyday person to easily accept hearsay. But, what about the 20th and 21st centuries? Why are there still people who are so willing to accept conspiracy theories, false logic and ill-conceived notions? While many speak metaphorically about blacks as monkeys to reduce their humanity, there are those who believe this notion. There are still academic journals that publish current articles relating brain size to intelligence. The Bell Curve (1994) is still in print.
I postulate that contemporary children’s books are one of the tools that implicitly perpetuates the myth that equates people of African descent with monkeys. I’ve looked at several books that on initial glance imply that correlation. It’s obvious, isn’t it? But is it possible to prove this correlation? That’s the work I’m doing know while on sabbatical. There’s more work that needs to be done such as determining whether young children see the anthropomorphic simians as Blacks. We know children as young as 4-5 can see race and they’re not much older when they begin to express implicitly or explicitly learned stereotypes. But, when do images in children’s books begin to impress stereotypes upon them? When do children’s books perpetuation racism? I don’t think I can find an answer to that. I’d prefer to leave human subject research to experts in psychology who can set up a study that will be valid and reliable.
I’ll work on developing better tools for analyzing racism in anthropomorphic monkeys. Honestly, I can’t say I’ve seen any images that don’t kick me in the gut, that don’t make me feel misrepresented, that don’t make me feel true pain for all my little tomorrows sitting in classrooms and libraries facing these books. It is truly a must that educators, librarians and parents re-read every book they consider putting on a list or display in front of children and that everyone who tweets, FBs or IGs read every book on every list they share or know who has created that list and knows what their intent is. Curious George should not be on any lists!!! But, I digress.
Grumpy Monkey is one of the latest anthropomorphic monkey books on the market. It’s created by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang. Suzanne Lang, the book’s author, develops, writes and produces animated television shows for children. Max Lang, the illustrator, is an animation director, storyboard artist, character designer, and illustrator. They live inEngland. Their previous books were Families, Families, Families and Hooray for Kids. Their next book, Grumpy Monkey Party Time, is scheduled to release in October.
Unlike most anthropomorphic apes, the protagonist in Grumpy Monkey has a name: Jim Panzee. He’s a hickory brown chimpanzee who wears no clothes and lives in a tree. He’s messy, too. After he eats his bananas, he drops them about. Norman, his neighbor, is a cedar and umber colored gorilla. Jim is humanized through is ability to speak and through his emotions.
Norman is bothered by Jim’s grumpiness and tries to work him out of his mood but, Jim’s not having it. Initially, he doesn’t want to claim his grumpiness. Jim just knows that he doesn’t want to sing, swing, stomp or stroll. He doesn’t want to be bothered.
Have you ever felt grumpy and just wanted to be left alone, only to be plagued with that person who refuses to honor your request? That’s Jim and Norman. Jim yelled in frustration and then, felt sorry for having done so. Our chimpanzee has expressed grumpiness, anger and remorse. Norman, the gorilla hasn’t expressed any emotions. He was physically hurt by a porcupine but, no emotions.
We can’t determine Jim’s age, whether he’s an adult or a child. We may assume he’s younger than Norman because of his size, but the shadows on his face seem to deny his youth.
So often, young black men are assumed to be much older than they are. Certainly, this is just a picture book, but where do these implicit thoughts begin?
Black children are also perceived as unruly, angry and as a threat. Consequently, they are disciplined at a much greater rate. This little brown chimpanzee is not allowed to own his feeling, is told he mustn’t be ill-natured. Yet, there’s no lesson that Norman the gorilla should leave someone alone when they’re ill-humored; his tone policing is accepted.
Sadly, we do have to admit that across the globe, there are too many people who associate Blacks with simians. Looking at stereotypes attributed to Black Americans that are expressed through the anthropomorphic apes is one way to considered how children’s books perpetuate this notion. Dehumanization is a process that leaves one void of the ability to think, reason or express emotions. Norman expresses no emotions. Jim is bad-tempered. In schools, Blacks are much more likely to be judged as angry than Whites.
I don’t know that I can offer an alternative to this book, I’m not sure what the point of it is. I do know I’ve seen very interesting conversations on Twitter about how mindfulness is being weaponized in the classroom, how educators use it to control and contain students rather than to provide them with the help and support they need. Norman didn’t help Jim.
And, I continue looking at these ‘monkey’ books and their problematic representations. Regardless of the creator’s intent, there are social, cultural and political forces that shape the messages we find in books. Hundreds of years of equating blacks with simians cannot help but be seen in anthropomorphic pictures books.