We’re reading Little House on the Prairie for morning meeting. I haven’t read this since I was probably in first grade myself. I have better memories of the TV series that largely took place in Walnut Grove, a sweet little town that made me want to go to school in an old fashioned, one room school house and wear my hair in braids. That’s my memory of Laura Ingalls Wilder. I don’t remember anything racist. But then again, I didn’t grow up in a time where racism was something I thought about.
Yesterday, I skipped some paragraphs due to the graphic and racist nature of something a character was saying. I was stunned to see one of Ma’s neighbour friends saying brutal things about the Native Americans. Yes, what she was saying was a product of their time, but it was horrifying. My girls don’t need to know the racist and simple attitude some people had (…. have). It wasn’t important to the story and I just moved along.
Today was different. I read about Laura asking Pa why “all the Indians had to go out west.” His answer was that the government was sending them so that the white men could settle. He would accept no other questions and his answer finalised the idea that the white men deserved this land and the Native Americans would just have to leave. It was the last half of the chapter and it made me feel sad to read it. But I felt like it was important for the girls to know.
“That’s not fair,” Ella said very sadly after I finished reading. She’s my logical girl. She doesn’t get emotional very often and when she cries it’s because she’s either in pain or scared. Except for at that moment, when she looked close to tears. “They’re taking people away from their homes.”
“It’s true. There are parts of history that are really ugly and the way the Native Americans were treated by the colonists and then the settles is one of them.”
“It’s not right. And Pa was a good man, but he was taking away somebody else’s home.”
“You’re right. Sometimes good men do bad things.”
She sat there in silence, working her mouth and trying not to cry. “This is a hard part.”
That it is, my little one. And this right here is why I don’t shy away from more controversial literature. It requires some thinking. It is hard to work through the fact that good men do bad things. It’s hard to think about how our heroes did racist things. Can we admire somebody who owned a slave? Can we admire a family that helped remove others from their land? Can we celebrate an adulterous King David?
I want to raise thinkers. Cancel culture has removed our ability to think, but so did the whitewashed culture I grew up in. I never thought about how the Ingalls took Native American land. I just saw a happy and scrappy family, making it in the wilderness. But there’s more to the story! When we isolate ourselves and only look at the story from one perspective, we miss half of what’s going on. Yes, the Ingalls were a strong family. And yes, they displaced others. It can be both. And my kids are chewing through this.
There’s so much that I want for my girls. I want them to grow up to respect other cultures and peoples. I want them to love despite and because of differences. I want them to hate injustice and to love mercy.
When asked later why she thought Pa was wrong, Ella answered that we shouldn’t hurt people because God made us all. And there it is. The Imago Dei. Even a child understands that racism is wrong because we are all made in the image and likeness of God. Perhaps, if we all remembered this instead of cancelling each other or screaming at other political parties, we would live with a little more peace.