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Captain Underpants author withdraws book over harmful racism

by | Apr 11, 2021 | News

Publisher Scholastic says it will no longer distribute The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future

Captain Underpants author Dav Pilkey has apologised for “harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery” in one of his graphic novels for children, which has been withdrawn by his publisher amid a surge in anti-Asian violence in the US.

“I hope you, my readers, will forgive me and learn from my mistakes that even unintentional and passive stereotypes and racism is harmful to everyone,” said Pilkey, 55, in a statement on YouTube on March 26.

Pilkey said he would donate the advance and royalties he received for the book to charities that provide books to children in underserved communities, promote diversity in children’s books, and fight anti-Asian prejudice.

The decision came days after a man shot and killed eight people at three massage businesses in and near Atlanta, including six Asian women. Stop AAPI Hate, a group formed to document the abuse towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic said in February that it had received reports of almost 3,800 incidents in less than a year. Community leaders and several Democrat politicians have blamed former president Donald Trump, and his history of racist rhetoric towards Chinese people and the coronavirus, for the increase in violence. Last week, the Anti-Defamation League found that Asian Americans had experienced the largest single rise in severe online abuse year-on-year in 2020.

The graphic novel about a group of friends who save the world using kung fu actually was “intended to showcase diversity, equality and non-violent conflict resolution” but it ultimately backfired, he said, “It was and is wrong and harmful to my Asian readers, friends, and family, and to all Asian people.”

The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, first published in 2010, follows two cavemen who travel to the year 2222 and meet Master Wong, a martial arts instructor. Last month, publisher Scholastic announced that it would stop distributing the book and remove all mention of it from its website, saying it had “the full support” of Pilkey.

The announcement was made soon after Billy Kim, a Korean-American father of two started a Change.org petition demanding an apology from Scholastic, citing stereotypes and Pilkey’s depiction of Wong in his illustrations. After the announcement, Kim wrote that he had spoken to a senior executive at Scholastic, then Pilkey, who apologised to him and his seven-year-old son.

While he was glad the book was withdrawn, Kim wrote, “the damage has been done”.

“Every child who has read this book has been conditioned to accept this racist imagery as ‘OK’ or even funny,” he wrote. “It is this type of passive racism that has contributed to the continued hate and prejudice experienced by Asian Americans on a daily basis.”

Pilkey is not the only author to withdraw their own work. On 2 March, the estate of children’s author Dr. Seuss announced that it would no longer allow the publication of six of his books, owing to depictions of race and ethnicities that were “hurtful and wrong”.

The book, titled The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future, was first published in 2010.

The Captain Underpants series includes 12 novels and numerous spin-offs. They are hugely popular with young readers, with more than 80 million copies sold around the world, but are often among the American Library Association’s most complained-about books because of their violent imagery.

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