If you haven’t heard yet, the American Library Association voted unanimously to strip Laura Ingalls Wilder’s name from an award given to children’s books. I’m guessing it was like the Mark Twain Award or the Trueman Award that we have here in Missouri, or perhaps the Newbery Medal Award. The name was stripped because of how she portrayed Native Americans and African-Americans. It would seem that she dared describe them as they were described at the time of her upbringing. She dared to write about the clothes they wore, the way they lived, and how people (including her own father and mother) reacted toward them. She described a form of entertainment back then that is not a form of entertainment today, and hasn’t been for a long time: blackface.
I don’t know if Laura Ingalls Wilder believed those things herself as a child or as an adult. I’ve never read anything about her, and I’ve never read her books. I get that people don’t want to name awards after people who have done bad things. But is describing or writing about how life was out on the prairie a bad thing? Is telling the truth or portraying events truthfully (even if works of historical fiction) a bad thing? If so, we have a big problem. The Bible portrays the truth even when the truth is ugly. There’s Job who family died in a wind-storm, whose cattle was stolen by marauders, who suffered painful sores, and whose wife pretty much gave up on him. It portrays the gang-raping of a woman in Judges. It tells of David’s adultery and murder. It tells of Jewish leaders with murderous vengeance against the Son of God. And so much more. There’s not a whole lot of sugar-coating in Scripture. Then again, the Bible has also gone out of fashion in our culture.
Yet even non-Christians make use of the bad events in Scripture. No one wants to be a Judas. Everyone wants the patience or faith of Job in troubled times. We learn from the past, even from the past we don’t like, especially form the past we don’t like! George Santayana coined the phrase, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” What is most likely worse than not remembering the past is purposefully forgetting the past. I am not saying that we have to celebrate the past, but let us not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
If Laura Ingalls Wilder can no longer have an award named after her because she wrote truthfully about her past, then we are teaching ourselves and our children to lie about our past lest we be punished for how we or those around us saw this world, even if later we have changed our views. So let us be very careful that we don’t lose our future because we lost track of our past. Let us make the most of our past sins, mistakes, and shameful moments to learn from them and grow because of them. Then let us be honest with our children, so that they are not condemned to repeat our moments.