I am editing a book meant for west African school-going audiences. Amongst many other slightly-sermonising pieces, it has a parable about honesty, featuring the Aesopian woodcutter who drops his iron axe into a river, and is tested by the goddess of the river, who tempts him with a gold and silver axe instead of his own.
Our author – subject-matter experts, they’re called – has recast the goddess as a fairy. A “beautiful” fairy, because she has golden hair and blue eyes. Mind you, this for a west African impressionable audience, by an Indian person – two countries with histories of white supremacist assault, and two cultures still plagued by the post-colonial disease of hating their own dark skin.
I thought about the troubles of overriding authorship for a while, then I quietly deleted the description, changed “fairy” to “the spirit of the river”, and put in “curly black hair” and “kind eyes” in place of golden and blue. Third world children are swamped enough with blonde hair, coloured eyes and photoshopped white ideals of beauty. For fewer instances of bleached skin and self-hatred, they should perhaps trip across comforting little details like this, showing them that magically wonderful creatures can look like them, too.
Besides, there is no comparison between “kind eyes” and “pretty eyes”. The younger we teach children to notice people’s positive attributes rather than their looks, the better it will be for them, and for us.