When trying to prevent crime, it is definitely good to think of all possible variations of dangerous situations, especially where children are concerned. However, when a colouring book intended for children in nursery school and the lower grades of primary school features a figure whose face is prominently reminiscent of a representative of the Romani minority, and when such a figure plays only one role – evidently that of a dangerous pedophile – that really does call for some reflection.
Czech daily Lidové noviny (LN) reports that dark skin and curly black hair are synonymous with danger in “The Cop’s Colouring Book” (Poldový omalovánky), which is being distributed to children during crime prevention events. The character with Romani features is presented exclusively in a negative role in the colouring book.
The police, who are supposed to take action against stereotypes, primarily racial ones, are instead disseminating and supporting these dangerous prejudices. Lída, a resident of Prague, noticed that her daughter received a copy of the colouring book at her nursery school.
“When she told me she got it from a police officer, I was unpleasantly surprised,” the girl’s mother told LN. Children have been receiving the colouring books for several years, but activists and some human rights organizations are now harshly criticizing them.
“It is alarming that an institution whose preventative work is supposed to include fighting against prejudice and stereotypes is reinforcing them instead. To draw a guy harassing a child in such a way that he prominently resembles a Romani man, and to then target such edification at children during today’s tense times is terribly irresponsible,” said Jarmila Balážová of the ROMEA association.
Martin Šimáček, director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion, has also spoken out against the choice of such a one-sided context for a Roma character in the colouring book. Šimáček believes the book unnecessarily reinforces stereotypes about both Arab terrorism and Romani criminality.
“It doesn’t make the least bit of sense, it just teaches children to think with prejudices, reflexively,” the director told LN. However, Andrea Zoulová, currently the director of the Preventive Information Division of the Prague Police Directorate, whose people came up with the outreach project several years ago, has given an interesting defense of the colouring book.
“I see a multi-cultural environment in that image – after all, that man could be Cuban,” Zoulová explains. She also defends the nursery-school materials by saying another criminal in the colouring book is depicted with white skin.
The argument is poorly grounded. Adult white figures appear in the colouring book in essentially positive roles, while the lone representative of the Romani minority represents “the force of evil”.
Children are therefore being presented with a biased, incomplete, negative image of “those with dark skin.” However, LN reports that officer Jan Holub, the author and illustrator of the colouring book, doesn’t see anything wrong with it.
“The drawings reflect the actual situation on the streets. Perpetrators like this are the reality. If dark-skinned people never committed crime, I wouldn’t draw it that way,” he said.
On the basis of the negative response to the current design of the colouring book, Zoulová and her collective admit that after discussing the issue, they are now willing to redesign it. Some teachers have also objected that Holub should also portray a woman as a criminal too.
“It could be recommended to him that he feature a trio, white man – swarthy man – woman, in the role of police officers,” says Klára Kalibová of the legal organization In IUSTITIA. She also points out that the character of “Cop” (Polda) in the colouring book is white-skinned in all situations.
Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Minister Jiří Dienstbier (Czech Social Democratic Party – ČSSD) would also be in favor of changing the characters depicted. “Generally speaking, nothing undertaken by public officials should be based on racial (ethnic) stereotypes,” he said.
translated by Gwendolyn Albert