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The Carletonian

Racist coloring book found in campus Barnes & Noble

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Any time one enters a bookstore, one must do so with a critical eye. Recently, Carleton students have noticed a coloring book on the lower-level of the Bookstore that stands out because of its title, designs, and descriptions, which many students feel are culturally insensitive and politically incorrect.

Magic of the Far East: Beautiful Designs of the Orient to Color is a coloring book in a series sold in Carleton’s bookstore from the publishing company Barron’s.

The use of the terms “orient” and “Far East” in the book’s description struck Sonia Lee, sophomore and board member of Carleton’s student group ASIA (Asian Students in America), as antiquated and unnecessary.

“It’s like, are you from the thirteenth century? Like Columbus? You’ve never been to other countries before and you think it’s very exotic or something? This book conveys the feeling that Asian countries are still not modernized and that they are so ‘exotic’, that their patterns are unique and different from our ‘modern world,’” she said.

To Lee, “Orientalism means exoticizing all the Asian cultures and mixing them all together. They don’t make the distinction between [designs from] Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, and India. It’s just not right. They think it’s beautiful, not because they know exactly what it means, but because it’s very ‘exotic’ and orientalist.”

Members of ASIA feel that there is a stark contrast between cultural appreciation and cultural idolization. Cultural appreciation can help facilitate exchange and learning between cultures. But as member Hazel Que ’19 says, with this coloring book, there is “not much learning happening.”

“We were so surprised, that even at Carleton where we promote cultural awareness and cultural exchange, that this book is still here,” said ASIA Board member Avery Cheng ’18.

ASIA member Edylwise Romero ‘19 feels that sometimes cultural problems experienced by Asian Americans and Asians in America are not heard by the wider community. “The hardships we experience here are invisible to everyone else. Our needs are not loud enough, I guess,” she said.

According to Lee, “the ASIA board recognizes that [issues regarding] Asians are not always as perceived or brought up as much as other cultural groups. Our history [in America] has been shorter. It’s not always brought up on the surface, but it’s still there. We just want to raise awareness.”

Members of ASIA and the student body as a whole question how this book came to be a part of Carleton’s Bookstore inventory.

Student Bookstore employee Kha Huynh ’19 also wondered “why is [this book] called oriental? If anyone has a problem [with the book], something could be done.”

“If the book is seen as offensive, that would just be Barnes and Noble not being socially aware and also not being attuned to what Carleton students would buy,” said a student bookstore employee who wished to remain anonymous.

Whitney Baumgard, the Bookstore’s manager, wants students to know that she is open to their concerns.

“We are partners with Carleton. If any titles in the Bookstore are offensive or seem inappropriate to any students, I urge them to come into the Bookstore and talk to me about it.”

In explaining why Eastern Magic is in our bookstore, Baumgard notes that it “is a part of the ‘Color Your World Calm’ coloring book series from Barron’s. Detailed coloring books have recently become extremely popular on college campuses across the nation. Being these types of books are so popular among college students, these coloring books were selected by our Home Office to be sold in our store.”

At the time of publication, ASIA did not have a clear decision on what method, if any, of action they would take to raise up this book to the Carleton community as a whole. Lee felt that “it’d be nice if the community knows what is wrong with this book.”

“Carleton is a very liberal school, and we are very good at raising up [cultural] issues, but I know there are a lot of people who still think Carleton students are very hyper-sensitive. Sometimes I am still afraid to raise those issues. I know I have to, I know it’s wrong, but [I think to myself], ‘Can I? Is it possible? Or will it just be me who is reacting like this?’”

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