I Don’t Want to Blow You Up

Ricardo Cortes and F. Bowman Hastie, the authors of children’s coloring book, I Don’t Want to Blow You Up, were sitting on a pier along the Hudson River last summer, with their buddy Naeem, when they came up with the idea for their recently published children’s book which has been receiving a fair amount of attention (good and bad). blow.jpg

WHAT? A coloring book for kids and adults. [preview the book]

WHO? In an age of yellow, orange, and red terror alerts, the book draws attention to the myriad people of different colors and cultures who are living peaceful and meaningful lives. It’s narrated by Naeem, a political artist. (“Hello, my name is Naeem. I was born in London. I grew up in Pakistan, Libya, and Bangladesh. Now I live in Brooklyn, New York. I blow up tires on my bicycle, but I don’t want to blow you up. Now let’s go meet some people …)

WHY? To counter the terrifying messages transmitted in the name of the “War on Terror.”

WHEN? In a post 9/11 society. In the words of the authors, “We really just wanted to so SOMETHING to try to temper the terror hysteria that has gripped this country, and especially New York, since 9/11. We also wanted to address the epidemic of identity profiling that affects not just Muslims and Arabs, but an entire suspect community that has developed based on people’s appearance, name, country of origin, or faith.”

WHERE? At the airport, on the subway, in a shopping mall, on the school playground, in New York City, in the United States of America, in the world.

HOW? There are children in the U.S. and other western countries who are taunted as “terrorists” and “osama bin ladin” simply because they look Middle Eastern or have an Arabic name. It is the authors’ hope that kids might feel empowered when reading the stories of other inspiring and impressive people like themselves. At the same time, the children out there who have been enlisted into perpetuating the terror myth might gain some new perspective by seeing some of their heroes in a different light, or by discovering new heroes in unexpected places.

I just finished writing a reading guide for parents and educators for this book [available for free online here], which the authors envision “as a tool for addressing a difficult and sensitive topic of discussion with kids who have already indicated some degree of concern or fear themselves, or who have had the experience of being the “suspect.”

That’s something all to familiar to many of us, I’d venture to guess. For as long as I could remember, throughout my childhood, my father had a beard. Then one day, around 1990, I woke up and came down for breakfast, and there was Papa, eating his cereal, completely clean-shaven, not a trace of hair on his face, for the first time in my life. “Oh no, Papa, why did you do it?!” I exclaimed. “You don’t look like yourself anymore.” My dad smiled in resignation. A frequent flyer and business traveler to London at a time when a fatwa was still being held over the head of Salman Rushdie, he was frequently stopped by complete strangers who commented on their “uncanny resemblance” or mistook him for Rushdie. Once, on a London street, he was even stopped by a gushing woman. “Oh, Mr. Rushdie, I’m so happy to meet you. Don’t worry, I won’t say a thing to anyone!” she exclaimed, and took off before he could even get a word in edgewise. On a certain level, I think my dad was sometimes afraid that his resemblance to Rushdie would make him the target of violence. At the same time, as a relatively new immigrant in the United States in the 1980s, the vilification of the Middle East was already on the upswing, especially following the Panam 103 terrorist attack.

I was always proud of the fact that my dad looked like Salman Rushdie – though personally, I did think he was more handsome!—but looking back, I can see why and how this was disconcerting to him. In a way, his situation was not that different from the many South Asian men who, after 9/11, have wondered whether they should shave their facial hair to avoid any resemblance to the pictured terrorists. (My father ended up switching to a goatee to appease all of us, but because he passed away in 2001, so I will never know how he would have reacted to the post 9/11 hysteria.)

Personally, I can see this book being used as a tool for promoting tolerance and discussing post 9/11 reactions to terrorism, both by children and adults.

24 thoughts on “I Don’t Want to Blow You Up

  1. Thank you for posting this.

    The title is certaibly ‘eye catching’ but gets to the point.

    However I also hope this helps to promote tolerance and understanding in this heyertical post 9/11 environment.

  2. This is AWESOME!

    My school doesn’t believe in coloring books, but I am going to get one anyway. At least I can use it to talk about the issues with my kids. YAY!

  3. Personally, I can see this book being used as a tool for promoting tolerance and discussing post 9/11 reactions to terrorism, both by children and adults.

    Are you kidding me. It is still equating islam with terrorism by simply being the ploy of the book. The authors will be on the death list now. Oh well

  4. I like the overall concept, although I’m not quite sold on the tagline “he doesn’t want to blow you up!”

    Part of it has to do with the first page; the whole “Are you ever afraid that someone is going to blow you up?” thing. Because if I was a kid, and I got this book, and I wasn’t afraid that someone was going to blow me up, I sure would be after reading that page.

  5. On a certain level, I think my dad was sometimes afraid that his resemblance to Rushdie would make him the target of violence.

    This doesn’t make any sense. Wouldn’t he have been a target of muslim violence given that a fatwa is a muslim declaration? How does that relate to american attitudes towards muslims and middle easterners?

  6. “My name is Sanchez and I work at Home Depot. But I’m the manager. I don’t stand outside waiting for you to pay me $20 to lift your TV up the stairs.”

    “My name is Ramesh and use my computer to source DVDs, not to outsource your daddy’s job.”

    Does drawing a child’s attention to the stereotype promote tolerant thinking? Maybe I’m being thick here, but something about this book makes me very uncomfortable. It works brilliantly as a satirical book for adults though.

  7. This book looks comical but I am unsure if it was intended to be a parody. The authors who wrote this book also put out a book called “It’s Just a Plant” (about marijuana.)

    I don’t think this book will make much of a difference in stopping hatred against Middle Easterners, Muslims, etc, even though it looks like the authors have good intentions. If someone is brainwashing their kids against Muslims and other foreigners, then a coloring book won’t have too much good influence. Most likely, the close minded people who need this book the most probably won’t buy it.

  8. The idea of introducing children to concepts of multiculturalism is fine, I just wonder if maybe some of the specifics of this book aren’t going to go over their heads. For example, depending on circumstances, parents may not want to/ have to breech the topic of death with their child very early on. Having to explain what “blow you up” in this context means could be problematic as it opens a whole new can of worms (why would this person want to blow me up?), and at the young age to which this book seems geared I really question how many of the children who have become “enlisted in perpetuating the terror myths” understand even the least about what they’re saying (regarding again the concept of “blowing someone up”).

    As for the Rushdie similarities, I think Sandhya was suggesting that an Islamist somewhere might target her father (or rather that’s what he thought), correct me if I’m wrong.

  9. As for the Rushdie similarities, I think Sandhya was suggesting that an Islamist somewhere might target her father (or rather that’s what he thought), correct me if I’m wrong.

    Yup, kyrial. You understood correctly. That’s what he thought. rational or not.

    This book looks comical but I am unsure if it was intended to be a parody. The authors who wrote this book also put out a book called “It’s Just a Plant” (about marijuana.)

    GM: No, the book wasn’t intended to be a parody. Nor is it intended to equate terrorism with Islam — several of the individuals featured in the book are not even Muslim — however, it is a book that is meant to be a mediated experience — used in groups, workshops, or classrooms to address issues such as racial profiling, cultural xenophobia, and the whole media-based stereotypes of terrorism. The authors and my hope in creating this teaching guide is that the book can be used to begin a conversation about the ways in which the types of stereotyping and ethnic, racial, or religious profiling and harassment discussed here be remedied? What can we do as individuals and as communities?

    The authors on what this book is not:

    “This is not a book that is meant to be handed off to a child along with a box of coloring pencils or crayons. Think of it as a tool for addressing a difficult and sensitive topic of discussion with kids who have already indicated some degree of concern or fear themselves, or who have had the experience of being the ‘suspect.’”

    One of the most effective things I found while writing the teaching guide for the book was this poster by Cynthia Duxbury, which looks at the negative power of stereotypes and shows us how physical appearances, names, and even clothing styles can be judged. Do check it out if you can.

  10. To me it sounds like a satirical book suited for adults, then a coloring book for children.

    I am not sure if anyone has mentioned earlier but there NY Times did an article on it.

  11. 6 · Minkey Chief said

    Does drawing a child’s attention to the stereotype promote tolerant thinking? Maybe I’m being thick here, but something about this book makes me very uncomfortable. It works brilliantly as a satirical book for adults though.

    agreed. Most children are open-minded enough to not hold stereotypes unless their attention is drawn to them or they are taught them (by parents and the like). In the latter case, I bet no one’s going to be buying them these books.

    And an example of the former: Growing up in Kansas, I was one of the few colored kids in my school. No one noticed that I was “different” until we learned about the civil rights movement. I don’t recall how exactly they taught it, but it couldn’t have been good because suddenly no one wanted to be “black.” And the children started taunting me on the playground for being the only black kid in their class.

  12. Most children are open-minded enough to not hold stereotypes unless their attention is drawn to them or they are taught them (by parents and the like).

    I would probably disagree with that, based on my experience. Children are very good at picking up what’s around them, without it being explicitly taught.

  13. I’m quite shocked…. What was the need for such a disturbing title and the repeated references to being blown up on every page, on a book aimed at children? They could have gone for a title like ‘Meet your neighbors’ or something that would have accomplished whatever they wanted to accomplish without equating those people on the cover to people that might blow you up. And no, adding a ‘Don’t’ in the title far from hides the association.

    Why stop with this book… let’s have a series of books, featuring african-americans, latinos, jews, desis and let’s have titles with the worst stereotypes associated with them with a convenient negation like ‘Not’ or ‘Don’t’ before them, repeated on every page. I agree with #6, this book can make good satire, but I hope it stays as far away from our kids as possible.

  14. P.S. There’s a broken link .. the second link in the article (…fair amount of attention good and bad) points to an NYT gif image, which seems to def be a mistake.

  15. agreed. Most children are open-minded enough to not hold stereotypes unless their attention is drawn to them or they are taught them (by parents and the like). In the latter case, I bet no one’s going to be buying them these books.

    Totally disagree. Kids are like sponges — they absorb what’s around them unless someone is intervening in some way. The de facto in the U.S. is rarely a tolerant, stereotype-free society.

  16. I agree with #6, this book can make good satire, but I hope it stays as far away from our kids as possible.

    the same could be said about Fox News/CNN

  17. The de facto in the U.S. is rarely a tolerant, stereotype-free society.

    name one society that is? The US is no more or no less tolerant that other societies. The target of intolerance is rather close to one’s heart and hence the angst. Otherwise it is pretty much standard behaviour around the world.

  18. but it seems the racial divides and emphasis on race is more obvious in the US

  19. The de facto in the U.S. is rarely a tolerant, stereotype-free society. name one society that is?

    France & Cuba. Johnny Depp and Sean Penn are never wrong

  20. This is completely insane. I wonder at the mentality that even devised this. Imagine walking up to a child with a bandana over your face and saying, “Hi! I don’t want to blow you up.” If it were my kid and I were standing there, we’d be gone…away from you…quickly. I’d call the cops. If my husband were there as well he’d stay behind to be sure you didn’t follow. Probably by rendering you unconscious. For goodness sake! Forget Muslim, terrorists, racism and all that stuff and look at this objectively for half a second! How will a child respond to this?! What are you thinking?