Is Captain Underpants spinoff 'racist'? Scholastic CANCELS book over Asian stereotypes and Kung-Fu master

The plot features the master being rescued by the story's non-Asian protagonists using their Kung Fu skills while invoking Chinese proverbs


                            Is Captain Underpants spinoff 'racist'? Scholastic CANCELS book over Asian stereotypes and Kung-Fu master
'The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future' by Dav Pilkey will no longer be in distribution (Scholastic, Getty Images)

Scholastic, the world's largest publisher of educational books for children, announced last week it would no longer distribute the 'Captain Underpants' spinoff. The publishing house claimed that it will no longer distribute 'The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen' from the Future as it ‘perpetuates passive racism’ against Asians.

This comes days after John Joyce, R-Pa, fought back against cancel culture, arguing that no one is "safe" from the "woke" movement, by introducing the Guarding Readers’ Independence and Choice (GRINCH) Act to safeguard children’s literature from being "canceled". 

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Critics charge that the book's storyline includes problematic illustrations of a "Kung-Fu master" wearing traditional Asian garb. The plot features the master being rescued by the story's non-Asian protagonists using their Kung Fu skills while invoking Chinese proverbs.

An online petition circulated by one Billy Kim, a Korean-American father of two, demanded that Scholastic apologize for publishing the book. He said it includes "multiple instances of racist imagery and stereotypical tropes, including a “Kung-Fu master” wearing what’s purported to be a traditional-style Tang coat, dashes for eyes for the Asian characters, stereotypical Chinese proverbs, and a storyline that has the Kung-Fu master rescued by the non-Asian protagonists using their Kung-Fu skills (despite the fact that they were taught said skills from the supposed master), reported the Daily Mail.

The Change.org petition, which was initially published on March 25, 2021, has claimed victory with 289 supporters. "This is flat out wrong, scholastic is a brand I’ve trusted and supported since my own childhood and to see this level of racism in a book meant for young children explains so much about why our society is the way it is," said one signee, Sue Lee. "I’ve always hated these awful stereotypes and have always felt wronged by them," says Rebekah Kao.

The move by the publisher to stop the distribution of the book, which comes amid a wave of anti-Asian American violence nationwide during the Covid-19 pandemic, has the ‘full support’ of the book’s author Dav Pilkey. The American cartoonist and illustrator is best known for his hit children’s novel series 'Captain Underpants', which in 2013 was considered ‘the most banned book in America’ as parents complained about its violent imagery.

Illustrations from the book (Change.org)

"About 10 years ago, I created a book about a group of friends who save the world using Kung Fu and the principles found in Chinese philosophy,’ Pilkey wrote in an apology he posted on YouTube. "‘The Adventures of Ook and Gluk: Kung-Fu Cavemen from the Future' was intended to showcase diversity, equality, and non-violent conflict resolution. But this week it was brought to my attention that this book also contains harmful racial stereotypes and passively racist imagery. I wanted to take this opportunity to publicly apologize for this. It was and is wrong and harmful to my Asian readers, friends, and family, and to all Asian people," he said.

The illustrator wrote that Scholastic has "stepped forward to share (his) responsibility" and "together (they) are ceasing all further publication" of the book. "I hope that you, my readers, will forgive me, and learn from my mistake that even unintentional and passive stereotypes and racism is harmful to everyone," Pilkey said in the post, adding that he apologizes and pledges "to do better".

No specific examples from the book found to be problematic were cited by Pilkey or Scholastic. The publisher said in a statement, "Together, we recognize that this book perpetuates passive racism. We are deeply sorry for this serious mistake. Scholastic has removed the book from our websites, stopped fulfillment of any orders (domestically or abroad), contacted our retail partners to explain why this book is no longer available, and sought a return of all inventory." "We will take steps to inform schools and libraries who may still have this title in circulation of our decision to withdraw it from publication," it added.

The canceling comes after the mass shooting that took place in Atlanta, Georgia on March 16. Six women of Asian descent were among eight people killed by a gunman at massage parlors in and around the area. The spate of such violence has brought the nation's attention to the issue of anti-Asian racism.

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