Roald Dahl Museum acknowledges author’s ‘undeniable’ racism’

Books by Roald Dahl
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The Roald Dahl Museum has said that it is working “towards combatting hate and prejudice.” It acknowledged that the renowned children’s writer’s racism was “undeniable and indelible”.

The admission by the museum, located in Buckinghamshire in southeast England, follows an apology in 2020 by the Dahl family and Roald Dahl Story Company for his well-documented anti-Semitic comments.

The museum has placed a panel at the entrance of its exhibition acknowledging the racism in Dahl’s work. It has also put up a similar message on its website.

Anti-semitism, colonialism and misogyny

Dahl, the creator of books such as ‘Matilda’, ‘The BFG’ and ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’  made offensive remarks about Jewish people in a 1983 interview with the New Statesman magazine.

Readers have also accused Dahl of misogyny and racism. For example, he depicts the Oompa-Loompas as workers that Willy Wonka has kidnapped “for their own good”. He goes on to say that these characters in ‘Charlie And The Chocolate Factory’ came from the:

deepest and darkest part of the African jungle where no white man had ever been before.

Puffin, Dahl’s publisher, hired ‘sensitivity readers’ this year to edit and sometimes rewrite offensive sections of Dahl’s work.

Read on...

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Museum ‘condemns all racism’

The Dahl museum, which is a charity, said it fully supported the 2020 apology. The museum said on its website that it:

condemns all racism, including antisemitism, directed at any group or individual.

Despite Dahl’s racism, the museum says it still sees his creative work as a potential force for good. They continued:

Roald Dahl’s racism is undeniable and indelible but what we hope can also endure is the potential of Dahl’s creative legacy to do some good.

The museum said it was:

committed to being more welcoming, inclusive, diverse, and equitable in all aspects of our work.

The museum said it had taken steps towards that, including:

reflecting the visible diversity of our audiences in our marketing, by running accessible and inclusive recruitment campaigns for staff or trustee positions.

It said it was working closely with several organisations within the Jewish community, including the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council.

The museum noted that it chooses not to repeat Dahl’s anti-Semitic statements publicly, but keeps a record of what he wrote in its collection, “so it is not forgotten”.

Dahl’s comments have long cast a shadow over his personal legacy, which has remained prominent as a number of his children’s classics have made it onto the screen and stage since his death aged 74.

Cultural problem

Reflecting on his life, the Dahl Museum said he was “a contradictory person” who could be kind. But:

there are also recorded incidents of him being very unkind and worse, including writing and saying antisemitic things about Jewish people

The fact that the museum has taken until now to acknowledge Roald Dahl’s racism is an example of how slow institutions often are to respond to obvious bigotry by celebrated cultural figures. The Royal Mint even considered Dahl as a prospective subject for a commemorative coin five years ago. Although, happily. he was eventually rejected.

Dahl is by no means the only commemorated UK cultural personality to be an out-and-out racist. Just take fellow children’s authors Enid Blyton and Rudyard Kipling for instance. The excruciating inertia in recognising the oppressiveness in these writer’s work is a testament to the deep-seated racism and colonialism embedded in UK society and culture.

Featured image via Solarisgirl/Wikimedia Commons, via CC 2.0, resized to 1910×1000 

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse 

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  • Show Comments
    1. If his work is rewritten then it ceases to be “his” work.

      It should be enough to state what he was, with a warning regarding the same, and allow people to make up their own minds as to what they think of the man and his books.

      It doesn’t change a thing by having “sensitivity” (?) people changing his scripts.

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