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National Panda Day
National Panda Day
When is it?
- Annually on March 16th
Pandas are freaking adorable beyond earthy reason and also they are perfect in every way (so long as you’re not the person in charge of cleaning up after them – or convincing them to bang for the survival of the species.) We moral beings do not deserve the goodness of pandas. Unworthy!
Naturally, creatures this adorable and perfect are perfect fodder for kids books. The problem is that many of these books are adorably racist. Authors and illustrators (and many Asian makers even!) veil orientalism and Asian stereotypes with racially-coded panda characters. I call this panda-coding. And it is problematic. Adorable, but harmful. Adorably problematic. Pandafully Prandlamatic.
Even some of the books we love – Zen Socks, That’s Not How You Do It – rely on lazy racial coding to profit off the ‘Magic Asian,‘ the ‘Perpetual Foreigner,‘ or even so-called ‘positive stereotypes‘ that Asians are harmless dopey sidekicks – all to reinforce soft stigma of East Asians as the other. Western, European behavior & characters are the Normal Every-man Protagonist, be they humans or just more globally common animals like cats.
Even Asian American authors pull this nonsense. Look at Chee-Kee, a reductive pan-Asian mishmash, xenophobia-apologizing narrative reinforcing the model minority & melting-pot myths. Don’t even get me started on the bizarre panda-coded San Franciscan Magic Chopstick Asian nonsense of Hats off to Mr. Pockles! What is this white nonsense.
This isn’t to say you can’t acknowledge that Pandas are a significant, celebratory part of Chinese culture (Goldy Luck does this well – see, Asians can be human characters, too!) It’s only when we start objectifying and dehumanizing Asian folks as animals for the white gaze where this gets awkward.
So we love pandas. We love books about pandas. And we even love some problematic books about Asian people that code us as pandas but are the literary equivalent to saying “I think you and your culture are so fascinating, it’s a compliment!” in a creepy, objectifying, stereotypey Jon J, Muth-kinda way (please stop saying things like this!)
Once you start noticing how folks love making stories about us, in panda-face, it starts getting weird and kind of ruins it for everybody. So with that, here’s a list of our favorite books featuring pandas that aren’t just excuses to promote Asian stereotypes in panda-face.
Panda Stories That DO NOT Panda-Code Asians as Perpetual Foreigners (Isn’t it just pathetic that this has to be a curated list? And that it’s such a short list?)
Moving onto animal rights & deforestation:
If the kids are getting upset about environmental colonization and the lack of pandas in the world (as they should be), let’s redirect all that despair over endangered animals into productive action!
[Video: A video of me trying to clean up my kids toys and laundry every day. Except in this video, my kids are pandas and I am their nanny keeper. Panda Cubs Vs. Panda Nanny Showdown Cleanup Battle. It makes me feel seen.]
From here, my kids usually choose to watch more educational videos about animal endangerment and habitat loss – like this one.