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The Wonder World Encyclopedia

Had an interesting time today at school talking about culture and prejudice. I mentioned my mother-in-law's old 'encyclopaedia' that describes people in the most pejorative language you could imagine... "ten little nigger boys sitting on the fence", the sturdy Dutch children, the quaint Austrians, "this Maori man is trying to look funny" (he wasn't, he was making a pukana, a scary face, during a haka) and there were even pictures of Aborigines in Australia labelled Blackfellows, and children in the Bahamas called niggers. It's quite an extraordinary piece of frightening historical prejudice against just about every race in the world visited by the ludicrous author(s). I told the girls it would be too upsetting for them to show them the actual book.

The author visited some Native Americans, "Notice the strange garments the Indians wear." He (for it most likely a he back then) writes that the white invaders were too strong for the Red Indians and how the Indians hated the Palefaces. He writes that the greatest enemy of the Chinaman is the battle of the dice, and discusses at length the skin of the Mongolians which "is rarely anything like a real yellow"!! He describes Buddhist monks in their "quaint robes and sandals." He says when you arrive in Bombay you'll notice that all the people have "brown skins and black hair and wear strange Eastern clothes." He does point out that "it is slightly inaccurate to call the people of Southern and Western Asia 'brown', most of them are really no browner than many South Europeans..." He says pygmies lining up for a dance look 'curious', and they will go through 'peculiar contortions' He also pointed out that they were not clever enough to grow corn.

The racial slurs and inaccuracies fill the book. It's funny if you can get off your high horse and see it for the era in which it was composed, and the attitude fo the dominating English people of that time. But it is also so very, very sad.

Comments

( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
moth2fic
Oct. 10th, 2007 08:53 am (UTC)
And of course it was part of a whole slew of books and articles that moulded an entire generation's mindset. I have something similar, along with a book that purports to be scientific in its measurement of skulls and apportionment of brains and the ability to be an upright citizen. We are still fighting the fallout of books like this and you are at the forefront of the battle.

*cheers you on*
natesmountain
Oct. 10th, 2007 09:31 am (UTC)
-*cheers you on*
heh, thank you. And you are one who has been fighting the battle for years and years! I do worry, that it will take several generations to get clear of those ideas, too. But I'm pleased to see my girls at school do try hard to get it more right than ever before.

Asher had a moment coming out of Hairspray, the movie, saying he'd never say another racist comment. He's only twelve but I hope he sticks to it.
moth2fic
Oct. 10th, 2007 09:33 am (UTC)
The more often kids recognise the issues and resolve to combat them, the more likely we are to effect change.

natesmountain
Oct. 10th, 2007 10:21 am (UTC)
You're right, which probably means it's good we have religious education because that's the forum where we do the most raising. That, English and History, with a bit of Geography etc on the side *g*

Today we played Dear Abbey (one of the girls' names!) and I read out case summaries from transcripts that I found on the Net where children had phoned your child help line in Britain. I'd read the outline aloud, then get the girls to decide on what would be a good course of action, then I'd read what actually happened. It was good to see the girls coming up with workable solutions for bullying, racism, religious bias, bad parenting and so on! And even though some of them have had pretty tough lives, their hearts went out to the children in the case studies every time!
vivh
Oct. 10th, 2007 03:55 pm (UTC)
It's really interesting how much in the past there was "our way" which was the right way and any other way was "wrong" or "primitive" or "strange"... I think that there is still an awful lot of that out there today, though it's not nearly as blatant.... I really notice it having moved between cultures...

On a lighter note, my favourite old books are the ones which predict what life will be like in the future (now) - some of them are so very funny - daily flights to the moon, robots doing all the housework!! etc
natesmountain
Oct. 10th, 2007 06:27 pm (UTC)
-in the past there was "our way" which was the right way and any other way was "wrong" or "primitive" or "strange"
Is that you the English or just us the white man?!! *g*

Steve's grandfather used to hold out ice cream tubs and say to Steve and his brother, aged five and six, in a rich Irish accent, 'And who do you hate the most?' and they'd have to say, 'The English, Grandad.'

And I can see that Steve still carries on that feeling in some ways, even though he knows it is irrational on so many levels.

-On a lighter note, my favourite old books are the ones which predict what life will be like in the future (now) - some of them are so very funny - daily flights to the moon, robots doing all the housework!! etc
Ooh, I'll have to go check that out!
vivh
Oct. 10th, 2007 09:58 pm (UTC)
Is that you the English or just us the white man?!! *g*
I don't think this phenomenon is limited to the English, or even to white men... I think most cultures think that they have it "right". I don't often refer to Disney for my moral judgements but there is a very telling scene in Pocahontas where the English are in their camp and the American Indians are in theirs, and bot
vivh
Oct. 10th, 2007 10:05 pm (UTC)
Sorry that last comment posted before I'd finished...so I'll continue...
...both sides sing the words "Savages, savages, scarcely even human," decrying each others customs and behaviour... I think that is so often how people feel when they encounter customs and traditions different to their own!
natesmountain
Oct. 11th, 2007 08:35 am (UTC)
Yeah, I guess you get prejudices and superiority on every side, for many different reasons. Humans are no different anywhere!!! And that's the best lesson of all, if everyone could just realise that, I guess.
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