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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.


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*
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.
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.

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!



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