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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 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!
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
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!
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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