Ranty Tuesday: more racism

Remember the 1950s social studies text and its blatant racism?

Well, the author doesn’t confine racist descriptions to First Nation peoples. It must be reassuring to be so certain your way is the right way, the only way. But how unsteady must the ground feel, when the world changes, when orthodoxy is questioned, when values are shown to be hypocritical and views proven to be views, not facts.

The section sweetly titled “Peeps at Peoples of Other Lands” covers quite a diverse range of countries far from Australia. But the attention on the differences seems not to highlight our common humanity. Rather, it’s like a freak show of oddities and amusing tidbits.

  • The Lapps and their Reindeer
  • The Eskimos and their Igloos
  • The Dutch and their Windmills
  • The Arabs and their Date Groves
  • The Malays and their Kampongs
  • The Javanese and their Tea Plantations
  • The Chinese and their Sampans

Some of the descriptions are positive, but while understandable given the one page brevity, vastly generalised. So, it is nice to know the Javanese are fond of music and plays and they work for very long hours picking tea. The author’s advice “when you hear mother telling father that the price of tea has risen again, [it] may be due to some increase in the wages of the poorly-paid pickers and poorly-paid packers” may be to induce some sympathy for the hard working but poor Javanese. To me it reads like blame ‘cause the reality is the price rise is probably to give more profit to the company shareholders.

But the Gold Logie to Racism in this section, the following description of Chinese people:

These cheerful, yellow-skinned people with their straight black hair, slanting eyes and flat noses differ from us in many ways.

So they differ not just with their slanting eyes and yellow skin? But with even more ways?

Ah yes, the author tells us they put their family name first and their “Christian” names last. (Christian! Did you just spurt your mouthful of tea over the device on which you’re reading this? Yes, the author calls the given name, the Christian name.)

The author goes on to say, they “lift their food to their mouths” with chop-sticks. I don’t know, but that just strikes me as strange. They don’t eat? They lift food.

All in all, not as bad as the resoundingly negative picture given of the First Nation peoples. It’d be another decade until Aboriginal peoples were considered citizens in Australia, their own land. Still, there’s no question, all these “odd little peoples” from around the world are amusing and oh! aren’t we lucky we live. in Australia are linked to Britain! [Lets be clear. This isn’t my view but the clear message from the textbook.]

I haven’t kept this book – threw it in the recycling bin.

I wasn’t surprised by the racism of a much earlier text I just read – Captain Cook’s journals. But the violence inflicted was breathtaking.

I know we should judge the past by our own standards but when that past is not so long ago and when the actions contradict with those own espoused values, it’s quite easy to judge. And be shocked.

The whole bravery of travelling in a small boat into the relative unknown is amazing and brave, but the violence is quite distressing. And obviously the precursor to the 1950s text book.

6 thoughts on “Ranty Tuesday: more racism

  1. Looking back it is hard to think we grew up with these kind of books and messages. Well I would even say a lot of my own relatives are ‘very odd little people’ too at times!! It reminds me of the Cadbury’s Smash advert (did you get that in Australia?) when the tin martians are falling about laughing because we earthlings peel and boil potatoes when they just add water to a packet.

    • Never had the smash ad, well not that I remember. But yes, we can all appear strange to outsiders. One would hope that texts and teachers will now point to our commonality.

      • The smash ad was the most popular ad ever here in the UK – so clever you couldn’t help but laugh at it. I am sure if you google it you’d find it.
        I agree about the teaching methods though they do need updating. When I was little all these places and races you mentioned seemed like a different world to us because no-one travelled like they do now and there certainly wasn’t any TV programs or documentaries about other places and cultures etc Geography taught me nothing other than rivers and mountains rather than anything about the people who lived there. Had Joanna Lumley taught me Geography I would have loved it as she loves and embraces the diversity of other places and cultures.

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