Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Passive racism in children's books: surely not in these days?

I saw an interesting post from Repeating Islands, entitled "Agatha Christie and Rudyard Kipling made Britain a nation of passive racists, claims John Barnes". John Barnes, former England footballer, who is of Jamaican parentage and born in Jamaica, was speaking to students at Liverpool University about the recent upsurge of racism in football. John Barnes said the way that some persons (us amongst them, obviously) had been depicted in books has led to passive racism. In other words, some people are portrayed as inferior, inherently or not, to Europeans/the British.  By extension I might say, even with the 'best intentions', because the British often played a paternalistic role in these books 'other people' would appear to need their guidance to be equal, if ever that were possible. I can't remember much about Rudyard Kipling and I don't know when last I've read an Agatha Christie, but I do remember Ten Little Indians and the golliwog in Enid Blyton. We may think that this type of material represented another time, a time of Empire, and surely things have changed. Yes, things are changing, but there are still  resonances of one group seeing itself as superior. And this is why we in the Caribbean, of every race, colour, ethnicity, write; to represent ourselves as ourselves, equal to all. This is why we write our adult stories; to tell about our realities. This is why we have a responsibility when writing for our children to portray ourselves as we are, wonderfully wrought, all of us.  Please see my guest blog, "Do you hear me? Do you see me? Considerations on the responsibility of the author of children's books in post colonial societies..." on Geoffrey Philps' blog: http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com . The thing is that while deliberate prejudice may be obvious, that which stems from benign neglect, can be even more pervasive. For example, I'm sure you know that there are thoughts like this: "Why do we need our own children's books?  After all, the children like the American/British books. It's just stories; it doesn't matter. Tchu man, what is all the fuss about... and the Caribbean books are more expensive?" 

I am reminded of a little American girl, who after seeing the animated movie, "Pocahontas", was interviewed, and she said she was glad that the girl in the movie had black  hair because until then she thought all heroines had to be blonde; and this is important because... yes, she had black hair. Suddenly this little girl's life changed. So I also welcome the  more recent animated movie, "The Princes and the Frog", with a black heroine.

So you know already that our children need to be validated in stories. But did you consider that the rest of the world may even need our stories too, to show balance and validation of all? You just never know.


  1. Diane, I'm glad you're talking about this. We need to read more posts like this..

  2. Thanks, Geoffrey. Sometimes I wonder if I should bother, because people will just think 'I'm saying the same thing, over and over'. And then I look at our new-found bleaching craze, and I know that we have to keep writing great stories about ourselves, so we'll feel good about oursleves...one day. And as I said, this includes all the ethnic groups, because we all live here together in the Caribbean