Problem

Racial bias in children's literature

Other Names:
Racism in child and youth literature
Nature:

Children's and young people's literature reflects the social and cultural values of a society. Thus, it also reflects the ideologies, prejudices and clichés, which characterize a certain historical period. The discrimination against children, which has been typical for Western civilization, often leads to children's and young people's books which are hastily composed. Thus, the content of such a book frequently discloses a state of mind and prejudices of which the European, British Commonwealth or American author is often not fully aware. Moreover in the Western world, children's and young people's literature is embedded in the capitalist system. As a consequence, publishers are likely to accept for publication only those manuscripts which reflect or strengthen generally accepted values.

Two stereotypes can be found today in the majority of children's books. Either the representative of a coloured race is seen as a happy natural human being in an exotic environment, living in a primitive jungle village far away from the modern civilization with which he is unable to compete, or he is looked at as the white man's servant. In young people's books, the coloured person appears as an underdog and an object on whom the white man can expend humanity from time to time when he is pricked by his conscience. Also, obedience, faithfulness and submissiveness rank at the top of the depicted qualities of the coloured, while the active role is usually reserved for the white people who take the initiatives and perform feats of leadership throughout such stories.

Background:

The image of coloured people in western European literature was delineated by a few basic types before the children's books emerged during the 18th century. Child and youth literature adopted existing stereotypes. The stereotype of the coloured man as the noble savage appears in a letter about a journey to Brazil in 1500. Later, the noble savage emerges in occidental philosophical novels from Voltaire's Ingenu up to A. Huxley's Brave New World. This false idea of a primitive yet noble manner of being also provided the basis for Rousseau's philosophy and lay the seed for the turning away from Europe and the enthusiasm for America among some of the European romanticists. The image of the noble savage can be found in youth literature as well as in literature originally written for adults but afterwards mainly read by young people. Famous examples are the Indians in the novels by James Fennimore Cooper and the Indian Winnetou in the novels by Karl May.

Incidence:

Racism against coloured people is still very common in western Europe, South Africa, the USA and Brazil. For more than a century children's and young people's literature with its stereotyped discrimination against coloured people has perpetuated white racism; either euro-centrism or gringoism projects inferiority feelings into coloured people. Extremely racist groups such as those that exist in the USA, the UK, the Union of South Africa, Germany and France can readily take advantage of children's literature for the purpose of openly preaching racial hatred.

Values:
Youth
Bias
Racism
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
03.06.2019 – 21:43 CEST