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International Fern - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
International Fern
I've been inspecting the D section of the collection lately--that's non-American history for those who don't know LC--and I have a damnably hard time picking up books without opening them. I've ended up reading children's books on Iceland (hence the vigorous wave to the Icelandic team, in addition to vicariously waving to misspince), the Democratic Republic of Congo (hence the Kinshasa address of Lupin's daughter in "Gens Lupina"), Poland, Vikings (in general), random other books. I was feeling all well-read and everything until I noticed I was reading statements like "Icelandic people all look like this model" (tall skinny chick in traditional garb) or "Congolese require a strong chief." Now, I don't expect a children's book to get into the genetics of an island population or the social constructs and expectations of government, but "Icelandic people look like x"... when X is an actual photograph of a very individual person? "Congolese need a strong chief" instead of, "Historically, the people of the Congo have preferred..." (Of course, it's not always a preference, but at least that would avoid a uniform snap psychological judgment about several ethnic groups!)

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threnody From: threnody Date: February 11th, 2006 08:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
Depends on when the books are published, too. We had a nice set of childrens' encyclopedias from the 50s when I was a teenager, and it was chock full of stuff like that. Black people were stupid and immoral, Natives were referred to as 'Savages', and any country/religion/group that wasn't part of the 'civilised' world was anywhere from quaint to heathen.

Wonderful stuff, what they used to teach children. [/slightly off topic rambling]
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 11th, 2006 09:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's only two years old. That's why my brain is exploding.
From: tree_and_leaf Date: February 11th, 2006 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Actuallly the 'Congolese need a strong chief' sounds to me like: 'we are jutsifying colonialism' to me. But perhaps I'm being too sensitive?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 11th, 2006 09:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's contemporary, and it's talking about people like Mobuto and Kabila. Headscratch.
From: tree_and_leaf Date: February 11th, 2006 09:22 pm (UTC) (Link)
That is odd. Although I still think that it implies unconscious racism.

On the other hand, it might just be the Curse of Oversimplification, I suppose.....
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 11th, 2006 09:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm pretty much pushed to agree with that, though I'm not big on seeing unconscious racism in innocent actions. In this case, the subtext was practically screaming, "Yeah, they've got a sucky government, but really, it's because they don't know any better..."
From: tree_and_leaf Date: February 11th, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm not big on seeing unconscious racism in innocent actions

Oh, neither am I - but sometimes you kind of have to....
in_a_tizzy From: in_a_tizzy Date: February 11th, 2006 10:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
I remember looking at the inevitable picture of the blond cowboy that was supposed to represent Americans and being baffled as a kid. Eventually I extrapolated that this must apply to all the pictures.

Oversimplification is often necessary but over generalizations (the use of the word "all" are just irresponsible.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 12th, 2006 04:34 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh, to amuse myself, I picked up the U.S. one. We're not exempt (though we got a lot more comments like, "Americans can tend to be arrogant" and we're in an unfortunate "national adolescence" and things like that)--a whole lot of, "Americans feel..." and "Americans are...."
From: (Anonymous) Date: February 11th, 2006 11:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm remembering a book reviewer who said, just once, he'd like to see a children's book on a country that said "Given the high divorce rate, practically no one shows up for weddings which aren't considered too important anyway." I gathered he'd read one too many short, shining summaries of another country's social structure that sounded very much like all the others.

I have some vision problems that sometimes make it hard for me to distinguish individuals, so the Iceland comment doesn't trigger a negative reaction for me. Granted, it does make me want to stay out of a country where one picture can be used to represent the national type. I'd have to become a hermit out of self-preservation since I'd never know if I was talking to someone I knew or not.

But I can only hope that the Congolese statement started life as a much lengthier statement about the relative effectiveness of various leaders in their history and how various social factors tended to render all but the strongest of leader ineffective. However, I think I might be overly optimistic there.

faeriemaiden From: faeriemaiden Date: February 12th, 2006 01:37 am (UTC) (Link)
My mum found a book at our local Goodwill--a British children's history book from the 1950s (it's anyone's guess as to how it got to a Pennsylvania Goodwill), which is a very fascinating read, as it gives the point of view of another culture and another time period. We both raised our eyebrows, however, at the bit where it talks about the Aborigines: one of the captions marvelled that "sometimes they are actually quite civilised!" or something to that extent. Yes, it was most definitely the fifties, then. :p

Sometimes it's a case of prejudice, sometimes it's over-simplifying things for children. As someone not far out of childhood, I find both very offensive. I was reading the newspaper at ten, and except for things very involved in politics and recent foreign history, I could comprehend most of it very well. Now, I was somewhat geekier that most children my age, but I can't imagine that the majority of youth were very much behind me comprehensively. (Did I use that word properly?)
eir_de_scania From: eir_de_scania Date: February 12th, 2006 10:09 am (UTC) (Link)
If that Icelandic pic was of a blond girl, they at least had a point. :-) Although most of us Scandinavians only start out as blonds, during adolescence we gradually get darker. And many of us do wear traditional dress for certain holidays. But a girl wearing jeans would be more appropriate.

Just to complicate things: Icelanders are really a Scandinavian-Irish-Scottish mixture!

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: February 12th, 2006 04:31 pm (UTC) (Link)
She was definitely a blonde adult. Very skinny, with high cheekbones. Part of the reason I rolled my eyes is that the book had plenty of more distant pictures of people doing random things (exotic foreign things like waiting in line and walking by the sea ;P), and she looked like almost none of them. But hey, she had light freckles, maybe representing the Scottish-Irish part... ;P
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