Pickaninnies & White Trash: A Hilariously Un-PC Old Textbook From England

From the book: "'How' is the Indian's way of saying 'How do you do?'"
From the book: "'How' is the Indian's way of saying 'How do you do?'"

You never know what you'll find in a Houston antique shop. For instance, there's The Wonder Book of Children of All Nations.

It appears to be intended for schoolchildren, published in Great Britain in, say, 1920 or so, and chock-full of jaw-dropping stereotypes.

The book tells British kids about their counterparts in many nations, among them America. Or, as the book's U.S. chapter puts it, "Little Citizens of a Great Republic."

It's a chapter, by the way, whose first sentence is "No matter what his condition of life, the negro in the Southern States of America seems born to a spirit of happiness."

Things do not get better from there.

Chapter author E.P. Gaston makes the assumption that these "negroes" enjoyed their time toiling on plantations in the South: "The love of the negro for his home is even stronger than that of the white man's attachment, and the dusky boys and girls who to-day gather the snowy balls of cotton will love their native soil as well as do their fathers and mothers." Could it be their attachment was so strong because of, say, being forced to remain on the land?

Describing his visit to the Deep South, Gaston writes, "You find yourself liking the half-wild piccaninnies best. Their great brown eyes look at you with a mixture of awe and humble respect -- but that is just the time to look out for pranks. The youngsters are less to be trusted than most dogs, but they know the meaning of gratitude, and show it in a clumsy sort of way if the stranger shows them attention or speaks kindly. They are more nearly like dogs, in fact, than anything with which my young readers might be familiar."

Not that E.P. Gaston limits his awesome worldview to blacks only.

"Children of the 'poor whites' of the South have little knowledge of the outside world," he writes. "They grow up to be the same shiftless and happy-go-lucky race as their parents, and have no wish to go far from their dilapidated log houses and poor farms in the mountains...This 'poor white trash' has long been equally despised by the negroes and the industrious white population."

Ah yes, the Swanee Ribber
Ah yes, the Swanee Ribber

This being a British book, we get a nice, utterly patronizing chapter on India.

Owen Wheeler writes of festivals in that country: "To Western minds they do not appeal at all strongly. The display is generally tawdry to European eyes, and appears doubly so in the glare of an Indian day; and Indian music, more especially the incessant beating of the native drum -- the tom-tom -- becomes very fatiguing....[A]t times...riots ensue which have to be repressed with a strong hand."

Hear, hear.

Sadly, in terms of entertainment value, there is no chapter on Ireland. We can only imagine, the subtle, glowing portrait that would have resulted.


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