by BARBARA HUGHES Helen Bannerman, poor lady, was accused by many last year of fostering racialism with her "Little Black Sambo" books. If that heated controversy in the Times letter columns passed you by, or simply irritated you, dwell for a little on this stern dictum of the US Council for Interracial Books for Children: "Children's hooks are not toys — they are powerful tools by which a society perpetuates its values".
Perhaps the anti-Black Samboists carried things a little too far in calling for a total banning of the book (though they've done this in Sweden): as a playgroup leader 1 used to find it a highly popular choice with black and white children, and would hate to see it disappear completely. But its portrayal of a black family, a 19th century cotton-picking mammy and barefoot child, straight from the plantation — will often be the only picture children get of black people in books of that level (unless you count the bad golliwogs in Noddy).
Hardly the picture they need if they're going to grow up respecting black British people, if they're white, or respecting themselves if they're black.
if Black Sambo is not balanced by books like Ezra Jack Kent's "Whistle for Willy", or a "Snowy Day," stories of modern black city children, or Karl Craig's "Emmanuel" stories, about children in the West Indies today, our children risk starting off in the education system armed with the racialist values still permeating much of the more advanced material.
If you think I'm exaggerating, and simply joining the antiSambo camp, look at the evidence turned up by Liverpool Community Relations Council last year. Headed by Dorothy Kuya, Community. Relations Officer in Liverpool a working party examined the racial attitudes of some text
books in common use, and published their findings in a folder with the chilling title "Sowing the Dragon's Teeth". Read, quotes from the geography book. "Tropic:PI Rainforests": "The Negritoes, or pygmies, living deep within the forests of Asia and Africa . are as shy as the most timid animals. White men seldom 'catch more than a glimpse of these tiny brown-skinned, tousle-haired men". .
"Some of these people are seen as seldom as the animals and birds that live in the treetops."
What sort of picture of modern Indian and African society does this give a schoolboy andHead him
perhaps, later on, to ask an African PhD student whether he wears clothes back home, and lives in trees?
So far, so had. But while the racial justice people are painfully uprooting the dragon's teeth they're also constructing new models, creating new materials, sowing new seeds.
Some teachers, like Charles Mungo, of Trinidadian origin, have concentrated on the position of blacks in British society, and designed black studies courses, to counter this sort of bias, and teach all children more about the history .and culture of their respective peoples.
The aim of the courses, he says, is to "provide all pupils of whatever antecedents, with a
wider understanding of their individual experience . . . We hope that they will gain both in tolerance .. and a better sense of their own personal identity. The courses will stress the oneness of humanity".
Marguerite Kirwan and Tom Allen, lecturers at Digby Stuart College of Education and the latter a member of the Catholic Committee for Racial Justice, have been working with other staff to make the whole education programme of the college more multicultural in a comprehensive and practical way.
All the first-year students last autumn were given a five-week approach course — consisting of visits to multiracial community ,projects. Sikh and Hindu temples. talks with community relations workers, and people involved in multiracial education ventures — to expose them to the new British society emerging. and give them an idea of what their teaching courses will be preparing them for.
Experiments are the keynOte: an enterprising one in Birmingham is the Wates library, piloted by All Faiths for One Race (AFFOR), Philip Nanton. AFFOR's education officer, is building up a resource library, "covering the general theme of growing up and living-in a multiracial society with all its present misunderstanding, ignorance and conflict".
The centre provides among other things, packages of material, advice for students and teachers, a study-centre, and importantly. data enabling them to "bring appropriate pressure upon agencies responsible for the provision of material and the training of teachers to respond to real needs," The approach course, the AFFOR library, black studies are only a few of the experiments. There's also the Kwarne Nkrumah supplementary school in Hackney and the Ahfiwe school in Lambeth. For the multiracial education campaign is a growing, hroadbased movement, with implications reaching far beyond debates on Little Black Sambo.
As Ann Dummett said in a recent Catholic Herald article, "A small and racially mixed country can have a good life and a hopeful future if it knows what it is doing, and asks history the right questions". The campaign is about learning who we British are. what we're doing, and where we're going. Finding the right answers can't be left to the Powellites, 'and it's going to take a lot of homework!
Barbara Hughes is Education Field Worker, Community and Race Relations Unit, British Council of Churches.