Reading into Racism: Bias in Children's Literature and Learning Materials

By Gillian Klein | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

What is a biased book? Recognition and responses

Mary Kingsley did more than study cannibals…she tried to change British ideas about the way Africans should be governed. She did a great deal towards securing justice for these backward races. (from Reading On, Red Book One. Oliver & Boyd. First published 1958, eleventh impression 1975.)

There is no such thing as an unbiased book. Every communication expresses the views of the individual or group of individuals making them. In the case of books (a word I shall from now on use to subsume other published materials such as cassettes, films, slides, videos, wallets of photographs, posters etc), those views are fixed in aspic for all who dip at any time in the future into that particular confection.

Much writing is candidly subjective: the author and the audience have both accepted subjectivity as being part—often a valued part—of the package. Writers like Buchi Emecheta or James Baldwin are actually exposing their subjective experiences and views, offering their vulnerability as a gift, a gift that at its best converts to insights on the part of their readers: ‘yes, it’s been like that for me, too’ or ‘now I can begin to understand how it must have been for them’. Great authors let us look out of their eyes as well as our own; how they see the world is a product of their own personalities, experiences and environments. Which is why Othello and Shylock are skilfully drawn stereotypes of other races as regarded by a sixteenth-century Englishman.


Works of literature

It is also why one position taken on the debate on literary bias is that

-1-

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