Mother's column – racism in the church library


Christian Life

Neline, CNE.news

Photo AFP, Mandy Cheng

In our church library, a separate shelf has been set aside for books by forgotten authors. These books are especially interesting for lovers of outdated spellings, yellowed pages and the smell of foregone times. To my surprise, I find a book in this very cupboard with Chinese characters on its cover. Curious, I pick it up. The author takes me to a migrant neighbourhood in Rotterdam, somewhere in the 1930s.

The story reads nicely, but the Chinese, also called the "yellows" by the author, come off rather poorly. "From time to time, a passer-by emerges from the darkness, visible only briefly, when passing. A yellow face, with lurching, squinting eyes."

The description of the street scene is also telling: "A single Arabic inscription - in the doorway, there is a Negro as a signboard, then again a Chinese one. All those whimsical letterings in gold and white." Compared to the Chinese characters, our beatiful a b c is clearly valued much higher by the author Later in the book, the Chinese immigrants are given a language course. They diligently take notes "insofar as they have mastered the noble art of writing in the European way."

One of the main characters in the book is a British woman married to a Chinese man who is portrayed fairly positively. Until the financial crisis of the thirties forces him to deal in opium. "When she asks him where he goes every night, his answer comes unusually short and snappy: 'Business! Nothing for women!' Then something of the true Chinese nature emerges, which sees in women only the means to satisfy the ancestors through progeny." You don't have to be particularly woke to read racism into this. And this is even though the book's protagonist is a preacher, evangelising among the “yellows” with the best of intentions.

Maybe the library should consider to remove these kinds of books from it's shelves. There are quite a lot of arguments that can be made for that.

At the same time, it would be impoverishment. A book like this gives a wonderful insight into the thinking of the generations before us. And yet... maybe a note with a warning on the first page would be good. Of course, the fact that I am considering such a thing is in itself a sign that I, too, am a child of my time. It prompts me to ask: if this world still exists in eighty years, how will our progeny value the words we have written?

About the author

Neline op de fiets.jpeg

Neline is married and the mother of five: Martha (9), Abel (7), Jolijn (5), Reinout (3) and Sifra (1).



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