Tom Hawthorn’s article on ‘gurus, cults and the whacky world of pop psychology’ suggests our spiritual vacuum should be filled with TV and common sense’ (in the NI on the Managed Society). It shows great cynicism.
It is hardly surprising in our sick society that some are willing to pay for alternative ways of living, with different values and beliefs. Many people who join such movements are a lot happier for their newfound faith. All that the traditional churches could offer them is often inadequate.
Perhaps if we took a closer look at the religious cults, we could discover some useful hints about how we should be living. Of course charismatic leaders with their 68 Rolls Royces are dangerous, but to condemn all such systems of thought is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.
The description of Anti-racist Training (ART) in ‘The Multicultural Mark’ article shows the author, Nancy Murrays’, lack of understanding of racism’s effects on black people. She criticises ‘people sitting around in groups’. Yet this is how white people have learned racism - from schoolroom to university, from trade union meeting to a family evening in front of the TV. So groups would seem a good way for people to learn antiracism.
We recognise that ART by itself isn’t going to eradicate all the racial prejudice in the country. However it is an educational process to help individuals analyse the link between personal and institutional racism.
Nancy Murray also denies the contribution made by black activists. Yet they are involved, and do see ART as a useful tool in the fight against racism. The connection between racism in Britain and the international economic structure ‘the continued super-exploited of Third World peoples’ as Murray puts it. is acknowledged by ART. And the fact that it was developed in the USA does not make it less relevant to Britain.
We challenge those who criticise ART to come up with something they think will do better and we would be happy to join - for our main aim should be to jointly work towards the eradication of racism.
In your facts on racism you mention there are only 800 black teachers nationwide. This means nothing unless we know the numbers of white teachers and can judge the relative proportions.
A I Woods
Ed. Apologies. There are 552,500 teachers in the UK. The black/white ratio is 1:690. The ratio of respective populations in the country is 1:20.
I understand Anthony Swift’s repugnance at South Africa’s apartheid system (NI 145). But it needs fighting, not an air ticket to London.
Swift implies that there is no room for political journalism or progressive action by whites. This is a misrepresentation, and insults the efforts of white South Africans like Helen Joseph and Beyers Naude who have dedicated their lives to the ideal of non-racist democracy in their country.
Whites, far from being irrelevant and helpless as Swift suggests, can be important leaders in organisations like the United Democratic Front, a major non-racist political movement. As a former editor of the Cape Town University newspaper I know there are journalists in South Africa who continue the battle for relevant news coverage against the odds, and provide their skills to the black community media.
T C Moll
Paul Gordon’s and Chris Brazier’s statement in the March issue (NI 145) that the abolition of slavery didn’t come about through the efforts of Wilberforce and others but rather through economic pressures is misleading.
While slavery may have declined eventually because of these factors, that denies the persistent pressure applied in the British House of Commons by Wilberforce for some 20 years. And what was he saying? That all people are of equal worth in God’s eyes, and that we must treat each other with equal respect, consideration, compassion and loving kindness. It was this message which finally awoke the conscience of the nation and began the process of slavery’s abolition.
Change of heart
Full marks for pointing out how racism is woven into the fabric of white culture and history (NI 145). But there was a serious flaw in the anti-racism prescription, for it is not just society’s ‘structures’ which cause prejudice.
What about the irrational fear, self-centredness and hate that manifests itself as tribalism of class, race or religion in our human nature?
By all means change the structures. But we need a change of many individual human hearts before society can be improved.
I enjoyed your excellent March issue (NI 145) on Racism until I came across Brian Gent’s review of the book And also teach them to read. This was a classic racist piece in my view.
Sheryl Hirshon accompanied 25 Nicaraguan city teenagers acting as literacy tutors to peasants in the countryside. Gent writes that Sheryl ‘had to cope with the poverty and disease in a different climate
But presumably the teenagers had to cope too? And who was doing the real coping with poverty - surely it was those who have to live there all the time. ‘Sheryl’s efforts helped over a hundred peasants to learn to read’ says Gent and again I ask what about the efforts of the Nicaraguan teenage tutors who worked with her?
I don’t wish to belittle what Sheryl Hirshon did but I’m sure that she wouldn’t want to give the impression that it was all a one-woman effort.
Baked bean ballyhoo
‘The baked bean genie’ story in the March issue was full of stereotypes. For instance India is depicted with ‘hunchbacked cows wandering around’ and ‘an elephant clomping along’ while Africa is represented by ‘a village full of huts’ with elephants, lions and giraffes’ roaming around. Couldn’t we at least have read of ‘houses’ and ‘homes’ instead of the denigratory ‘huts’? In a story specially written to be anti-racist and avoiding stereotypes these images are unhelpful, reinforcing the notion of ‘backward’ countries.
But even worse is the statement that there were ‘once’ white people in both countries. Have they all gone then? Surely the story might more usefully have included comments on South Africa and apartheid rather than deny the presence of whites in modern Africa.
To classify Truganini as the last Aboriginal woman in Tasmania is wrong (NI 145). For years her descendants have been fighting for recognition as Aboriginal.
And your statement that ‘colonialism is now over - but it is no longer necessary to rule others in order to exploit them’ is outrageous. Try telling the Kanaks in New Caledonia, the Timorese in Timor, the blacks in South Africa or the Aboriginals in Australia that colonialism is dead.
Sold on soya
The soya bean offers a way out of the world’s food problems. It is the most nutritious plant on earth, needs very little water and after harvesting leaves the soil more enriched than before planting. In equatorial areas with minimum irrigation two to three crops per year are common.
Soya cheese (Tofu) when dried in the hot sun into ‘biscuits’ can be stored and hydrated when required for eating. Tofu has about a 15 per cent protein content - similar to minced beef - and is high in iron and calcium. The beans can be hand ground on a stone quern and the only other technology needed is some straining cloth, something to press the curds in and some curding agents such as lemon juice or vinegar. One pound of soya beans yield six pints of protein rich soya milk or over a pound of Tofu.
The ‘Plenty’ soya programme in Guatemala is an example of the bean’s usefulness (for details write to Plenty Soya Demonstration Programme, P 0 Box 90, Summertown, Tenn 38483, USA). And in Britain the Bean Machine co-operative in Crymych, Dyfed, Wales has developed many different soya-based foods now on sale.
S N Carter (Letters NI 145) claims the Bible ‘says that men are designed for certain functions/roles and women for others’ and that this is not sexist. It is precisely this failure to look at the individual which causes racism. Presumably Carter would not say that blacks should play a servile role or be prevented from joining governing bodies or leadership which is what the Church of England seems to say to its female members.
A P Johnson
A new book with the working title of Obedience is a sin is being compiled by Sarah Hopkins (co-editor of Greenham Common. Women at the Wire) and Rachel Pinney (founder of Creative Listening). We would welcome contributions dealing with instances of obedience and disobedience. Please send ideas and contributions with sae. for acknowledgement. We are also happy to see and talk with people either in London or Devon.