1.18. Power of Environment.

During my lifetime, I have come into contact with people of many races, of different features, and colours, and costumes, and customs, and creeds, and languages, and the more I have seen of them the more I have been convinced of the essential and positive oneness of man. I have had intimate acquaintance or dealings with Kaffirs, Hottentots, Bosjemen, Negroes, Hindoos, Cingalese, Parsees, Malays, Chinese, Japanese, Javanese, Philippinos, Arabians, Syrians, Armenians, American Indians, Papuans, Australian Aborigines and others; and I can see no difference in any of them except what environment has made and which differing environment will again unmake. In mankind essentially every thought and every feeling and every passion and every form and every feature and every part of their body and every act of their lives are alike. Environment is a mighty power to change appearances. Take twin baby brothers, bring one up in the lowest slums of London, and the other in the most refined society a mile away; bring them together again at the age of forty and there will be a great difference between them probably, mentally, morally, physically, and in general appearance. Again, take the baby brothers, send one to be brought up in tropical Northern Australia and the other to Southern New Zealand, and bring them together again at the end of forty years, and in form and features and colour and other respects there would be a considerable difference between them; this would be inevitable. Different environments would, and always do, produce variation, more or less. It is so with families, clans, tribes, and nations. Plant one family in the tropics, and another similar one in a temperate or cold country, and let them grow into nations; eventually the environments will produce two different nations, varying considerably in form, features, colour, strength, and other characteristics, but still both human. It is so with all the nations of the world; environment has made all the difference between them.

White people's prejudice, especially in the distance, is strong against people with a coloured skin; but if they were to work with them, perhaps live with them, and become well acquainted with them, they would gradually come to forget their colour and value their personal qualities, and their colour prejudices would wane and finally vanish. Talk for a time with an educated stranger from behind a screen or in the dark, and you will be amazed and humanely instructed when you find that you have been conversing with a coloured person in the absence of the despicable colour-prejudice.

I will take the liberty of quoting a passage written some years ago in “The Human Race at a Glance,” as it concisely expresses some of my experiences and belief on the subject:— “Why should a portion of mankind be punished by ostracism because they and their forefathers unfortunately had their lot cast in a hot country and got their skins sun-tanned? The colour of a man's skin does not affect his body or his immortal soul. When you become acquainted with a black man you soon find that he is just like yourself, a real man, and when speaking to or dealing with him you frequently forget that he is black—the colour of his skin does not affect his general human character. I have a black man in my employment, a Tamil of Mauritius, whose skin has turned white; but from his looks, his talk, and his actions, no one supposes, and few can believe, that he is a ‘black man.’ Yet it is a fact. It is altogether a mistake to think that the coloured man has thoughts, feelings, or any qualities radically different from the civilized man's, allowing, of course, for the latter's superior education. When the coloured man is educated he acts just like any other civilized man. I have been more or less associated with many coloured races, and I can see no difference between them and ourselves. Stanley, who has mixed with coloured people in different parts of the world, and particularly with the various tribes of Central Africa, including the pigmies, says there is no mental or moral difference; and Dr. Livingstone, with all his experience of the coloured and the white man, held that there was no difference. A race here and there, by centuries of hard living, insufficient sustenance, undue rigors of hot or cold climate, or other causes, may weaken, degenerate, or die out, just as some families in all countries die out for want of vitality; but they always retain their human qualities to the last. Even the aboriginal Australian who is considered by many to be the lowest representative of the human race, is human like. In my inquiries around I asked the Rev. Mr. Shaw, who had charge of the aboriginals at Coranderrk: ‘In the matter of morals and religious conversion is there any real difference between the black man and the white?’ His answer was: ‘There is none; they are just alike.’ Sir George Grey, an observer and lover of mankind, whose extensive and intimate experience amongst many races in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, and elsewhere, made him a humanitarian expert, in answer to my question: ‘Do you think there is any real difference between the black man and the white?’ said: ‘Amongst all the people that I ever came in contact with, the Australian aboriginal is the kindest-hearted.’ Fancy our Australian aboriginals the kindest-hearted! Yes! and the Australian blacks wept tears of sympathy over the starved body of poor Burke, the explorer, at Cooper's Creek, showing, as the Argus remarked at the time, that ‘One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.’ ”

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The missionaries in every part of the globe agree that mentally, morally, and religiously the coloured man has similar feelings to the white man. I asked Monsignor —, the intelligent and kindly Catholic bishop of New Britain, who has large native schools under his charge, and has had great experience in British and German New Guinea, “What do you think of the mental, moral, and religious character of these Papuan people?” His answer was: “They have the same thoughts and feelings and passions, and are in every respect human like ourselves.”

A similar story is told by all unprejudiced missionaries in Africa, in India, in China, in Japan, etc., etc. Take the case of the Japanese whose character for intelligence, bravery, and humanity has manifested itself before the world during the last few years. Who would have thought fifty years ago that this despised Asiatic and coloured race would suddenly develop her latent human powers, and astonish the whole white world as she has done?

Taking the position which I do on the essential oneness of man, it is sometimes sarcastically asked of me, when perhaps a group of coloured, ragged and, perhaps, dirty people are in sight, as in the densely crowded, poverty-stricken and sweltering cities of China, etc.,: “Now are they equal to us?” The same question could be asked about the slum-denizens of the great cities of Christendom. My answer is “No, at present they are not equal to us, because their environments have been inferior to ours; change these, make them like ours, and they will soon approximate to us.”

At the risk of being thought somewhat egotistical, I will relate some of my own experiences in this direction in Japan. In consequence of my little book, “A White Australia Impossible,” showing the intelligence, educational and national progress, and the growing power of the Japanese nation, and the folly of the White Australia legislation as applied to her, when I visited that country the people acted in a very friendly manner to myself and family. The Admiral of the Standing Fleet brought us on board of his flagship at Aomori. Captain Iwasaka, the captain of the battle-ship Yashima, gave us a dinner at the port of Otaro. I had a thorough non-professional inspection from top to bottom of his 15,000 ton battle-ship and two large cruisers, which were all in beautiful order, with cold water and hot water and freezing chambers and gas and electric light and speaking tubes and telephones and all the latest improvements scientifically fixed and laid in every direction. Captains and other officers were invited to the dinner, most of whom could speak English. I asked one of the captains whether he thought they could hold their own against the Russians. He answered: “I have been six years in Russia. About their army I can say nothing, but I do understand their navy, whose appointment, state, and discipline are inferior to ours;” and a look of determination came into his face as he continued: “I don't fear them; I'll fight them.” I asked them how many foreigners they had on board as engineers, etc. This was considered a good joke, and went into the newspapers! The dinner was a success. The Admiral lent his band, and allowed the use of the search lights, and in view of the order, and cleanliness, and discipline, and politeness, and friendliness on board, I asked my wife, “Now, are not these people as good as we are?” Her answer was, “Yes, quite as good.” Again, the Mayor and councillors of the City of Otaro gave us a grand dinner in Japanese style, made complimentary speeches, and were most friendly, one of the councillors remarking that they felt as if we were old friends. They each gave us their cards, and the next day, during pouring rain, they accompanied us on board our vessel, and gave us a hearty farewell. Again I asked Mrs. Cole, “Are not these kind people, whom we never saw before and may never see again, as good as we are?” and again she answered, “Yes.” At the port of Hakodate the custom authorities met us on board, took us to our hotel, showed us the sights of the city, gave us a costly Japanese dinner, did other kindly acts, and escorted us to our vessel again with floral and other offerings, and as the vessel started bade us an affectionate farewell! When I saw these well-dressed, well-behaved, kindly gentlemen depart, I once more said to my wife, “Now are they not as good as we are?” and again her answer was “Yes.” A couple of days later we put into a little land-locked harbour near the city of Sendia, and landed. There were no houses but a few fishermen's huts, and some men and women poorly clad, and a number of children, some with a little clothing on and some naked, and altogether they did not look very respectable. It was Mrs. Cole's opportunity now, and she asked, “Do you mean to say that these people are equal to us?” My answer was, “Certainly not in that state. Equality is all a question of environment. Take the babies from amongst them, wash them, and clothe them, and feed them, and educate them, and develop their natures without drawbacks, deal with them exactly as with ourselves, in fact, bring them up in our exact environments, and they would be as good as we are.”

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Dress generally has a great influence on the opinions of mankind; some say it is the clothes that make the man, and there is much truth in this, as far as appearances go. In the capital of Japan, while thousands go nicely dressed in native clothes, and other thousands in European clothes, many, especially old men, go very scantily dressed, showing their diminutive and sometimes bent legs; and this, though no offence there, looks very objectionable to us. But there is nothing in it, for if our old men, even our greatest men, were to go with the whole of their legs naked they would look just as bad as the old Japanese men do. The clothes simply make all the difference between them. Imagine what a show our old men would look walking through the streets bare-legged.

The Japanese are fast adopting European, and particularly English, habits and dress. They have their fleets, and armies, and arsenals, and dock-yards, and railways, and tramways, and telegraphs, and sea-cables, and telephones, and electric lights, and postal services, and banks, and mints, and chambers of commerce, and museums, and factories, and parliaments, and municipal bodies, and law courts, and law codes, and hospitals, and schools, and colleges, and universities, and public libraries, and lecture halls, and churches, and millions of pupils are learning to speak English; all these tend to develop the character of the people and make them become more like us every day. Now, seeing what the Japanese have done, against the mighty power of Russia, and giving a running thought to all the civilized institutions above enumerated, how can we say that there is any difference between the awakened Japanese mind and our own? And the Chinese mind, when it further awakens, will be the same. Undoubtedly man is one.