Saturday, June 21, 2003

TinTin Bill, a friend from high school, is currently living and working at Disney in Japan. He's been posting occasional chronicles of his Japanese adventures online, and right now he has a picture on his site that, at least in my mind, makes him look exactly like he stepped out of a TinTin comic book.

While looking for a picture of TinTin to compare with, I was a bit shocked to come across this image and this image. Turns out that some of Herge's early works had something of a racist, colonialist slant on things. This in itself does not entirely surprise me. He was a product of his times, and at the time Belgium was still a colonial power subjugating the Congo.

What surprises me is that I remember reading some of the TinTin comics as a kid and not picking up on any of this. The same thing happened Little Black Sambo, by Helen Bannerman, which I remember reading in a storybook that was handed down from my mom. LBS was actually one of my favorite stories, partly because in the end the family uses the melted butter made by the running tigers to make a big batch of pancakes -- my favorite childhood breakfast food. I was shocked later in life to realize that some people considered the story racist because of the names of the characters. This had just never occurred to me as a child. (The story itself is actually not really that racist, and it seems likely that the names were picked more for their exotic ring than because of any racial agenda. The illustrations are a bit more questionable, perhaps, but still not grotesque. Apparently other editions were published in the US with more stereotypical illustrations.)

I think this points out what an artificial construct racism is. Kids aren't born understanding it, and it is only after society exposes them to it that they can comprehend what it means.

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