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Tintin racism too adult for tots

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Tintin in the Congo, which has often been panned for Herge’s neo-colonialist attitude, has been removed from the children’s section of Borders stores in the UK due to the supposed racist content.

The Commission for Racial Equality said yesterday it was unacceptable for any shop to stock or sell the 1930s cartoon adventure of the Belgian boy journalist because of its crude racial stereotypes.

The book, which includes a scene where Tintin is made chief of an African village because he is a “good white man” and a black woman bowing to Tintin saying: “White man very great … white mister is big juju man!” was highly offensive, a spokeswoman from the commission said.

“This book contains imagery and words of hideous racial prejudice, where the ‘savage natives’ look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles,” she said.


Despite the complaints that the book should be removed, Borders announced it would move the offending tome to the adult section and let adult readers make up their minds.

  1. Had this been a report about a public library, I (a soon-to-be librarian) would have been offended by this reshelving. Very anti-intellectual freedom, that sort of moving around so as not to offend delicate sensibilities or, well, respect the intelligence of anyone. But it’s in a commercial venue, so I can’t hold it against them.

    On this issue of racism: It’s pretty overt. My understanding is that Hergé slowly came to realize how offensive his early stuff was and made revisions in later publications. Did this one fall through the cracks?

    Currently I am reading J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan to my daughter, who is biracial and 9 years old. For those who forgot, the book is full of negative stereotyping of Native Americans (who belong to the Picaninny tribe), women and children. The Disney cartoon is no better, and in some cases, worse. But I approach these things as “teachable moments.” My daughter asks questions, I provide explanations. That’s what parents who respect their kids’ brains do.

    IMHO.

  2. When I was a kid, Tintin in the Congo wasn’t even really available in any form in any section of the bookstore. So while anti-PCers may hate this move, they should remember there was a time when the whole damn thing was out of print anyway.

    Plus, it’s really not one of the better Tintin adventures. It’s more a curiosity piece then anything else.

  3. There’s a reason why TinTin in the Congo and TinTin in Russia weren’t in print for many years. These two books (the very first TinTIn books) had too much influence from the extreme right wing editor the young Hergé was working for.
    Though, this has been public knowledge for years so why the reshelving now?

  4. Mario…

    The colour edition of Tintin in the Congo was translated and published in English only recently (within the last 2 years).
    Previous English editions of “in the Congo” and “in the Land of the Soviets” were archival reproductions of the earlier black-and-white versions, and thus weren’t likely to be shelved in the children’s section with regular Tintin books.
    So the racism hadn’t really been an issue in the English editions until the colour version of “Congo” was finally released.
    In fact, the colour edition of “Congo” is still not readily available in the U.S. for this very reason, although it can still be imported through online booksellers.

  5. A more recent and American example is Uncle Scrooge. Don Rosa had to redesign Bombie The Zombie for The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck. (An example of grotesque charicature of which Will Eisner is also guilty.)

    Don Rosa’s Pygmy Indian sequel, War Of The Wendigo, was so problematic to Gladstone that it was LITERALLY the last story they published! (It seems that those two stories will be republished soon.)
    What of Asterix in the new world? Oom PahPah? Lucky Luke? Heck, pretty soon we won’t be able to make fun of Nazis or stupid white men!

  6. Part of me is thinking “great idea” for removing such unacceptable material [wshich we don’t need in this day and age].

    But another part of me is thinking “D’oh!” I always wonder if removing, or even reworking, such material is a good idea. If such material is removed or reworked, what exactly do we learn?

    I understand that it is meant to be more conscious of people’s feelings, but at the same time, who are we to turn our backs on history? How are we able to reflect on the pain that was caused years ago and learn from our mistakes now?

    To remove and/or rework racist material is like pretending it didn’t happen in the first place. It’s almost as bad as denying the holocaust of WWII.

    Also, it is kind of pointless to try and rewrite history because at some point. either a: somebody will get a hold of an original copy of the material, or b: historians 100 years from now will put the pieces together anyway. Either way, it will repopen old wounds.

    I say (for historical and educational reasons) it is better to leave things the way they are so that we learn how close minded we were back then, how far we have come, and even how far we have yet to go.

    Warts and all. Or in Tintin’s case, savage monkeys and all.

  7. But it’s not like it’s unavailable, it’s just in a different section of the store. If parents want the right to tell their kids about certain things, wouldn’t they want to pick the time when they discovered distasteful caricatures? Isn’t that what people always claim is the best thing to do for kids and touchy subjects — let the parents decide when to bring them up?

  8. Anun: I’m going to approach your question from a youth librarian’s perspective. In public libraries this question pops up a lot, gets us embroiled in lots of controversy, and its answer never makes anyone happy.

    But first I should acknowledge that public libraries and bookstores operate under different Constitutional standards: the 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments, according to Supreme Court rulings of the past, require public libraries to offer equal access to patrons, regardless of age. That means a kid seeking a children’s book on a little girl with two gay daddies has a reasonable expectation of finding the book in the children’s section. The same goes with historically racist and sexist material (Peter Pan, as I noted in a previous comment.) Parental considerations, while worthy of respect, cannot influence shelving decisions, as that is basically a form denying reasonable access to information and discriminating against age.

    Bookstores can file a book wherever they want, as they are protected by the 1st Amendment; the bookstore owner is, after all, a private citizen. Parental considerations will thus come more into play, as any book a child wants will be paid for out of the parent’s wallet.

    Still, here’s the problem: there is something in the library and in the bookstore to offend just about anyone on anything. If you reshelve children’s materials that contain offensive materials, at some point you have nothing left in the children’s section at all.

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