What the Bleep Did I Just Let my (Black) Child Watch?

slave auctionI just accidentally showed my (black) child a cartoon about a slave auction and a master who whips runaway slaves. Yes, I did.

I could not believe my eyes. My four-year-old and I stumbled across the most racist cartoon ever made. This wasn’t some dark corner of the internet. This was a classic cartoon compilation DVD sold at Wal-Mart recently. Think Popeye and Steamboat Willy. Safe, right? Wrong.

This silent black and white (ha!) cartoon was made in the early 1930s. The characters are animals, but their races are apparent. I’m not going to name the cartoon or the DVD, because I don’t want to share it in any way. Let me just summarize some plot points for you:
• Lazy black (or blackface?) cartoon characters pick cotton
• A black girl dances happily
• The master whips the little girl when she tries to play with her white friend
• The white friend cries
• Chained-up black characters march in front of a sign that says “Slave Auction Today”
• The little girl happily dances on the auction block, even showing her bottom/underwear, while a crowd of men scream to buy her. (It says “auction block” right on the stage, so you can be sure.)
• A black mother washes her black baby in a washtub. She scrubs him so hard, he comes out white, and she screams. (I could be wrong about this one. This scene was actually the most confusing and disturbing part for me.)
• The blood hounds are released to chase the little girl, who now must somehow be a runaway slave. (It says “blood hounds” on their dog house, so you can be sure.)
• The slave master and the blood hounds join together to chase the runaway slave girl.
• The runaway slave girl runs to Uncle Tom’s cabin. (It says “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” right on his cabin, so you can be sure.)
• Uncle Tom is chained out front. The little girl says “Help”.

Happy but lazy slaves. Wow. Whipping. Chains. Auction block. Selling a little girl. Blood hounds.

I am a Southerner with roots in the Confederacy. How do I teach my white and black sons about that? I don’t know. But it sure as $%@!# isn’t going to be with this cartoon.

While I was sputtering and calling for my husband, my (black) son said, “I like this show.” To my son, I apologize. To the cartoon, may you burn in hell.

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10 thoughts on “What the Bleep Did I Just Let my (Black) Child Watch?

  1. Horrifying. Could you write to the company to ask them to take this off the shelves…(my ipad keyboard doesn’t have a question mark, but one should be there).

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    • I’ve been thinking about it. One review or comment I read online about this cartoon made me think: It’s *so* awful that it can serve as a teaching tool or maybe even a history lesson (about stereotypes and caricatures). She suggested that maybe we should be more concerned about more harmful subtle day-to-day racism. Just food for thought, but yes, that cartoon should be taken off the Walmart shelves!

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  2. I know exactly the video you are writing about. Sigh…yeah. Reminds me of the first time I watched Jungle Book as an adult and how horrified I was by the stereotypes. All that said, I do think that it can be a useful teaching tool with historical context and some lesson planning. I plan to do a diversity “film festival” with Hope that picks a part these kinds of things. Sorry it was such a horrible experience. 😦

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  3. This country, as well as most other countries in the world, went through and are going through (Israel v. Palestine) terrible periods of time when in hindsight we see how people lost their humanity. The fine arts are reflective of the time. It is quite distressing to be reminded of the mentality of people in America in the 1930s toward race relations. Not that I think children should ever see this sort of thing, and I agree that Walmart (and that’s another post all together) should remove that cartoon from its shelves, but we need to be reminded from time to time of the mass mindset of the past in order to never go there again. Everywhere today you see movements that echo inhumane periods in the past. We all need to be aware and speak out against any kind of oppression, whether it be a too low minimum wage, mutilation and sale of young women, prostitution, or the defining of a people by their ethnicity. History teaches us lessons so hopefully we will learn not to repeat the horrible mistakes of the past. You stumbled upon a horrible mistake. Unfortunately the mind set that produced that cartoon still exists in the world. Change the players, change the situation, but man’s inhumanity to man seems to be ongoing. But children as young as yours do not need to know about our worst selves quite yet and certainly not from a cartoon. Let us all pray for peace and harmony among all people, and that the young children of today will grow up being more accepting of one another than in times past.

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  4. First, exhale deeply, then take a couple of calming breaths.

    Second, vow to have a chat with the store manager the next time you go there–but don’t return the DVD.

    Third, put the DVD in an envelope and send it to . . . the NAACP comes to mind but let me ask friends in-the-know. YOU don’t have time to mount a campaign to get that DVD off the shelves, but there are organizations that do.

    Yes, these materials can lead to a teachable moment, but that DVD needs to be taken out of inventory because most parents won’t know how to have that conversation or even know that the cartoon is part of the compilation.

    I’ll be back later with suggestions.

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  5. Well, you see it didn’t do as much damage as you thought because he ‘liked’ it. Even though, lets hope he forgets it and get those dvd’s off the shelf! I understand completely.

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  6. You’re probably right about the dvd needing to be pulled from the market. It should be available for people to see/know about, perhaps, but not being billed as a suitable children’s cartoon.

    On the note of “what did I just do?”, don’t beat yourself up too much. It’s not how you want him to learn about the world, no, but that world is “out there”, even though – as moms – we’d prefer it was not. You know the saying, huh? We have to “world-proof the child, not child-proof the world.” If we try to tackle things the other way around we’re not really doing our kids any favours.

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    • I do agree with what others have said too, though. Your little guy is too young to get much into this discussion with. Not sure what the “age appropriate” explanation of that one would be. But – yeah – he’s going to find out eventually. If not from you, perhaps from someone less caring.

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