It seems Tintin is a racist.
That’s what the Commission for Racial Equality, a government watchdog, has declared after thumbing through Tintin In Congo. They were referring to the following:
1. The portrayal of the Congo people and monkeys are facially indistinguishable.
2. The Deifying of Tintin and Snowy by the people of Congo.
3. They also objected to the way he treats animals (older versions showed him stuffing a stick of dynamite into an ox)
The exact quote from their spokeswoman: “This book contains imagery and words of hideous racial prejudice, where the “savage natives” look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles.”
Have a look at the photos below: you can see clearly that the natives are portrayed as rather comical and monkey-like. I tried to find a caricature of a monkey from the book, but couldn’t find it.
It seems that this book has a historical context– Congo was a Belgian Colony (the creator of Tintin, Herge was a Belgian citizen). The comic tried to glorify the name of Belgium, deliberately set in a region the colonial power was eager to hang on to. This story showed the dual face of colonialism, an exploitation of the natives and also the benevolence of Belgium through provision of infrastructure, utilities, health services and education.
This fact has been documented and denounced publicly earlier. In fact, Herge himself admitted to regretting certain caricatures in this volume.
My question to you as an educator is this:
1) Should we be shielding our children from comics like these? If yes, how far can you go?
2) Is there a possibility to use these comics as a tool to explain the zeitgeist back in Colonial Europe as many of the Imperialistic powers scrounged to hold on to their fiefdoms?
I am not in favour of racism, but nor am I in favour of mollycoddling our children. Comics are an evocative, visually-rich media and reactions like this will happen. That shouldn’t drive us to pull them off children books shelf. What will be next – puritans questioning the Batman-Robin relationship or the relative absence of clothing on various comic heroines like Teela and Sheeba?
The comic may have been moved from the kids section to the adult section (action by Borders post the watchdog comments) but this publicity would only drive more kids to it. Unlike with alcohol, you can’t stop a child from buying it from there.
As always, I look forward to hear what you want to say. Have a good weekend!
Update: See an update to this post here