Judge rules Tintin in the Congo is not racist

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Tintin isn’t racist. He’s just drawn that way. So ruled a Belgian judge yesterday in a long running attempt to get TINTIN IN THE CONGO, the second book in the popular series, banned on account of racism.

The book — like many of its era — uses typical racial “blackface” caricatures for the natives and portrays them as childish buffoons. Originally drawn in 1931, Tintin creator Hergé revised it in 1946 and redrew a few panels in 1975 — but only to tone down a scene where a rhino is stuffed with dynamite, not because of any racial overtones.

Belgian jurist Valery de Theux de Meylandtruled that Hergé did not have racist intent when drawing the work.

“The representations (of African people) by Herge are a reflection of his time,” De Theux de Meylandt wrote.

Intention is a key criterion in substantiating a charge of racism. The court is expected to deliver a judgement rejecting or accepting Mondondo’s argument that the book’s depiction of Africans is racist.

“We see in particular that Tintin in the Congo does not put Tintin in a situation where there is competition or confrontation between the young reporter and any black or group of blacks, but pits Tintin against a group of gangsters … who are white,” De Theux de Meylandt also wrote in the statement.


TINTIN IN THE CONGO has long been an object of controversy — it was the last Tintin book to be published in English, and libraries have asked for it to be withdrawn on racial grounds.

Racial caricatures of the same type are also present in the work of a sad number of great cartoonists, from McCay to Eisner to Tezuka.

Comments

  1. geoffrey thorne says:

    yes, and all of those “great” people were racists.

    by the logic expressed by this judge, the crowd that makes up a lynch mob would not be considered racists because that would be what everybody was doing “at the time.”

    pathetic. standard. par for the course.

  2. While I’d certainly describe the book as “racist”, in the context of this ruling the question is whether it’s “racist and therefore not entitled to free speech protection”. In other words, the judge is saying that it may be offensive, but it wasn’t offensive with the intent of doing harm to people, analogous to the distinction in US law between saying “blacks are dangerous” (which is protected speech) and saying “blacks are dangerous so we should lynch this guy” (which is not). A book which is merely racist and offensive, should never be banned.

  3. Darren J Hudak says:

    I think It’s always a mistake to judge the past by present standards. Many of those cartoonist later publicly regretted those types of drawings and when you consider that many of them lived in a time when segregation was such that it’s entirely possible many of those white cartoonists had never met a black person in the flesh you can understand how it never occurred to them how mean those drawings could be. The drawings are the result of a racist culture but that does not necessary make the folks who drew them racist, not in the modern sense of the word. What it makes them is people of their time and we can always learn from the sins of the past.

  4. I agree with Jason Quest above. If individual buyers still find TINTIN IN THE CONGO offensive after having educated themselves as to its provenance, then they should not purchase it, and should feel free to advise others not to purchase it if they so choose. But the work should be available if only for historical study.

  5. Putting aside the allegations of racism, those early books also reflect a patriarchical and colonalist view of the Belgian Congo and its people.

    It’s commonly accepted that this book in particular was produced partly as propaganda. The paper that Herge worked for and in which Tintin initially appeared was very political — a fairly reactionary, ultra-conservative Catholic newspaper that reflected the views of its publisher, a priest who was a mentor and father figure to Herge. The paper was nationalistic and strongly supported the Belgian monarchy.

    The paper was also staunchly anti-communist and anti-semetic; while there’s no evidence that Herge necessarily carried the same views, I do think he was a bit of a political naif who likely internalized many of the views of the people who mentored him. Indeed, he spent much of the post-war period rehabilitating his perceived image as a collaborator during World War II — he nevertheless remained a bit unapologetic about working for a collaborationist newspaper during the war, producing Tintin and living in relatively affluence while others went underground or refused to work. (Some of his colleagues after the war were banned from ever working as journalists and a few even executed.)

    I already was aware of some of this history, but it is also covered in more detail in a recent biography of Herge which I reviewed at http://wcgcomics.blogspot.com/2011/02/man-behind-tintin.html

  6. I think banning a book based on racism is completely opposed to the goal of fighting racism. If we try to sanitize the past and hide things like this, we will never grow, never heal and worst of all never learn.

  7. OtisTFirefly says:

    >>>yes, and all of those “great” people were racists.

    by the logic expressed by this judge, the crowd that makes up a lynch mob would not be considered racists because that would be what everybody was doing “at the time.”

    pathetic. standard. par for the course.>>>

    Which could be used as the perfect description for your “argument.” I’m sorry, did you know Will Eisner personally? You must have, since you have no problem labeling the man a racist. Politically incorrect judged by modern standards? Absolutely. Racist? I’d like some proof on that statement please.

    I’m not saying he wasn’t. I didn’t know him. But I can’t label him a racist based on The Spirit and the time in which it was produced.

  8. jacob goddard says:

    I wonder if this is something modern cartoonists worry about. That maybe they are depicting a group of people, or even an idea, in a way that will later be seen as incorrect or even evil.

    I don’t think that mccay, tezuka, eisner, herge, or the majority of the others ever intended on being “mean” or hurting anyone’s feelings.
    They were just clueless.
    So were most people in those areas and at that time.

    I have no doubt that all of us right now have some notion or are doing something that will horrify and embarrass our great grandchildren.

  9. geoffrey thorne nailed it. I agree with him 100%. As for OtisTFirefly… What more proof do you need? These artists drew racist imagery of minorities. Were they a product of their time? Surely. Over decades have they become more enlightened? Let’s hope so.

  10. Of course you can label Will Eisner racist based on his work. All we have of him is his work. And when he was alive, all we had of him was his work as well.

    It’s easy to be defensive of the kindly old man who didn’t “mean any harm,” but you are displaying a dangerous misunderstanding of what “racism” actually is and how it actually works.

    Yes, his work was racist because he was racist. He was part of a racist society and he was in-line with the mainstream line of thought during those times. Did his line of thinking change as society changed? Yes, it did. That is also evidenced in his work. But it’s a grave mistake to play defense with ideas like “it was the times! you didn’t know him personally!”

    That’s ignorant.

  11. Snikt Snakt says:

    “portrays them as childish buffoons”

    I prefer that then the ‘hoodlum portayal’ we have now in current media…

  12. Well fortunately, we aren’t striving for what you prefer.

    I prefer the trend of depicting black people as PEOPLE. It’s a truly remarkable happening.

  13. I expect in fifty years some of the commentators here will be indicted by a new generation of self-righteous finger-pointers.

  14. The Beat says:

    Daryl: What’s really amazing to me is how prevalent the visual stereotype was — even into the 50s. And of course people like Memin Peguin to this day.

    TINTIN IN THE CONGO is also very popular in Africa, apparently.

  15. R. Maheras says:

    Heidi — You mean the 1960s, don’t you? The Amos and Andy TV show was still being aired in re-runs in the U.S. until the mid-1960s.

    And when I was living in Japan in the 1980s, some manga I flipped through were still using similar stereotypical illustrations for blacks — albeit not quite as crass as Hergé’s.

  16. Torsten Adair says:

    And what of “Les Schtroumpfs Noirs”, the first volume in the series? (Recolored by Hanna-Barbera and Papercutz.)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Black_Smurfs

  17. jacob goddard says:

    People need to stop confusing racism with ignorance.

    We’re all ignorant about something. We just won’t know what it is until our grandkids start yelling at us about it.
    Then the shame comes…

  18. R. Maheras says:

    Hey Jacob — Don’t let youngsters off the hook. Just a couple of weeks ago I was talking about World War II cultural attitudes with some 20-somethings, and was taken aback when one of them stopped me in mid-sentence and asked me, seriously, if the shortened term for Japanese common world-wide back then was REALLY a racial slur.

  19. Snikt Snakt says:

    So what happens when you have both good and bad experiences with a certain minority group, but the amount of bad experiences far outweigh the good?

    Are you allowed to not like them then? Or just blame it on “a few bad apples”?

  20. Darryl wrote:

    “Yes, his work was racist because he was racist. He was part of a racist society and he was in-line with the mainstream line of thought during those times.”

    Here’s how Eisner defended himself from this accusation:

    “Stereotype has been made a bad word. But it’s not a bad [thing] unless it’s used badly– for evil purposes. But [sometimes] it’s the only way you can communicate, visually.”

    I examined the pros and cons of this response more fully in my essay CARICATURE ANALYSIS, here–

    http://arche-arc.blogspot.com/2009/08/caricature-analysis.html

    –and would draw attention to one aspect of Eisner that’s being neglected in this conversation:

    “Eisner’s work certainly testifies to his even-handedness in rendering nearly every ethnic stereotype favored by his contemporaries: dumb Swedes, sentimental Russians, cutthroat Arabs, stiff-upper-lip Brits, and fulsomely-romantic Frenchies are all on display in the Eisner corpus. It’s clear that Eisner did not single out Afro-Americans for special treatment, and that he did, as he notes in the TIME interview, render some black characters in an un-stereotypical fashion, even though Ebony remained the most conspicuous black character in THE SPIRIT.”

    I imagine some of the above applies to Herge as well.

  21. No, it’s not racist – not by the modern usage of the word.

    I only know of Tezuka’s situation. He had never met a black person, but he wished to incorporate black people in his comics. The only references he had to go by, given that he was influenced by Disney and other cartoons, were those that depicted black people in black face, so that’s what he used. At the time, his work was only distributed in Japan, so there were hardly any black people to read his work and take offense.

    In the context in which he made the decision to use black face, there was no racism on his part. Yes, surely he was ignorant, but no more so than all of his influences who were also using black face.

  22. Is ignorance okay? Well, it’s not ideal, but in the 1930s through 1950s, exactly who was going to inform these artists otherwise?

  23. rachel says:

    What are we next going to start burning ancient scripts we find deplorable by modern standards? Michaelangelos statues will be banned by obscenity laws?

    Its like when they shopped cigarettes out of old movies, its P.C gone mad. You cant just erase the past as if its going to improve the now – that is ridiculously pointless, and in many aspects, counter-productive to its aim.

    To start ignoring the past as if it never happened is a slippery slope to ignorance. Where does it end? If old racist caricatures breed racism, do we ban war memorials for glorifying war? Rip down holocaust services and pretend it didnt happen? Such things stand in place in part to remind us of the errors of our past.

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