Heidi MacDonald found a report in the Guardian about Tintin in the Congo. I guess there was a move to ban it due to racist content, but a judicial advisor has rejected the idea that the book is racist. Here’s a few quick thoughts/jokes on the subject.
1. I liked this reasoning on the part of the advisor because it’s full of crap:
De Theux de Meylandt said in the document seen by Reuters that Tintin author Georges Remi (better known as Hergé) did not intend to incite racial hatred when he depicted his cartoon hero on an adventure in the former Belgian colony in a 1931 work that was updated in 1946.
“The representations (of African people) by Herge are a reflection of his time,” De Theux de Meylandt wrote.
Intention is a key criteria 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.
2. It’s kind of interesting how the law (I assume) approaches racism as a conscious act–“intend to incite racial hatred”–rather than something that just happens. Intent, near as I can tell, has basically zip to do with racism. Inciting racial hatred is a racist act, but it is not the sum total of racism. Racism can be clutching your purse when someone hops onto an elevator or looking at a certain type of woman as a sex object first. Racism can be dragging a man behind a truck until he dies in agony. Racism can be denying home loans to black families, shooting a grandmother in the face because you got the wrong house, underestimating a stranger, overpraising a child, and more. Racism is a lot of things. It’s a system. It’s an opinion. It’s an act. It’s an emotion. It’s whatever. Intent? Not really relevant. If I didn’t mean to step on your toe, you’re still sitting there with a flat toe, right?
3. I love love love “The representations (of African people) by Herge are a reflection of his time.” Man oh man do I love it. It’s the ultimate Get Out Of Jail Free card. “Oh, it was just the time! Weren’t they so quaint back then with their casual racism? Land sakes, mint juleps, landed gentry, southern belles, I do declare!” That got away from me a little. The point is, the racism in this drawings is okay because it was okay at the time. It’s quaint, like, I dunno, cocaine in Coca-cola or those enormous dresses women used to wear in the 1800s that doubled as circus tents.
I don’t believe in a sliding scale of morality and neither should you. If lynching somebody until their eyes bug out is a dick move in 2011, it was a dick move in 1911. If drawing an entire race like they were darkie nigger savages is a racist act in 2011, guess what bruh, it’s a racist act at every other point in time, as well. It’s dehumanizing. If you argue it isn’t, you’re objectively wrong. That’s the entire point of that type of art.
4. Think about the context, too. Depicting blacks as subhuman is a tried and true tactic. Churches used to teach that blacks were the descendants of Ham, son of Noah, and used the curse of Ham as a justification for slavery. (You know I heard somebody tell me that in church as a kid? That really made me mad, because I was young enough to know that story was full of crap, but they were old enough to have probably heard it from actual slaves.) Black men and women were depicted as hypersexual because they were closer to savagery than whites, which had the bonus of making it a-okay to sleep with them whenever you felt like it, and then to deny it to the heavens should you get caught (shout-out to the Thomas Jefferson clan). They’re violent. They’re dangerous. They’re stupid. Take your pick.
The savages in Tintin in the Congo are particularly disgusting because of the time period the book came out in. Congo was a Belgian colony at the time, and the book portrayed the people as stupid “Me Too Stupid To Know How Talk Right” savages. It is explicit propaganda. It posits a world where the Congolese are too stupid to be civilized on their own. It’s Deepest Darkest Africa, The Dark Continent garbage all over again. And man, I wonder what the point of depicting the citizens of a colony of your country as subhuman? Could it be to shore up the idea that you’re supposed to be there? That being there is right? Golly.
So, no, “it was the times!” is a crap excuse. Will Eisner and Hergé both drew unbelievably, cartoonishly racist depictions of black people. A lot of other people did, too. Racism! It exists. Don’t pretend it didn’t because you like how somebody put lines on paper. Plenty of great (and bad and normal) people do scumbag things here and there. Just accept it!
5. Tintin in the Congo: it’s objectively racist. It’s stupid to try and ban it, though. Even racist speech is free speech.