Publisher's Weekly had an interesting news story today on the book, TinTin in the Congo, which has disappeared for several years because of its overt racism. TinTin goes to Africa, and the Africans are depicted to look like monkeys in that old, early 20th century stereotypical way Africans were drawn. Little, Brown has brought the book back out, and Borders has announced they will be carrying it, but in the adult section. Should they?
The argument for the book is that it's an historical document, and that we should look at it as such and see it in its historical context. Is it true, however, that things like this should be kept around because if they aren't, we're doomed to repeat it or something? I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that reasoning. First, it's suggesting that racism is something that happened in the past, and isn't continuing to happen. Do you really think that all adults seeing that book would look at it as a historical document? I think many would be offended, still many others (unfortunately) would find it funny. There's that small segment of the population -- historians, professors, academics -- who would look at it the way Borders intended, but I don't think the rest of them would.
I remember finding a book once a few years ago, maybe it was at my grandparents (I can't remember) and it was a copy of Little Black Sambo. As soon as I opened it I felt my stomach turn. I flipped through it, shocked at how blatant the drawings were, how stereotypical the language was, and how offensive it was. But maybe some part of my brain clicked into what was really going on with what I'd found. Did I suddenly see something bigger -- that while I understand racism was rampant in the early 20th century, it's things like this that bring it to life?
For that reason, should the book be made available?
Here's the complete article from PW, or you can go check it out here:
U.S. Borders stores will stock the popular but controversial children's book Tintin in the Congo in an adult-oriented section of the store because of material the retailer says "could be considered offensive by some of our customers."
The book by Belgian artist Herge, which was first published in 1931, will be published in the U.S. for the first time this fall by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Part of a series of 24 books centered on the adventurer Tintin, the book depicts black Africans that strongly resemble monkeys and dialogue widely considered racist. It was removed from the children's section of U.K. Borders stores and reshelved with the graphic novels last week following complaints of offensive material.
Borders in the U.S. released a statement about the book after PW raised the issue last week. Spokesperson Ann Binkley said the retailer carries some titles from the Tintin series in its children’s sections. She added that the Borders is, "committed to
acting responsibly as a retailer and with sensitivity to all of the communities we serve. Therefore, with respect to the specific title Tintin in the Congo, which could be considered offensive by some of our customers, we have decided to place this title in a section of our store intended primarily for adults—the Graphic Novels section. We believe adults have the capacity to evaluate this work within historical context and make their own decision whether to read it or not. Other “Tintin” titles will remain in the children’s section."
Meanwhile Dara La Porte, manager of the children's department of Politics & Prose in Washington DC, decided after seeing a U.K.-published edition of the book in 2005 not to sell it because of the racist content. "We got it in back a year and a half ago and returned it. We don’t carry it. If Little, Brown has changed it in some way we might consider carrying it," she said.
In a statement on its Web site, Little, Brown acknowledges the book "may be considered somewhat controversial as it reflects the colonial attitudes of the time it was created." A belly band with a similar statement will be wrapped around U.S. editions of the book.