Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Strange Fruit - jam and racism for kids contd.

The guy with the green brolly is Little Black Sambo, hero of the book of the same name, which sold squintillions around the world (there's even a Japanese version). My mum still has a copy and we have argued over it since. She says, title aside, it's not racist but I disagree:


1. He looks like a caricature 'picaninny'. I remember being puzzled even at the time that he didn't look like any of the Indian boys I knew at school, but the book is set in India. I suppose the illustrator thought that all wogs looked the same. By the way, does anyone out there think the drawing of the Nubian pirate sailor in the Asterix books is racist?


2. The clothes. Sambo is terribly proud of his new outfit, but there's an element of colonial smugness to this. 'These natives try terribly hard to emulate us white folk but they always get it wrong. Look, the shoes are too big, he's not wearing a collar stud etc'.



Above 'Sambo' is a mechanical toy given to Sultan Fateh Ali Tipu, also known as the Tiger of Mysore. It is a tiger devouring a British Soldier. This is the only anti-white racist toy I could think of. They once had it on Blue Peter. Tippu Sultan, incidentally, was a right royal thorn in the side for the British, defeating them in battle and negotiating a treaty. A learned man and devout muslim, he died sabre in hand defending his Hindu subjects in 1799.



Don't get me started on Enid Blyton or Tintin in the Congo. I don't think the defence 'Wasn't considered racist at the time' counts. There are plenty of other things that were considered OK at the time (chastity belts, opium cough elixir for babies, mangles, large foot-pedalled dentist drills) but these things are no longer useful to us and you can only see them in museums.



My son has a 'Golly' called Molly. It's a family heirloom so I haven't thrown it out but if I ever catch him hanging it from a tree it's going in the bin pronto.



I'm rather more uneasy about the gender stereotyping these days. I took my kid to a fancy dress party recently. The boys were an eclectic mixture of pirates, power rangers, dinosaurs, bat & spidermen etc but every single goddam little girl was dressed in a frilly pink princess outfit. If I had a daughter I think I'd have something to say about that. I mean can't you wear a Wonder Woman outfit? If you're gonna be a princess at least be a Frog Princess or Boudicca fer chrissakes. Hey, I know! You can go as the Tippu Sultan. Here's your sabre.



@steenbeck. Sorry you missed out on the Robertson's badge collection. I saw the whole set at the Museum of Childhood in Edinburgh last month. There were better things to collect in the 70s: Neptune's Sea Bed Serenaders (in cereal packets), Esso FA Cup coins, bottle tops, Trojan records, lovebites...

25 comments:

ToffeeBoy said...

I know what you mean about the princess thing. As the father of two former princesses, all I can say is that they grow out of it and (sometimes) come out the other side as well adjusted young women. I suspect that the more you fight it, the more they want to do it and the more important it seems to them. Perhaps we were lucky, but the laisser-faire approach worked for us.

nilpferd said...

Mara did the princess thing for a while but seemed to have the pink thing over with by the time she was six. We never blocked the barbie plague but tried to balance it with the Wizard of Oz or Italo Calvino's fairytales, which seemed to work as she never wanted a doll as such. It's all animals now, she'll maul me at the drop of a hat and seems to have developed some very aggressive soft toys.

Proudfoot said...

When soft toys attack! Noah's toys haven't developed any agression as such, although 'Kookaburra' seems to be a bit of a nag and talks too much. A kind of feathery Dame Edna Everage.
I didn't mean to suggest the effects of the Barbie plague would be long lasting. Kiah gave it up at 6 (although the Barbie dinner plate has survived countless excursions into the dishwasher and microwave and Noah happily eats his baked beans off it).
I just think it's a shame that Barbie encourages roleplay in a different way - a kind of shopping-fixated Valley girl/ WAG with anorexia. Not much to aspire to is it? you'll be grown up all too soon.
Triceratops, on the other hand, is an awesome 9-metre-long vegetarian who could give T.Rex a run for his money and who righteously stomped the earth for three million years and was only put off his stride by a major K-T extinction event, rather than an invasion of Bratz dolls. I know who I'd rather be.

nilpferd said...

I always seem to annoy the little dogs and cats, which persist in biting me on the finger. In fact, regardless of what I do, all Mara's animals seem primed to attack/trample/pee on me. Especially the triceratops.

The thing that bugged me most with the Barbie phenomenon was the passivity and compliance. Thankfully Mara has developed a rather more assertive character.

Proudfoot said...

Can't we get triceratops to trample/pee on Barbie? That'll learn her. Mind you she'd probably enjoy it. Ken's not exactly a horny beast is he?

nilpferd said...

aarghh- I can see it now- the evil triceratops tries to trample on/pee on Barbie, but her goodness wins through and she frees the "triceratops" from his spell, cast by an evil witch, transforming him to reveal the handsome...

Don't go there.

steenbeck said...

I don't think I ever actually wanted the dolls--like Mara I never really liked people-shaped toys, it was always animals for me. I just remember that as a moment when I realized the world wasn't so simple.

It's funny about boys and girls and what they like or learn to like. It's always crazy to me that in Malcolm's line before school the girls seem to always be dressed in Pink and purple and the boys in any non-pink and purple color. And I could see it happen--Malcolm liked pink and purple before he started school and learned that he wasn't supposed to.

I don't think I'd have much patience for barbie, but my boys are completely obsessed with super heroes, and that has it's own problems. I try to keep them watching the very very early spiderman/batman/ superman on youTube, but even those tend to be quite violent. I like when they invent their own superheroes. At one point Malcolm came up with this whole household of superheroes, and each of them had a power that could save the world or help around the house. Hoseman could shoot water at bad guys or fill up the kiddy pool. Vacuum man could suck weapons out of people's hands or clean up the carpets. Fireman could do considerable damage with the flames he shot, or light the fire in the fireplace. I think there was also a fellow with fans for hands, who could blow away his enemies, or keep his friends cool in the big dormitory-style bedroom they all shared.

nilpferd said...

You should get in touch with Pixar with that pitch, Steenbeck..

steenbeck said...

Yeah, I've always thought so, too. I like how it incorporates things around the house that kids are fascinated by (or a little scared of)--vacuums, fans, hoses, fire. Mr. Steenbeck did a few drawings, but we never gave it the energy it deserved, in my opinion. If you have a whole house full of super heroes think how many tie-in toys you'd have to market!!

Proudfoot said...

Noah's superhero is 'Changing Mouse'- a mouse that can morph into a fearsome Saltosaurus to defeat his arch-enemy Rhydian the Amphibian, but remains a cute little bewhiskered rodent when he need a cuddle before bedtime. Is there a Bat-signal type thing for Vacuum Man? Boy, his work is not finished round here.

nilpferd said...

Vacuum man!! We need you!!!

It's like that episode of Spongebob where he inflates his trousers so that he can fly, and becomes revered as a superhero, but pretty soon gets bogged down in menial everyday tasks..
"hey, Sponge! can you tie my laces?"
"hey, Sponge! can you scratch my back?" etc.

FP said...

I DIDN'T do the princess thing.

And look what happened (cackle)

Shoey said...

"Vacuum Man, Vacuum Man,
Sucks whatever a vacuum can.
Just imagine the surprise,
When he extends his hose to any size.
Watch out, here comes the Vacuum Man."

steenbeck said...

Shoegazer,
What makes vacuum man a superhero?
It's not the size of his vacuum attachments, it's the motion of the air, dirt and dust particles through his tubes...

nilpferd said...

...not to mention lego, beads, coins, fluff, missing pieces of jigsaw puzzles, and other objects which glint mysteriously while being centrifuged around his transparent intestines (I'm assuming vacuum man is brought to us by Dyson cleaners tm)

steenbeck said...

Ooh, good call, Nilpferd, the product placement tie-in.

Shoey said...

"Vacuum Man, Vacuum Man,
Friendly Neighbourhood Vacuum Man.
Does he blow? Yes, he can.
Better watch out, here comes the Vacuum Man."

(Sorry - too many beers)

Vacuum Man said...

Evil-doers, prepare for suction!

dastardly dust ball said...

Har har, Vacuum Man! Your suction is powerless against my new secret weapon!!
(strews assorted clothes-pegs, awkward shaped bits of lego, small pieces of paper in Vacuum man's path. His nozzle clogs)
D.D.B. proceeds to spread choking dust everywhere.

vacuum man said...

**coughs**

Handy vac girl said...

"clean up time, dirt ball"
**turbo-sucks**

vacuum man said...

Nice job, handy vac girl. I guess cleaning crime & carpets is women's work after all!

(run's for cover)

treefrogdemon said...

see, this whole Barbie thing is the reason I collect Sasha dolls

goneforeign said...

Do people collect Trojan records, I've got dozens of 7" 45's.

DarceysDad said...

Can't compete with your hard work over the original Trojan stuff, gf. Don't know about in the US, but over here, there are loads of Trojan compilation box sets at very reasonable prices; we can get much of the (A-side at least) music involved very easily.
Dub3CD is my favourite, but last December I played the Christmas set more than almost any other music.