To Ban or Not to Ban: Little Black Sambo

ConversesAfrican/African American Literature

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To Ban or Not to Ban: Little Black Sambo

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oct. 3, 2008, 10:00am

I thought this discussion of Little Black Sambo I opened yesterday at my new online job might interest some of ya'll:

oct. 3, 2008, 11:10am

I'm uncomfortable with the idea of banning books, but I'd never buy that book for a kid.

oct. 3, 2008, 11:53am

Well, I'm only a very new parent, but I would say that a very large percentage of literature and media generally impart messages and ethics with which I disagree. That being so, it's evident to me that the only solution is to do major media literacy and critical thinking, and embed that -- always -- in every deliberate intake of information.

I wouldn't choose to buy Little Black Sambo for a 2-year-old. But if an older child with opinions of her own wanted to buy it, or check it out, then I hope I would do the same I would with any book: encourage their exploration, help them understand that the book conveys a particular set of values, and reiterate that my values are antiracist.

oct. 5, 2008, 1:26pm

From what I remember it's a cute story, or plot. It would be worthwhile to have it re-drawn a little, and retold, if warranted (I don't remember if there's anything especially reprehensible in the text). But in that case, the name "Sambo" would have to go, it's become too recognisably symbolic of a stereotype.

Oddly enough, those old-time conventions about drawing black characters (what the article author called "pickaninny figures") are well and alive in some unlikely places (at least I'd have thought they'd be unlikely). I was surprised by them in Cuba, but I didn't discuss it with anyone there. As far as I could tell, most of the souvenirs were made locally (not sure about T-shirts). Moreover, there were such masks and costumes used in a huge fiesta, by the black participants. In New Orleans, the Zulu parade features participants in blackface, but this felt entirely different, entirely un-self conscious.