Yes, Tintin Is Crazy Racist and Anti-Semitic. No My Kids Won't See It

Back in the late 1970s when I was a kid roaming the stacks at my local public library, I wandered across a set of adventure books with a character named Tintin. I read the back cover of one and it looked fun. I loved Tintin's cute dog named Snowy.  However, my mom always reviewed the books I was taking home so she saw a Tintin book in my to-be-checked-out stack.

"You can't get that one," she said, removing the Tintin book from arms. "Those stories are racist."

Of course, I decided that I was going to read the Tintin books on the sly during the two (sometimes three) hours we'd spend in the library every week. Well, then I picked up a well-worn copy of Tintin in the Congo. There on the cover was a black guy with bright red lips. Hmm...I'd seen that kind of imagery before and it was a red flag for me. But, I cracked the book open, read it, and wow, my mom was right.

Just as I'd seen black Americans portrayed as bumbling, monkey-like idiots, black Africans--the Congolese people--were being depicted in a similar light. I was done with Tintin before we even really got started.

Later on I found out that some Tintin stories also depicted Jewish characters as sinister villains and moneylenders. So showing black folks as animal-like and an anti-Semitic angle...WINNING!

Fast forward to 2011 when a Tintin movie is about to come out here in the U.S. Last night I asked on Twitter, "Curious if there are other parents out there who are not taking their kids to see Tintin because of it's racist, anti-Semitic history."

One of the responses, from Side-Line Magazine, retweeted my tweet, prefacing it with "load of crap."

This morning, I asked them for clarification, tweeting back, "I'm sorry, what's a load of crap, a movie based on a racist book character or... ?"

Their reply? "not a racist character at all. I think you've never read cokes in stock, the blue lotus. All very humanistic Tintin stories."

Of course, Side-Line is based in Belgium, home of Tintin author and illustrator Hergé. I can understand being patriotic for your country, but c'mon son, don't act like what happened didn't happen. I can also appreciate that Hergé's attitudes changed over the years. But that still doesn't mean I have to support it. Or that I have to act like I don't know the real history of Tintin.

I'm not alone in my concerns about Tintin. A human rights lawyer in the U.K. recently lobbied to get it removed from children's bookstores.  That led to the Telegraph posting a list of the racist allegations against Tintin. Gems like:
"In 2007, the UK's Commission for Racial Equality called for the same book to be banned, saying it contained imagery and words of racial prejudice. One of the most controversial scenes shows a Congolese woman bowing before Tintin, saying: "White man very great. White mister is big juju man".

I've also heard how some Congolese just love them some Tintin. Colonialism, like slavery and Jim Crow wasn't just physical oppression. Psychological oppression did a number on folks of African descent, too. 

I know, pointing out the truth is spoiling all the fun. Some people will say I shouldn't be so sensitive...Everything can't be perfect and the past is in the past, right? Spielberg is Jewish so if it was racist or anti-Semitic, he would refuse to make the film, so what's my problem?

Explain to me how I'm supposed to forget racist depictions of black people in the source text for a film and take my children, who get called the n-word at school, to see it? Yeah, right. I'm just going to have to be sensitive because this film won't get a dime of my money.


Seanathan said…
While you are correct in your assessment of Tintin's racist history, they aren't the only one. I remember watching Bugs Bunny cartoons with similar African imagery on television. Would you keep your kids from from watching "Space Jams,". a Looney Toons cartoon or Great Adventure which features the Looney Toons characters prominently?
Melanie said…
I think that, as parents, we decide what we want our kids to see and not see and have conversations accordingly, which I know you have done from previous posts. Are you being sensitive? Of course you are! It's your kids and it's racism! You have every right to be sensitive about it. Are you being overly sensitive? I don't think so. Yes, the racism is "in the past" and, yes, one would hope that the movie wouldn't be so blatant about it like the books but that doesn't mean that you have to support a whitewashed version of a historically racist character.
Phyllis said…
Your post brought back a vivid memory. We lived in Germany when our kids were preschoolers and a friend gave us the German children's book Struwwelpeter - probably the most popular story book at that time. One of the cautionary tales was about some white children who were dipped in black ink by a giant, white father-figure with a white beard, as punishment for their evil behavior. I was horrified when I thought about the levels of assumption and conclusions about blackness. I felt that my children were much too young to engage in any meaningful discussion about racist imagery, and that all they would retain would be the pictures and their feelings. So I talked to my friend, expressing my disgust as best I could with my limited German vocabulary, and I hid the book away for future reference. Years later I showed it to my grown children, only to have my two daughters tell me they had read the book many times at friends' homes. Neither of them had thought consciously about the racial implications. Like all of us, my kids have been poisoned by insidious, toxic racist imagery that rattles around in their subconscious minds. Even though I made a conscious and consistent effort to protect them, I know that I could not - and cannot - hope to counteract every racial stereotype thrown at us on a daily basis. But I also know I could have done more to help my children recognize and root out the attitudes that we as whites can develop about people of color as a result of this brainwashing. Thankfully I see my daughter doing a better job with her own children.
Anonymous said…
You made a good call. You could, as others said, let them read/see Tintin and see what they say.
I grew up in the 60s and read many of my parents' old books from the 30s and 40s. Many of them casually threw around stereotypes. Even when I was young I noticed that. Sometimes I associated them with that specific character. I was lucky enough that I truly saw Little Black Sambo as a happy caring family story.
Those days are gone, for better and worse.
Anonymous said…
Okay, as a black person living in belgium I can tell you that they turn a blind eye to the whole 'tin tin in Congo' issue. It doesn't mean anything to them.
Every christmas white people get dressed up like black people, they wear kinky wigs, paint their skin black and rub red lipstick around their mouth.
They do this to look like 'black peter' St Nicholas's helper.

I cringe at christmas when all the food wrapping paper shop windows are full of the 'black peter' character.
Anonymous said…
I remember reading a Christian story book about Jesus and his 12 disciples and guess who was the black one: Judas!
I was only about 7 years old (at the time) but I was so upset, I threw away the book.
Kid can be very impressionable and they sometimes see themselves in others and look up to others who look like them. Judas was not about to be my role model.
sundry said…
Thanks for the heads up. I've never seen a Tin Tin book but was drawn to the style of drawing and probably would have gone. But this'll be a definite pass. Just thinking of how many kids might open up one of the original books and have those negative images burned into their brains gives me a stomach ache.
sundry said…
Thanks for the heads up. I've never seen a Tin Tin book but was drawn to the style of drawing and probably would have gone. But this'll be a definite pass. Just thinking of how many kids might open up one of the original books and have those negative images burned into their brains gives me a stomach ache.
nick said…
Well, obviously the past isn't in the past, is it, because the Tintin books with all their dubious overtones are still around and being widely read. If it really was the past the books would all have been pulped and no longer available.

It's a common excuse that a book is simply "of its time" and that should be allowed for. But that's exactly the way prejudice is kept alive, through derogatory texts that keep circulating year after year.
Molly W. said…
They're your kids, and you do what works best for your family.

I do remember as a kid one of my favorite books was Dr. Dolittle's Circus. As an adult I discovered most Dolittle titles included a hefty slice of racism.

I'm glad my parents sheltered me from the racist Dolittle titles, but -- for me personally -- I'm glad they didn't let the racism of the other titles prevent me from reading the non-racist one.

I don't know, though -- a movie/book tie-in might be different. Even if the film itself doesn't have the racism of the books, it's trading on the brand, and if part of that brand is racism ...

(Thinking about it more ... I grew up in the north with southern parents, and often heard relatives (never my parents, though) express racist views. The message I got was, "This utterance is unacceptable, but you can (indeed, have to) break bread with someone who utters it." That worked for my family -- they were willing to move 500 miles from my grandparents, but not to cut ties completely -- but I recognize it's a compromise that would be unacceptable to many.)
BBJ said…
Thank you for the heads-up. I was thinking of seeing this, and appreciate having more background.

I recall reading some Tintin books, although I can't remember a thing about them except the main characters.
Liz Dwyer said…
My sons aren't into Looney Toons characters that much, simply because I haven't let them watch them. But they have seen Space Jam because we're from Chicagoland--Michael Jordan rules--and my husband loved watching Space Jam with them. But I think the difference is that Warner Bros has done a LOT of acknowledgement that the racial stereotypes shown were wrong. That said I wouldn't let my kids watch Speedy Gonzales cartoons.

The other thing is that although you can still buy the uncensored original Looney Toons, they're not easily available and they come with a pretty clear statement about the racism they display. In comparison, for any kid to be able to walk into the children's section of a bookstore and see Tintin in the Congo, while the Tintin folks are all, "We're not racist!"--it's a nuanced difference, but it's a difference.

I told my sons about my concerns and they were surprised by the history and that a book with images like that would still be easily available. They don't want to see it anymore.

That's fascinating that they hadn't thought about the racial implications when they read the book elsewhere. Thanks for sharing that.

I remember coming across so many books in the '70s with problematic stereotypes/imagery. I'm glad that my mom was so vigilant about that kind of stuff, even if I didn't always immediately understand why it was offensive.

Oh good grief. Seriously? I think I'm suddenly glad I don't live in Belgium.

Ugh, that's terrible. I'm glad you threw away the book.

I loved adventure stories as a kid--still do--and I remember how disappointed I was to discover that Tintin had these kinds of images. And I feel for all the folks who nowadays have their kids picking up copies of this.

So very true. People are saying it's censorship to not sell this book with the racist imagery. I just don't "get" who'd want to buy it.

Dr. Doolittle, too? Sigh.

I kinda agree with your parents. We all have to break bread with folks with differing views--and sometimes maintaining relationships can facilitate conversation and understanding of why it is that certain words and imagery is hurtful. But that's tricky, for sure.

Glad to give some background on it. I don't recall too much of the one or two Tintin stories I read before coming across Tintin in the Congo, either.
Christian said…
I'm a huge fan of Tintin and I believe it's a parent's right to discern what they and their family will or won't be watching. Might I just add this though, while Tintin in the Congo is quite racist, for the most part The Adventures of Tintin are respectful of different cultures and people, if sometimes cartoonish in their stereotypes (there's a difference between racism and stereotyping). Tintin is a young man of great integrity (save in Congo) who stops the villains and helps the underdog. I hope in the future you take another look into the series and find that the Tintin series aren't by their nature racist or inappropriate for children (save the Congo - I myself wouldn't give Tintin in the Congo to children). If there are disagreeable moments in books, it would be a good idea to discuss these things with your children to promote critical thinking and skills of discernment.
baiskeli said…
Well, the Vatican has called Tintin a 'Catholic hero' and mocked people who call it racist

"In its official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican published a picture of the children's hero beneath one of Pope Benedict XVI and then carried a double page article inside praising Tintin and his faithful dog Snowy.
L'Osservatore said that accusing the fearless journalist of racism was the 'imagining of an integralist political correctness' after some bookshops in the UK banished Tintin in the Congo to the top shelf and wrapped copies in plastic."


For what it's worth, I loved Tintin growing up (as well as Asterix), but past a certain age, it struck me just how racist it was (and I'm black African, which makes it doubly ironic). Colonialism and Imperialism go deep
Anonymous said…
The reason you shouldn't worry about those old comics is because pretty much everyone was racist back then. Sure racism sucks but that's just how the world was back then. I doubt the movie today is all that racist at all, especially with how sensitive cartoons are these days. At this point it's just needless worry if you think the movie will be soooo offensive.

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