Thursday, July 19, 2007

And the drum of racism beats on

If you happen to wander into a major bookstore such as Borders, among the tomes you can find is "Tintin in the Congo" by George Remi (who wrote under the name Hergé). Tintin and his dog Snowy first appeared in 1929 and were featured in adventures until 1976, selling more than 200 million copies worldwide. Quite disturbingly, up until a few days ago this book (which is part of an illustrated series about a heroic Belgium journalist) was being peddled to kids. Why do I, much like David Enright who found a copy of it when perusing the children's section of a Borders in Britain, find this disturbing? Unlike the majority of the Tintin titles, this particular one is blatantly racist. A disclaimer is packaged with the book by its publisher and the author himself eventually acknowledged and apologized for the views expressed, reasoning that the mean spirited content was merely a reflection of naive views of the time. That is why Mr. Enright reported his alarming dicovery to a racism watchdog called the Commission for Racial Equality. The organization agreed with him, finding for example a scene featuring Tintin being made chief of an African village because he is a “good white man”, to be highly offensive. The book is filled with representations of black African people as baboons or monkeys, bowing before a white teenager and speaking like retarded children, and even a scene where Tintin's dog Snowy is crowned king. Borders did not agree to remove the book from their shelves, an act of anti-censorship that I somewhat reluctantly agree with, but they did eventually decide to move it from their children's section. Sadly, rather than this being the story of a minor moral victory, it is one of good intentions that backfired. Sales of the comic book have rocketed since the CRE declared it to be racist, shooting up by 3,800 percent. It has reached number eight on Internet retailer Amazon's most popular books list. So the end result is that children may now find the book a bit more difficult to find on their own when brought to the bookstore to pacify their hunger for reading, but racist adults are proving quite eager to buy copies for them.

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