Sunday, January 21, 2007

What to do with Little Black Sambo?

Kelly Griffith of the Orlando Sentinel ponders the fate of her grandmother's copy of Little Black Sambo.

Read its controversial history at Wikipedia. Was Helen Bannerman's Little Black Sambo racist? Read Dr. David Pilgrim's take on it. Pilgrim wrote this article as Professor of Sociology, Ferris State University in 2000.


Anonymous said...

is this book banned? I'm doing my masters papers on why books like this aren't banned, but mildred d taylor's beautiful tome "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" is. What a disparity!

fahrenheit451moderator said...

Very few books are "banned" outright in the west. I live in Canada where bannings usually take place with regard to someone's interpretation of pornography laws. The Little Sisters Bookstore (who sold books with gay and lesbian themes) had a lot of trouble with Canada Customs seizing their merchandize even though other stores might sell the same books. Little Sisters has lost their lawsuit. It is worth looking up information on their court case.

Most book challenges take place in schools with the idea that adults are protecting children from reading about things they are not ready to process.

With regard to Little Black Sambo, it was the illustrations that caused so much controversy. Originally an Indian story, it was taken into a new context and Sambo became depicted as a stereotypical black. "Sambo" has become a racial slur. I don't know if you would find Little Black Sambo in many libraries or schools. Blacks (and others) find the illustrations offensive.

Apparently an illustrator named Fred Marcellino has redone the illustrations in the past 10 years and has made the book more acceptable.

I have thought a lot about the effect of literature that uses the "n" word and depicts blacks in a certain light. Certainly it is important to speak to children about the context in which the author was writing and compare what was acceptable to what we believe now. Such books as Uncle Tom's Cabin, Huckleberry Finn, and Tom Sawyer were once challenged for being too sympathic to blacks. Now they are challenged for racial language that is no longer acceptable.

I don't know of any recent challenges to Little Black Sambo offhand but that doesn't mean it hasn't been challenged. I don't think you can say that there has been an outright ban.

I would be interested in hearing more about your paper. Thanks for commenting.