Tintin guilty of racism? Let the Congolese decide
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A Brussels court will decide on 31 May whether to ban a comic from the Tintin series because it is racist. The case is being brought against the book's publishers by a Congolese man who says that "it makes people think that blacks have not evolved". Read what one of our Congolese Observers has to say on the affair...
Image posted on Le Pélicastre jouisseur blog.
A Brussels court will decide on 31 May whether to ban a comic from the Tintin series because it is racist. The case is being brought against the book's publishers by a Congolese man who says that "it makes people think that blacks have not evolved".
Children from around the world have grown up reading The Adventures of Tintin since Belgian cartoonist Hergé began illustrating him in the 1920s. The daring journalist and his faithful pooch are ruffling feathers in their home country however, where Belgium resident Bienvenu Mbutu has brought a hearing against publisher BD Casterman which could see one of the comics banned from sale or sold with a warning. Mbutu says the book in question, Tintin in the Congo, contains negative stereotyping of black people.
Hergé had already redesigned parts of the story when the comic was reprinted in colour in 1946. In the original comic from 1931 Tintin was shown teaching a group of half-naked children about their motherland: Belgium. The updated version saw the subject changed to maths.
It‘s not the first time Tintin in the Congo has come under scrutiny. For three years now British bookshops have been obliged to sell the comic with a warning after the Commission for Racial Equality categorised its content as offensive. In the Brooklyn Public Library the book is available only by appointment. And in Sweden animal rights groups have targeted another scene, where Tintin hunts a rhinoceros using dynamite.
Above, the section Hergé changed before reprinting in 1946. The first part reads "Today I'm going to tell you about your motherland.... Belgium!" The revised edition reads "We're going to start with some simple maths. Who can tell me what two plus two equals?" Image posted on Flickr by "uni.dijo".
Mixed feelings for Tintin in Africa
Posted on Flickr (author prefers to remain anonymous).
A mural in Kinshasa. Posted by Paul Ashton/ focalplane on Flickr.
Tintin's car from the Congo made of oranges. Posted by Carole Rannou on Flickr.
Wooden Tintin in the Congo, complete with Belgian missionary, Benin. Posted by Jean-Pierre Herveg on Flickr.
South African newspapers accusing Tintin of racism. Posted by Chris Bloom on Flickr.
“People should be taught how to read the books critically”
Sebastián Rodríguez, a Tintin fan from Colombia, has studied the representation of foreign countries in the comics.
Tintin's adventures respond to the popular imagery of foreign lands that existed in Europe: the comics reflect not the places themselves, but the way they were perceived through European eyes. Tintin in the Congo, which was the second book Hergé drew, obviously still shows the country through the eyes of the white Belgian that goes and saves the poor Congolese.
But Africa is not the only place that Tintin visited. Latin America is shown as a jungle inhabited by cannibal tribes or as a banana republic where dictators and guerrillas take turns ousting each other and governing with the same inefficiency. Even the US is an exotic place full of cowboys, Indians and gangsters.
Censoring the books is not the answer. Taking it away will not help people become critical of these stereotypes. Instead people should be taught how to read them critically and enjoy what there is to be enjoyed in them."
Posted on Flickr by “mercedes_alonso_vendrell”.
“Hergé wasn't racist: he simply reflected the image the Western world had of the Congo and of Africa”
Roger Bongos is a Congolese journalist living in Paris.
We all read Tintin when we were young because there were so many of the books left behind in libraries by Belgian missionaries. At the time we didn't think too much of it: we saw their drawings of Africans with pitch-black skin, enormous lips and unable to say 'monsieur' but 'misier' as little more than very exaggerated caricatures.
You cannot deny however that the book is very discriminatory of black people. Hergé wasn't a racist person himself: he simply reflected the image the Western world had of the Congo and of Africa during those years, as well as the colonial aspirations of Belgians. In this sense, the book is kind of Proust's ‘madeleine episode' for us: it helps us remember our colonial history.
Personally I don't support the book being banned, because I think it is important for children to read it and find out how black people were treated in that colonial vision of the world. Many of the Congolese people who support the lawsuit are not necessarily trying to get Tintin banned: they see it as a good opportunity to raise awareness of the whole issue and ask for an official recognition from Belgium of the atrocities that took place during colonial times. A recognition of this history is very important to us, even 50 years after independence, just like the recognition of the genocide is important to Armenians."
"White man good! Great magic man! He cure my husband!" Snowy: "We are heroes aren't we." Image posted here.
1. Tintin: "Get to work! Aren't you ashamed of letting the dog do all the work?" Snowy: "Come on you bloody skivers!" 2. Tintin: "Are you ever going to do any work?" Congolese: "But I'll get dirty". 3. Tintin: "There we go, all aboard." Congolese: "White man very clever". 4. Congolese: Mister, the machine broke don't work no more". Tintin: "Be patient, we'll get it sorted out". Image posted here.