I got an article from my friend Dinene the other day, and the article discussed a book that was re-released in Japan called Chibukuro Sambo or ちびくろさんぼ. Chibu in Japanese can be likened to the world small, or little. Kuro is the color, black and Sanbo means…Sambo.
I remember seeing this book months ago and completely overlooked it over after seeing the young boy in black face with the super red lips. It’s disrespectful. Not to say that it hasn’t been done to other races as well in media and literature. I actually remember seeing an old Merry Melodies cartoon (which I’m sure will never see the light of day again) which had very offensive caricatures of Japanese people. It was a different America then, but that doesn’t change the fact that the cartoon was/is offensive as hell:
See what I mean? Not cool, right?
The article I read about Chibikuro makes mention of one of the stories where “Little Black Sambo” uses his clothes to help ward off a group of hungry tigers. I was quite curious about the book, so I went to my local bookstore, ACADEMIA in IIAS Tsukuba, Japan and asked for the book. Sure enough the store worker went right to it. This is what she gave me:
So apparently there is a three-book-set for ￥3000. I had absolutely no intention of buying the book, but I took a picture because it really bothers me to no end. How, in this day in age, do people still get away with nonsense like this?
I wasn’t around during the Martin Luther King marches or the Jim Crow laws (the laws that segregated blacks), but my freaking parents and grandparents were. When I see black people being represented like this, my mind goes back to the stories my Mom and Dad used to tell me, those documentaries I used to watch about a very different south (I’m from Georgia). A south where black people were viewed and treated and depicted as animals, as second class, as inferior.
I don’t know for sure if this author of this book knew what they were doing when they printed it, because in Japan I honestly think there is an element of ignorance behind stuff like this. I remember while I was teaching at AEON, one of the songs they wanted me to teach was Shortening Bread, but I refused to teach it to the kids, for very similar reasons…it’s a song with a similar undertone (to AEON’s credit though, they were extremely professional about the situation). I also remember seeing a video clip (thanks again, Dinene) of Japanese people dressing up in black face to imitate Billy Blanks. They weren’t necessarily doing it to be racist, but it’s not an excuse, you have to be more sensitive than that.
With this book though, it’s the title that makes me suspicious “Little Black Sambo,”. Sambo was a derogatory term used for black people before the Civil Rights Movement (probably even much further back). It was derogatory then and it’s derogatory now. I really couldn’t believe how easy it was to get a hold of this book. I thought the book had been pulled of of shelves, but I guess I was wrong.
P.S.-Here is a link to the article I read before venturing out to the book store:
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