Thursday, August 20, 2009

Tintin au Congo

Fascinating. I found these images in a New York Times article via Racialicious. The story's main focus was library censorship based on patron complaints. Especially difficult is the idea of pulling out books for racist content. Most literature was written in the context of a racist society. Most literature can be critiqued and criticized for racist and sexist content. But are children's books different? Children are impressionable and might not understand that children's books from 50 or 100 years ago were written in a certain context that should be kept in mind when read. Maybe they just shouldn't be read by children? This is similar to my previous post on Babar the Elephant.

I found these accompanying illustrations the most interesting aspect of the article. Tintin au Congo has already been banished to the backrooms of New York libraries, available only upon request. But, curiously, the author Hergé Moulinsart had already tried to mitigate the offensive elements of his book back in the 1940's:

"This classroom scene in “Tintin au Congo” initially had Tintin teaching the natives about their colonial rulers in Belgium."

"When preparing the color version of the story in 1946, Tintin’s creator, Herg
é, turned the classroom scene from a lesson in geopolitics into a lesson on math."

** So instead of telling the students "Today I'm going to talk to you about your country: Belgium." he asks them "What it 2+2?" Much less political. Belgium wasn't their country.

"Two Africans spot Tintin’s ship as it approaches Africa in this scene, as originally drawn, but Herge has them speak French in a local patois similar to pidgin English."

"Later revisions of the scene changed their clothes but also made their French less degrading."

Artwork: Hergé Moulinsart

But Moulinsart didn't do enough, did he? In the classroon scene, he gives one more boy a shirt in the color version, but still there are two students in class without shirts on. Why not give all the students shirts? And still, Tintin's dog scowls at the students, complaining about their chatting. In children's stories, what dog sympathizes with the adult over the children?

The colonialist's dog.

How do we deal with colonialism in children's literature? Through these stories Africa filled the imaginations of many people. But the authors and the first readers of these stories were living in a context of colonialism that our children should no longer be living in. These books are interesting for understanding colonial attitudes about Africa, but not for teaching children about an Africa that actually exists.


Anonymous said...

This is fascinating. It is also hurtful to me as an African.

Anonymous said...

If Belgium (and by extension many other European countries) isn't their country, then why do Africans insist on immigrating there?

Heather said...

"If Belgium isn't their country, then why do Africans insist on immigrating there?"

Well, I think this is an interesting question, but I don't think it could be answered in full in a little comment. The short of it would be that the colonial powers extracted resources from Africa, did very little for Africa in return and left the populations there with neither their traditional societies nor full access to European society. I mean, the Belgians may have told the Congolese they were Belgians too, but how many Congolese were invited to fully particiapte in Belgian society? Especially in TinTin's day? If Africans go to Europe now, it is because their own countries have been stripped of opportunity and resources. Europe is powerful because of what it took away- you don't think it's fitting for Africans to go there and benefit from it too?