Wednesday, July 9, 2008

memin penguin = lil black sambo?

while in the airport earlier i saw a news report about a wal-mart in houston pulling the famous mexican comic memin penguin from its shelves because of the outrage of some african americans.  apparently they felt that the depiction of memin penguin was eerily similar to the character of lil black sambo...

memin penguin and his mother

lil black sambo and his mammy

i will not pretend to ignore the similarities in the two characters, but from what i've heard, memin's character is actually empowering and his comics are encouraging to some of mexico's poorest by giving children messages about how to deal with poverty, death, being tormented for their dark complexion, abandonment and many other issues.  memin penguin is a staple of mexican comics and was even given a commemorative stamp.  

if memin penguin is as positive as people say it is, that's beautiful but it still doesn't excuse the fact that they are using a depiction based on racist images of black people that were the dominant images in the 1940s when the comic first appeared.  mickey mouse doesn't look the same way he did in 1928.  i would suggest that they update memin so he actually looks like a child and not a monkey.

one surprising thing about the whole situation is how our culture of systemic racism here in the united states is exported to other countries.  whites here in this country created the images of the sambo and the mammy, as well as the stereotypical images of latinos and asians as part of a white racial frame, and now we accept and even perpetuate them within our own communities and we also find examples of them being used in mexico and recall if you can the controversy of the image of the sambo being used to sell products in japan click here to see products.   as a result, we have people of different cultures, who've often never had contact with blacks, who already perceive them as criminals, dirty, uneducated and other negative characteristics.  that's a problem because it destroys attempts at solidarity between black americans and other minority or immigrant groups before we get the chance to acknowledge that we often have the same goals of asserting our humanity and be free from oppression


Brandon said...

It seems that it would make sense to model Memin off of a previous cartoon character especially since there are very few popular black characters in cartoons. There is also a language barrier here, to be upset is to suppose that it is universally obvious that this is a racist cartoon. I have a feeling that that its perception here (in america) is a part of the african american or black peoples of this country.

I think we have to understand that artists and character designers take reference from previous examples and those older cartoons are something that the generation creating this comic book probably remembers so I don't think it was something meant to be offensive and I don't think folks should take offense. Clearly the cartoon isn't making a mockery of Memin. I think the only reason they may want to think about changing his look is if they wanted to attract an audience who is sensitive to the resemblance to Sambo but its written in Spanish.

Normandus Vang said...

What a difficult situation. I agree that many artist around the world take certain stereotypes from american artists (racist or not) but everything depends the context you're talking about. Memín maybe was drawn like sambo, because the cartoonist thought it was fun, and easy to recognize in the comic book since he is the main character... but not with racist intentions.
People would need to understand mexican cuture to notice that memin is not an atempt to offend anyone. By the way, the iconic image of memin would be hard to update, because he would lose his identity as a character. Try, for example, to update Speedy González.
\:) ...