The early Tintin adventures, particularly Tintin in the Congo, were racist. Though the mind set they incorporated was common throughout the European and colonial powers. What redeemed Herge and his work was his ability to recognise and overcome his own prejudices. He became an ambassador of hope and for much his life, Herge worked to educate his readers about different cultures of world and show how, regardless of race, creed or colour, we are all the same.
Unfortunately the message Herge embodies – that we can overcome our fears and predjuices to be better human beings – is lost on people from the far left and the far right of politics. Calls for his books to be banned miss the point and play into the hands of extreme right wing racists.
Black People “look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles”.
This quote from the UK’s Commission for Racial Equality ( CRE ) is the title of a thread from the white supremacists site Stormfront.org [ WARNING: This is a site dedicated to ‘White Pride World Wide’ and all the hate and stupidity that involves ]. The idiots who frequent the site have focused on using the CRE’s statement and have spouted some predicable racist claptrap in support of Herge and Tintin.
This subversion of the Herge’s work in support of such a perverse agenda is sickening and it highlights the dangers of either side of the political spectrum focusing on a narrow aspect of an author’s work. The subject of Herge’s and racism is complex, inexplicably tied to the culture he grew up in and above, a message of hope and humanity.
Note: Clicking the links to the Stormfront web site will cause offense to all right-thinking people. In the HTML, I’ve have marked them as ‘no follow‘ so that the search engines will ignore these links.
The bottom half of this image is from Tintin in Angola (“Tim-Tim em Angola”), the Portuguese version of Tintin in the Congo. The top half is the original version.
This is a great example of how colonial / racist attitudes displayed in Tintin in the Congo were the norm for the time. The Portuguese publisher clearly felt that their country’s superiority over its colony Angola was identical to Belgium’s superiority over the Congo. Clearly the racism demonstrated by Herge in his early work was simply reflecting the widespread racism across all western, colonial powers at that time.
This image comes from Héctor Germán Oesterheld’s and Carlos Roume’s Nahuel Barros’ Last Story – Coda, from the web site of a Portuguese comics critic. The blog is in English and probably contains lots of interesting stuff but the layout of the text is an unreadable dense mass. This is a shame as I suspect breaking things into a few paragraphs and adding a ton of whitespace would make it a really good blog.
Herge’s personal and spiritual growth in understanding other cultures and combatting his own prejudices is remarkable. He grew from a young man writing the colonial tracts like Tintin in the Congo to the great writer who received the Dalai Lama’s Truth of Light award for his work on Tintin in Tibet.
To celebrate this I’m declaring today Chang Day in memory of the fictional Chang in The Blue Lotus and Tintin in Tibet and the real life Zhang Chongren who inspired him. Zhang Chongren visited Belgium in early 1930’s, became close friends with Herge and his influence helped shape the next Tintin 70 years of Tintin.
Zhang returned to China in 1936 and the pair lost contact during the turbulent years of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It wasn’t until the 18th March 1981 that the two were reunited.
Let’s celebrate cultural diversity and the undying bond of friendship – Chang Day – March 18th.
Following the Herge / Tintin / Congo / Racism row, the planned publication of Tintin in the Congo for the US market has been scrapped by publisher Little Brown Books. According to Publisher Weekly:
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, which had been planning to publish Tintin in the Congo, a book criticized for its racist, Colonial-era depictions of Africans, has quietly pulled the title from its fall list, PW has learned. The publisher also said it will not include the book in a forthcoming box set of all 24 books in the Tintin series.
Publicist Melanie Chang did not give a reason for the standalone book’s cancellation, but of its omission from the box set she said, “Given the controversy surrounding the Congo title, we felt including it in the box set would eclipse the true intention of the collection, which is to showcase Hergé’s extraordinary art and his remarkable contribution to the graphic arts.”
This cartoon comments on the ongoing debate about Herge and Racism .
From balthazarb via The Ephemerist
Belgium state prosecutors are investing the complaint of a Congolese that Tintin in the Congo contravenes the countries racism laws. Mbutu Mondondo Bienvenu, a political science student at the Université Libre de Bruxelles, said:
“This book should be banned. Belgian school children should not be exposed to this kind of racist commentary. It is propaganda for colonialism.”
See the Daily Telegraph for more background.
Association of Editorial Cartoonists
So someone noticed that Tintin in the Congo is racist.
Not bad, only seventy years after its publication the Commission for Racial Equality has commented on Tintin in the Congo. I expect to see a statement attacking the anti-Semitic nature of Mein Kampf soon. This is what the CRE had to say:
A hundred years ago it was common to see negative stereotypes of black people. Books contained images of ‘savages’, and some white people considered black people to be intellectually and socially inferior.
Most people would assume that those days are behind us, and that we now live in a more accepting society. Yet here we are in 2007 with high street book shops selling ‘Tintin In The Congo’. This book contains imagery and words of hideous racial prejudice, where the ‘savage natives’ look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles.
Whichever way you look at it, the content of this book is blatantly racist. High street shops, and indeed any shops, ought to think very carefully about whether they ought to be selling and displaying it.
Yes, it was written a long time ago, but this certainly does not make it acceptable. This is potentially highly offensive to a great number of people.
It beggars belief that in this day and age that any shop would think it acceptable to sell and display ‘Tintin In The Congo.’
The only place that it might be acceptable for this to be displayed would be in a museum, with a big sign saying ‘old fashioned, racist claptrap’.
I’m a white middle class anglo-saxon so avoid commenting on race issues because I know nothing about them but here the CRE has gone for a mindless, knee-jerk reaction. A reaction that is as ill-conceived as Daily Mail readers harping on about ‘Political Correctness Gone Mad’ whenever the government clamps down on genuine racism. The CRE want to ban the book because ‘potentially highly offensive to a great number of people’. Of course we would not find anything else that might offend a great number of people in book stores, such as religious tracts or pornography.
The biggest mistake is that the Commission for Racial Equality are missing the uplifting, anti-racist story of Herge’s own life. Born and brought up in a society that saw all non-whites as being sub-human Herge at first reflected those beliefs in his early works like Tintin and the Congo. However Herge’s eyes were opened by his friendship with the artist Chang Chong-jen. Ever since Tintin and the Blue Lotus Herge worked hard to depict the non-white peoples in a positive light. Rather than making stupid remarks about Tintin and the Congo the CRE should celibrate the life of Herge as an example of how we can all change and become more accepting of others.