Tintin in the Congo not racist

Published On February 15, 2012 | By Joe Gordon | Comics

Missed this the other day on the BBC site, but the long brewing row in Belgium, home of Hergé, over the alleged racism in the album Tintin in the Congo, has been dismissed by the courts. We first mentioned this row quite some time ago – a lot of modern publishers, librarians, readers and others are uncomfortable with this particular volume because of the way it depicts Africans and for the pro-colonial attitude, and indeed they are not what a modern reader would find normally acceptable. However applying today’s standards to works from decades ago is rarely a good idea for books – more than a few much older classic have elements today’s society would find uncomfortable or even offensive (consider one of the greatest writers of all time, Mark Twain, and his N****r Jim, for instance, a character in a wonderful tale but with a word most of us would despise using now but acceptable then). The court decided:

It is clear that neither the story, nor the fact that it has been put on sale, has a goal to… create an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating environment.

(scene from Tintin Au Congo, (c) Moulinsart)

Congolese campaigner Bienvenu Mbutu Mondondo has been trying to persuade the Belgian courts since 2007 that the work was racist and should be banned. As a reader and bookseller I am not terribly keen on banning books that don’t agree with me, and even if I accepted this particular book was racist (which I don’t think it was, at least that was not the intent of the creator at the time it was made, it is the interpretation by some today applied retospectively) then surely the thing to do is still publish it, let younger readers pick it up but ensure that it is explained to them that this sort of view of other cultures was once quite acceptable in Western societies and explain to them why, so they are aware that it existed and help to educate them as to why we have spent decades trying to improve race and cultural representation and equality in our socities today, then they will understand and value the notions of modern equality all the more? To ban it simply sweeps a problem under the carpet and pretends there was no problem in the past with different attitudes, which I think undermines the reasons why we strive for equality today if we do that. We need the past, warts and all to understand how we are today and where we need to try and improve ourselves further. As is almost always the case with such legal matter, however, Mondondo and his lawyers intend to appeal, so this will most likely rumble on…

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About The Author

Joe Gordon
Joe Gordon is ForbiddenPlanet.co.uk's chief blogger, which he set up in 2005. Previously, he was professional bookseller for over 12 years as well as a lifelong reader and reviewer, especially of comics and science fiction works.

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