Thursday, February 03, 2011

Sometimes You Can Judge a Book By Its Cover...

Written by Lucy Laing in the 1930s, the text is even more cringingly awful than the cover.

Here's a short extract:

(In this scene, Tom and Hugh find a "little black boy of about twelve years old" standing on his head. The author describes the boy as being "very black", with "thick, woolly hair, twinkling eyes and wide lips beneath which white teeth glistened beautifully")

"Are you our surprise?"

"No, young massa; I'se Sambo," he answered readily.

"Yes, but didn't our father bring you home as a surprise?" asked Hugh.

"Dunno 'bout dat, young massa. Cap'n bought dis chile back from ober de sea in big ship, and he say Sambo got to larn to be a servant."

Next time I start moaning about political correctness, I shall remember this book and shut up.

18 comments:

MikeP said...

Although he was black...

...he had very groovy red-and-white striped shorts.

George H. said...

You have to wonder, though, about that teepee in the background.

Mrs Trefusis... said...

Oh my God. *horrified look*

Steerforth said...

Yes, it's shocking. Suddenly, the 1920s don't seem quite so attractive.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes books disappear for a good reason! Canadian Chickadee

Martin H. said...

The frightening thing is, despite the drive to purge society of racism, you don't have to scratch the surface too deeply to find that it still lingers, like a bad smell.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

An episode of 'Love Thy Neighbour' from the 1970s is almost as shocking though, as I discovered upon picking up a VHS tape of it for £1 in a boot sale out of curiosity.

On the other hand in a perverse way, you couldn't get a better advert for anti-racism than such a children's book or such a bad sitcom and why realisation of why a certain amount of political correctness has been a necessary evil.

I would almost make sixth formers read and watch this sort of thing, just so they realised how far society had advanced in some respects, even if it is badly regressing in others!

Ms Baroque said...

OH MY GOD! But can I have it??

(Word recognition: glums. I'm not at all.)

Steerforth said...

Katy - I'm afraid that the book met with an unfortunate accident. Sorry.

Laura - When I was very young, I used to reenact scenes from Love Thy neighbour with a friend (he was black) and we thought it was hilarious to hurl racist insults at each other. Today, it makes me cringe to think that a dreadful sitcom like that was being copied by children.

Enid said...

Oh dear ! Little Black Sambo books were read to us by the teacher seventy five years ago and he was our idea of what a 'hero' should be

Is it alright still to be fond of him or would that be patronising ?

Steerforth said...

It's natural to feel an affection for a character that bought you pleasure as a child even if, as an adult, you can see how offensive it might be. As children, we aren't responsible for the reading material that's put in front of us.

My issue with this book is the offensive title, the patronising representation of "Sambo's" dialogue and the fact that - 65 years after slavery was abolished in the USA - he has effectively been purchased by the "massa" (the boys think that he is a present for them, like a new pet).

Sam Jordison said...

Typically excellent stuff Steerforth. I'm always glad of a reminder that the past wasn't necessarily better than the present...

christinelaennec said...

I too was reminded of Little Black Sambo - and also of Enid Blyton books, which are a bit more subtle I admit. I was just discussing racism today with my colleague at work - we are both appalled at the BBC's response to the Mexican ambassador's complaint at a certain bunch of laddish car guys on the t.v. "That's just British humour," they said. Really??? My colleague said the same thing as Martin, you only have to scratch the surface.

Playing by the book said...

*gulp*

MTFF said...

Horrendous. On a side note, there is a restaurant here in Santa Barbara called Sambo's which IS BASED ON THE BOOK. I kid you not. They don't use the original illustrations, but, um, tiger, little boy, Sambo.. You get it. Here is the link for all those who want to be appalled in full internet glory. http://www.sambosrestaurant.com/610/index.htm

Steerforth said...

I love Santa Barbara! I can't believe that they'd have a restaurant called Sambo's.

Sean Skipton said...

"Although he was black" ...
... he knew how to build a teepee.

paulsroom said...

When I was about three or four in the early 1950s, a black man came into our railway carriage and I said to my mother - "there's a Sambo sitting there". Needless to say it caused embarrassment but I didn't know any better. I don't know where I was told - through books, etc. - this name. Also one of my first reading books was "Little Black Quibba" written in the Edwardian period. It got banned in the end but I never saw it as racist at all. Over the passage of time, however, I can see how some things just are not right.