It’s hard to fathom how racist popular culture used to be in the United States. Much of the racism in American popular culture in the early to mid 20th century had its origins in 19th century minstrel shows and performing in black face. It saturated advertising, music, and theatre, and defined racial stereotypes of African Americans in popular culture.
In these popular performances, white actors would dress up in black face paint and mock African Americans, their music, and their culture that developed under slavery. One well known example is Al Jolson, a very famous vaudeville actor, who starred in the well known 1927 film, The Jazz Singer.
Fueling black face and minstrel performances were most of the popular songs written in America, meant to be sung in black face. You know who Stephen Foster is, you probably sang his songs in elementary school. Called “the Father of American music,” even if his name doesn’t ring a bell, you should know that he wrote pretty much the most famous songs that make up traditional Americana. These songs should ring a bell:
Or how about this all-American tune? Oh, you didn’t know they edited out the N word, did you?
Black face and minstrel shows were so popular that they even crossed the Atlantic, with black face performances lasting in Great Britain long after they became politically incorrect in the United States. The Black and White Minstrel Show ran on British television between 1958 and 1978, and its amazing something so racist was so popular for so long. Yes, this clip is, shockingly, from 1978.
The point of all of this is that by the time these cartoons were produced, paternalistic racism mocking African African Americans and minorities of all kinds was a well established form of entertainment in the United States and elsewhere. What makes these cartoons even more horrible is that their targeted audience was children.
With the introduction out of the way, just so you have a context for these cartoons, you should take a look at how black face and minstrel shows were portrayed in the cartoons of the early 20th century.
Racism in children’s cartoons
A student made this informative video for a school assignment illustrating racism in children’s cartoons. Did you know that Elmer Fudd was originally African American? That Popeye battled monstrous Japanese? A must watch.
Racist WWII cartoon propaganda against the Japanese
Walter O. Gutjohns, “Down in Dixie”
Horrible Black Stereotypes
A collection of both live action and cartoon animation clips from the early 20th century that depict racist African and African American stereotypes.
Betty Boop was so racist
It all starts about 3 minutes in.
Featuring Louis Armstrong, Betty is kidnapped by African cannibals.
Here’s Betty on the Indian reservation.
Clip from “Clean Pastures”
From 1937, this racist cartoon depicts African American jazz in just about every way inappropriate.
Another collection of racist cartoon clips
There’s a really crazy one with Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny.
Racist Cartoons from Walmart
This is a collection of racist cartoons from videos you can buy in the Walmart dollar movie bin!
Tom and Jerry go to Africa: Racism ensues
Not the cat and mouse Tom and Jerry, fyi.
Speedy Gonzales and Slow Poke Rodriguez
I mean really, how is this NOT a terrible stereotype of Mexicans? Just look at Slow Poke Rodriguez!
More Racism from Merrie Melodies and Warner Brothers
“Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat”
Oh yes, African Americans were just so lazy until a beautiful woman shows up. This is seriously, majorly screwed up and the epitome of paternalistic racism.
Even the Flintstones were racist
Check out this terrible Asian stereotype.
Uncle Tom and Little Eva: A rare 1930s racist cartoon
An amazing, translated 1948 Soviet racist cartoon
This Soviet era cartoon was anti-American propaganda, but in its own way racist. This is a truly interesting insight into foreign racism in the 1940s, because so few of these cartoons are translated.
“The Princess and the Pauper”
This 1939 cartoon is blatantly racist against Arabs.