Entertainment

Vintage Racist Cartoons From the Early 20th Century

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.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEhHSPqqMC0[/youtube]

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:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noYptXPHiAE[/youtube]

Or how about this all-American tune? Oh, you didn’t know they edited out the N word, did you?

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nisao5tQb_c[/youtube]

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.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KoYOraDt1_k[/youtube]

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

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pjLfyooJQEc[/youtube]

Walter O. Gutjohns, “Down in Dixie”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Yt4UVGnxV8[/youtube]

Horrible Black Stereotypes

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7LMrdcs4ucc[/youtube]

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

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NIxHfwhckcs[/youtube]

It all starts about 3 minutes in.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5NS1bwFoHQg[/youtube]

Featuring Louis Armstrong, Betty is kidnapped by African cannibals.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CUX6z0hSyJw[/youtube]

Here’s Betty on the Indian reservation.

Clip from “Clean Pastures”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXB3pTMkQFs[/youtube]

From 1937, this racist cartoon depicts African American jazz in just about every way inappropriate.

Another collection of racist cartoon clips

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gH4ivOyO0PQ[/youtube]

There’s a really crazy one with Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny.

Racist Cartoons from Walmart

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g6XKQcSqabs[/youtube]

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

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiMpnCp8QbI[/youtube]

Not the cat and mouse Tom and Jerry, fyi.

Speedy Gonzales and Slow Poke Rodriguez

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXJv5-L6FwM[/youtube]

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

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i4VySRGoJTY[/youtube]

“Scrub Me Mama With a Boogie Beat”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMx8rWmUgvw[/youtube]

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

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4RhCy126RA[/youtube]

Check out this terrible Asian stereotype.

Uncle Tom and Little Eva: A rare 1930s racist cartoon

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpAeLEN5ZB4[/youtube]

An amazing, translated 1948 Soviet racist cartoon

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eKmYynSkcRg[/youtube]

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”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x5Xxk0lTAuY[/youtube]

This 1939 cartoon is blatantly racist against Arabs.

Leave a Comment

  1. Bastion says:

    Most Americans over 50 grew up with these images. It puts an interesting spin on the denials of racism prevalent today in certain political movements, doesn't it?
    "Methinks they doth protest too much".

  2. J. Morgan says:

    Enter text right here!Remember the updated and more accurate definition of racist:

    Racist: 1. Slang: Extremely Disparaging and Offensive term for a white person. 2: a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities, if promoted by white people. 3: a belief that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race, if promoted by white people.

  3. Steve says:

    Every culture shows racism or at least pokes fun at other cultures… it's just human nature. As to Al Jolson, he was no racist, even though his name is perennially linked to it because he performed in blackface. Jolson had numerous black friends and fought to bring black performers and songwriters into mainstream venues like Broadway. Jolson's own blackface character, Gus, was actually a parody, but not of blacks. It was a scathing criticism of white supremacy cloaked in humor. Gus was the clever servant who was constantly saving his white "masters" from their stupid mistakes. Jolson was Jewish and he understood prejudice. Once he offered to take black songwriter Eubie Blake to a restaurant that did not admit blacks, saying "The first guy who tries to stop us, I'll punch him in the nose!" Jolson was a great entertainer and I hate to see him smeared as a racist. Wikipedia has a decent article on him if you really want to learn about him. Yes, Jolson's blackface performances look awful today, but his intention was not racist he admired black culture and especially jazz. Blackface makeup was a common theatrical convention of that time, and most people never thought about it like we do today. We have to be careful about judging people of 100 years ago by our sensibilities of today.

    • Guest says:

      Steve your comment was well thought out but mostly it was your opinon. Jolson contributed to a negative stereo-type that even until this day is offensive to African Americans. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. Today we rarely see the racism that plague this country years ago, but what we do see today is what Al Jolson appherently saw then! " I have a Black buddy." " I like Black music!" " I date(ed) a Black person!" These slogans do not disinclude him or anyone from being a racist, however his performances could have. Poking fun at a culture is unfortunate but im shure most of us have done it. Tell what long standing white joke could compare to the centuries of black jokes we still hear today? At what point does the joke become old? Well i guess never when the "joke" pokes fun at Blacks.

  4. jhon says:

    got any images?

  5. mike says:

    The Flintstones cartoon was not racist. It was a typical ethnic humor piece not meant to offend or hurt. No different from the humor of Rodney Dangerfield who poked fun at everyone.

  6. mjazzguitar says:

    Check out palestinian television today.

  7. Marshall says:

    Give me a friggin break! You people got your panties so twisted with this PC garbage that you can't just enjoy some good funny cartoons! RELAX!