McWhorter: Banning Racist Cartoons Makes Black Folks Look “Weak”

The conservative linguist thinks black television's made enough progress.

By Naima Ramos-Chapman Aug 16, 2010

Conservative commentator John McWhorter’s at it again. Last week on The Root, McWhorter called for Warner Bros. to re-release 11 cartoons from the 1930’s and 40’s era. Dubbed the "Censored Eleven", the cartoons depict black folks as jungle hopping, jazz jiving, swollen lipped singers. Public pressure led distributor United Artist to ban the shows back in the 1960’s, but McWhorter thinks it’s important to bring them back. Not doing so, he says, "makes black people look, frankly, weak." There’s more, as McWhorter explains:

In our times, Spike Lee movies, Tyler Perry’s universe, the first family and even the likes of bread-and-butter TV successes like Sister, Sister and That’s So Raven — the passing nature of those last two only underscores the point — show us that black depictions in the media have done a lot of overcoming. Eight minutes of jiving cartoon high jinks can hardly be blamed for defining black people.


Why can’t we take a joke as, say, Yunte Huang can about Charlie Chan, as recounted in a recent New Yorker? Charlie Chan gets anthologized on DVD sets with all of us admitting that the past is the past (when the Chinese past in America was quite hideous). But we can only get peeks at the Censored Eleven from muddy prints of some of them on YouTube.

Read more at The Root.

Sid Mahanta over at Mother Jones disagrees. Mahanta argues that racism isn’t just some embarrassing part of America’s history’s, but that’s alive and well in the present: 

While the ugliness of the Censored Eleven may be seventy years old, the attitudes and carelessness that produced them persist. (Witness some of the anti-Obama placards held aloft at conservative political rallies, or tea party leader Mark Williams’ supposedly satirical screed against the NAACP.) To laugh all that away, you’ve got to have a healthy sense of irony.

No doubt, the cartoons are powerful and thought-provoking, challenging our own notions of acceptability and forcing us to relive an apsect of our past that many might prefer to forget. But let’s face it: not everyone’s ready for Goldilocks and the Jivin’ Bears. Especially racists.

Read Mahanta’s full analysis.

It’s unclear what’s more troubling: that McWhorter thinks the ban is a sign of "weakness", or that he thinks we’ve made enough progress in the representation of black folks on television. We’ll toss the question out to you readers: Does he have a point? And if not, why?