Here Are Some of the Most Racist Cartoon Characters of All Time

May 8th 2016

I grew up on a steady diet of Disney classics, reruns of Warner Brothers cartoons, and anime.

My love and appreciation for animation hasn't waned much since I've been "a grown up," but my awareness now is a lot better than when I was 10. This expanded consciousness has led to the realization of a painful fact: A lot of cartoon characters I enjoyed were pretty racist — and there's scores of other characters before my time that make those characters look like card carrying members of the NAACP. 

Here are some of the most racist cartoon characters of all time: 

King Louie from "The Jungle Book"

King Louie, an orangutan, rules the monkeys in Disney's "The Jungle Book." But it's clear in the iconic 1967 animated version of the film that he and his underlings aren't like the other animals in the jungle.

For one, most other characters speak clear English or have British accents. But the monkeys and King Louie speak a brand of slang clearly meant to mock African Americans, as Amanda Bell wrote for Yahoo Movies:  

The cartoon's King Louie ...was a jazzy ape whose language skills were considered much less refined than those of the film's other animals and who sang "I Wanna Be Like You" to the orphaned human boy Mowgli. The character is widely panned as exemplifying "negative racial stereotyping" and connoting inequality between African-Americans and Caucasians. While filmmakers initially tried to sidestep perceptions of racism with King Louie by casting an Italian-American singer (Louis Prima) in the role rather than Louis Armstrong, whom the part was originally written for, the character still strongly violated the ethos of social progress. 

Indian Chief from "Peter Pan"

Disney's 1953 animated film "Peter Pan" is a story about siblings who follow a flying boy who never grows up into a magical world full of adventure. And racism, too. The tribe of supposed American Indians that the kids meet early in their journey to Neverland are big-nosed, red-skinned stereotypes of our continent's original people who the kids ask questions like "what made the red man red?" and "why does he ask you 'how'?" 

The tribe, led by their chief, answers with a song that paints American Indian languages as nonsense and attributes their pigmentation to  "the very first Injun prince" who "kissed a maid and start to blush." Hau (not how) actually means hello in the Lakota language, but the song gives an alternative explanation.

Why does he ask you, "How?"
Why does he ask you, "How?"
Once the Injun didn't know
All the things that he know now
But the Injun, he sure learn a lot
And it's all from asking, "How?"

Hana Mana Ganda
Hana Mana Ganda
We translate for you
Hana means what mana means
And ganda means that, too

Killa from "Dragon Ball Z"

Along with "Akira," "Fist of the North Star" and "Cowboy Bebop," the "Dragon Ball Z" series was one of the anime titles that got me hooked in the 90s and early 2000s and explains my current obsession with series like "Attack on Titan" and "Tokyo Ghoul." But if you've watched much anime in your life and seen any of the small number of black characters depicted in the Japanese cartoons, chances are you've noticed certain patterns. For one, there's the infamous big exaggerated pink or red lips drawn onto black characters. In anime, stereotypes of black people also "can be seen in their dressing style, behavior, speech patterns and activities they are engaged in," according to a post on JapanSociology.com. Look no further than "Killa."

Killa, an otherwise forgettable character who is never the focus of any major storyline in the DBZ universe, is a warrior with those patented super-pink lips and a babbling, mostly incoherent way of talking.

Note: DBZ fans online have said that only the English dub of the series features Killa speaking this way: 

Popeye the Sailor Man

Many of the early Popeye cartoons have been edited for racist portrayals of non-white peoples, including people of African descent. For instance, in a 1951 cartoon titled "Popeye's Pappy," Popeye travels to an island to find his father, who is enjoying a pampered life as the ruler of the island's dark-skinned inhabitants, savages with huge lips and bones in their hair who tote spears.

Popeye and his father Pappy end up fighting the island folk and stacking them on a makeshift rack before Pappy hangs a sign from one of their necks that reads "Cheaper by the Dozen," a clear allusion to slavery.

"Popeye the Sailor Meets Ali Baba and his Forty Thieves," a cartoon from 1937, included racist caricatures of Arabs and their culture.

And Popeye cartoons during World War II, like a lot of American media of the time, were also incredibly politically incorrect and racist in depictions of the Japanese. An editorial review of a set of Popeye cartoons from 1941 to 1943 warns: "The war-themed cartoons feature outrageous racial caricatures of the Japanese."

Look no further than "You're a Sap, Mr. Jap."

The roustabouts and the crows from "Dumbo"

Jumbo Jr. was always different than the other elephants. His ears were so damn big that the animals shunned him and nicknamed him "Dumbo." Talk about mean. But that's nothing compared to how the writers of the film treat the (literally) faceless black laborers depicted in the 1941 Disney classic, who sing an interesting song as they help set up the circus our title character calls home.  The workers, or "roustabouts" are illiterate, joyous laborers who fritter their hard-earned money away.

We work all day, we work all night
We never learned to read or write
We're happy-hearted roustabouts
Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
When other folks have gone to bed
We slave until we're almost dead
We're happy-hearted roustabouts
Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
We don't know when we get our pay
And when we do, we throw our pay away

...Swing that sledge! Sing that song!
Work and laugh the whole night long
You happy-hearted roustabouts!
Pullin', poundin', tryin', groundin'
Big top roundin' into shape
Keep on working!
Stop that shirking!
Grab that rope, you hairy ape!
Poundin'! poundin'! poundin'! poundin'!

"Oh..." is right.

And then there are the crows that teach Dumbo how to put those ears to use and fly. The jive-talking crows are depicted as uneducated and poor, and speak in a stereotypically black manner.

All but one of the characters was voiced by a black actor. A white guy voiced the leader of the crows, Jim Crow, not to be confused with the legally enforced racial caste system that maintained racial segregation in the U.S. from the Reconstruction Era to the mid 1960s.

Jynx from "Pokemon" and Mr. Popo from "Dragon Ball" and "Dragon Ball Z"

Because of the similarities in their appearances, I'm addressing these two allegedly racist anime characters together. I say allegedly because though newer renditions of both characters depict them with lighter skin and lips, there's still a lot of debate in the fandom about whether the characters are a racist caricature or not, so I have to cover myself — anime message boards can get pretty intense.

But in 2000, cultural critic and children book author Carole B. Weatherford accused Pokemon of being racist and politically incorrect:

The character Jynx, Pokémon #124, has decidedly human features: jet-black skin, huge pink lips, gaping eyes, a straight blonde mane and a full figure, complete with cleavage and wiggly hips. Put another way, Jynx resembles an overweight drag queen incarnation of Little Black Sambo, a racist stereotype from a children's book long ago purged from libraries.

Weatherford wrote another piece in the Christian Science Monitor that also addressed Mr. Popo, a kindhearted servant in the Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z universe who also had some pretty decent fighting skills, even if he's no Goku:

When I first glimpsed Jynx on the "Pokmon" cartoon, I thought surely the character was an aberration. Then I saw Mr. Popo, a cosmic character from "Dragonball Z." Mr. Popo is a rotund, turban-clad genie with pointy ears, jet-black skin, shiny white eyes, and, yes, big red lips.

Mammy Two Shoes from "Tom and Jerry"

Mammy Two Shoes is a racist caricature of a black "mammy," in the "Tom and Jerry" cartoons.

In 2013, the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia received its "Question of the Month" from somebody named Hope Robbins in Fairfield, California, who asked about Mammy Two Shoes.

Q: "Have you ever heard of someone being called Mammy Two Shoes? What does it mean?" 

A:  Mammy Two Shoes was a character in the Tom and Jerry cartoon series created by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera. These short cartoons were created in the 1940s and 1950s. The plot is essentially the same in the early episodes: Tom (a cat) employs strategies to trap a mischievous mouse (Jerry). Tom comes close to capturing Jerry, but, alas, he is outsmarted by the mouse. This recurring plot begins with the first episode, Puss Gets the Boot (1940) . In this episode, Jasper (the original name of Tom) is tricked by Jerry into breaking plates. Mammy Two Shoes throws the cat out of the house. As she drags Jasper out of the house she says, "And when I sez out, Jasper, I means out, O-U-W-T, out."

During the Jim Crow era, it was common for animated cartoons to feature racial caricatures and stereotypes, and the Tom and Jerry shorts were no exception...This tendency to play to the racial attitudes of the white audience was also evident in the episode, The Lonesome Mouse (1943). A terrified Mammy Two Shoes climbed a stool to escape Jerry. The mouse shook the stool and her clothes began to fall off. The shaking also dislodged a diamond ring, false teeth, a pair of dice, and a straight razor.

If you can locate the scene from "The Lonesome Mouse," mentioned above, pay special attention to the dice, an allusion to stereotypes about craps-loving black folk, and the straight razor, which one literary critic and analyzing author, William Faulkner, referred to as "the stereotypical lethal weapon of the black man in the south."

The museum also notes that the character might not even be a maid, a characterization "based on what can be seen of her physical appearance, her heavy 'black' dialect, and her behavior."

In this episode, Saturday Evening Puss (1950) , she has clothes and a dressing room and speaks as if the home belonged to her. One possibility is that Mammy Two Shoes began as a domestic worker for unknown employers and then morphed into the owner of the home. Another possibility is that the cartoon's creators - again, playing to the prejudices of the time - portrayed a black female homeowner in a way that they believed would gain the most comedic effect. In other words, they portrayed her as a Mammy irrespective of whether she was a domestic worker because they believed that portrayal was funny.

Bugs Bunny in "Southern Fried Rabbit"

I'm not even going to curate this one. Just have a look.

Joe Jitsu and Go Go Gomez from "The Dick Tracy Show"

Policeman Joe Jitsu was a good-mannered ally of Detective Tracy who went around bowing constantly and judo-flipping criminals into submission while saying "So solly!" and "Excuse, prease" in the 1961 "Dick Tracy Show" series. Doesn't take a detective to figure out...

Go Go Gomez, according to this 1990 Los Angeles Times piece about how some television stations were conflicted about airing the Dick Tracy cartoon because of stereotypes,  was another policeman who was "shaped like a Mexican jumping bean, wore a sombrero and frequently napped in a hammock.

Every-Damn-Body in "The Censored 11"

The Censored 11 are as repugnant as their title denotes: these are 11 cartoons from the golden era of Warner Bros' cartoons in the '30s and '40s that were yanked from distribution because of gross racial stereotypes. I'm talking about such offerings as "Goldilocks and the Jivin’Bears," "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs," and "Uncle Tom’s Bungalow." Bugs Bunny even gets in on things in "All This and Rabbit Stew." Here's Bugs going head-to-head with, basically, the black Elmer Fudd, a clueless, sleepy-eyed hunter who can't resist a game of dice.

Here's a Youtube playlist with other cartoons in the Censored 11:

As this article on Indie Wire points out, there are many more cartoons that could join the list, but it's important for people to actually see the reality of how racist beliefs from back in the day — and today — can seep into popular culture.

There are so many other WB cartoons with black stereotypes sprinkled in here and there that it would take a lifetime to cut them all out. But why would anyone want to? There's no point hiding your head in the sand pretending that things did not exist as they did. People should face up to the reality of the attitudes and beliefs of the period, and should examine and discuss them.

This is by no means an exhaustive list of racist characters or moments in cartoons, even those I know and love. I mean, we didn't even get into the character known as Sunflower in the original release of Fantasia, Mickey Mouse and pals in black face, or other Disney titles like "Songs of the South," "Aladdin," "The Little Mermaid," "Pocahontas," and even "The Princess and the Frog." But I'll spare you the heartache and end here.

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