Cartoons I Didn’t Realize Were Racist as a Kid

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

I’ve previously told you about and towards a black girl in P.E. back in third grade. Well, let’s go back to my childhood once more and talk about the other things I didn’t realize were racist until I became an adult.

When I was a young child, I was really into those old cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s. Mickey Mouse, Looney Tunes, Little Lulu, Tom and Jerry, Popeye, etc.; the older they were, the better. I guess you can say I was just fascinated with cartoons that were before my time. And since these cartoons were before my time, it’s to be expected that they’re all going to have outdated political jokes that aren’t akin to our modern-day politics. One of these cartoons I want to talk about is one I grew up with- Merrie Melodies’ 1938 short Jungle Jitters.

Funny thing about this cartoon- despite this one being part of the infamous Censored Eleven, I actually remember watching it a good bit on a DVD of a compilation of old cartoons. And, like a dumb little white kid, I never realized how racist it was; I only thought about how funny the visual gags were (the merry-go-round scene, the man who walked up the tree on toilet plungers, the man who turned into a lamp, the toaster that buttered both sides of the toast, and the slapstick). I’ve never even thought about the blatant and abundant racism in this cartoon- the African natives being depicted as savages and cannibals, that one part with the racism against Asians, some antisemitism, and even some misogyny thrown in there! And yet… as awful as the racism in this cartoon is… I still enjoy some of the visual gags in this short. Yes, they’re really racist and bigoted, but the small child in me still enjoys all those gags I’ve listed above because, well… when I don’t think about how racist a lot of them are, they’re kind of funny.

That’s more than what I can say for another cartoon short I grew up watching many times- Little Lulu’s Loose in a Caboose.

Little Lulu was one of my favorite cartoon series of all time when I was a little kid. I’ve always loved Lulu’s spunky, mischievous attitude and behavior like in some of her shorts such as Bargain Counter Attack, Cad and Caddy, and A Bout with a Trout; she kind of reminds of Ramona Quimby in a way. But despite Lulu’s mischievous, yet clever, behavior towards others, she’s shown to be a nice person who cares about others in shorts like Chick and Double Chick and The Dog Show-Off. Wanna know another fun fact about this series? Little Lulu was actually created in the mid 1930s for The Saturday Evening Post by a woman known as Marjorie Henderson Buell, aka Marge. How’s that for feminism in the twentieth century?

Wait, where was I again? Oh yeah… Loose in a Caboose and the racism in it that I’ve never noticed in my childhood. Again, the group that gets the most racism towards them is black people- two of them, in fact, though unlike in Jungle Jitters, those two jokes are brief and not all that funny. Oh, there’s also a joke about Native Americans in there as well. Actually, jokes about Native Americans were huge in 1940s cartoons. One such example is another Little Lulu short I remember watching a whole lot as a kid called Bored of Education.

Unlike the brief racist jokes in Loose in a Caboose, Bored of Education’s racist jokes against Native Americans last a lot longer. Hell, I can even say that they are the main jokes in this short. But I will say that the visual gags and snarky comments in this short are a lot funnier than the jokes in Loose in a Caboose- not the racist ones, of course, but the word play and Tubby getting his comeuppance at the end.

And you know what? Looking past the racist jokes in those Little Lulu and Merrie Melodies shorts, I can say that a lot of the cartoons in those series are funny, and I can also say that I remember Little Lulu and Merrie Melodies fondly. I can’t really say the same thing for Molly Moo-Cow (no, not Mary Moo-Cow from Arthur). For those of you who don’t know (and really, who can blame you?), Molly Moo-Cow is an animated cow who appeared in six Rainbow Parade shorts from May 3, 1935 to February 28, 1936- not even a year of this cow. One of these shorts I barely remembered watching is titled Molly Moo-Cow and the Indians.

If you can tell by my disinterest in this series, this Molly Moo-Cow short isn’t very funny, entertaining, or even really all that interesting. Hell, I can’t really say much is very racist about this film other than Molly and her two duck companions appropriating Native American culture. In fact, the Native American woman and baby are portrayed as actual humans and not just a bunch of savages. Too bad I can’t say the same for the Native American man, who only views the ducks as tasty food, that appears around the four-minute mark. Again, racist jokes against Native Americans were huge in the 1940s, so naturally, they were also huge in the 1930s as well, so really, it’s no surprise how this Native American man was portrayed.

I can go on and on about how racism was prevalent in these older cartoons (to say nothing less about the cartoons produced during World War Two that were racist against Asians, specifically Japanese people), but that would be me stating the same thing over and over again. We all know racism is a bad thing that was a lot more common and accepted in our society during the 1930s and 1940s when these cartoons were made, and we all know racism will never be accepted in our cartoons today, especially the blatant racism shown in these cartoons.

However, do I think these cartoons should automatically be banned, never to be shown or remembered ever again? I don’t think so, and it’s not because I think some of the visual gags in these cartoons were funny as a kid (whether it be due to the racism or not). I can see why someone wouldn’t want to show their kids a bunch of old cartoons with racist jokes (and really, who can blame them?), but I’m not sure if outright banning them is the way to go, nor do I really think they should be censored. I mean, what’s the point of censoring and banning these cartoons? These cartoons represent the pop culture and history of the 1930s and 1940s, and history is based on real life. History isn’t censored, and neither is real life. We should be learning from the history of these cartoons, not outright banning them or censoring them. I’ll leave you a warning that modern Warner Bros. shows before their old cartoons begin.

Courtesy of Warner Bros.

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Emily Alexandra

Just some autistic person wanting to write and write. I also like to draw and have a cat and dog that are my life. I publish on 8th, 18th, and 28th every month.