Is Tom and Jerry racist?

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Well they are at it again, another flick in the testicles, another jab in the ribs from the politically correct. This time they’re going after one of our best loved childhood cartoons, Tom and Jerry. The online bookstore giant, Amazon, have sparked a wave of irritated tweets and posts online after it made the decision that the classic cartoon was racist. Before purchasing any of the various volumes of Tom and Jerry on Amazon Prime, buyers will be confronted with the following message:

“Tom and Jerry shorts may depict some ethnic and racial prejudices that were once commonplace in American society. Such depictions were wrong then and are wrong today.”

Tom-And-Jerry-PictureThe crux of these moral objections goes against the character of Mammy Two shoes, the black housekeeper whose catchphrase line was “Get out and stay out!” However, the idea that Mammy Two Shoes is indicative of a racial hatred inherent in the cartoon is not considered sound. She may well be a stereotype, but a house keeper was a common occupation of many black women in America at the time the cartoons were made. She is not demonised, nor is she characterised in a particularly ugly way. In fact she is barely characterized at all. Tom and Jerry fans only ever see her legs as the cartoon is made from the perspective of the eponymous cat and mouse. It is not apparent as to why Amazon feels the need to ‘discriminate’ against this particular cartoon. There are many, far grosser stereotyped characters to be found. Amazon does not appear to go against other cartoons and their characters, such as the hapless Mexican house keeper in Family Guy, or Apu Nahasapeemapetilon and Grounds Keeper Willy, from McKilt Town, in The Simpsons. Stereotypes are funny; they don’t necessarily make you a bigot. A joke, defined as something that is not to be taken seriously, is not a joke unless it is at somebody’s expense.

It is true that some of these old cartoons made in the 50’s had some pretty ugly undertones. There was indeed, due to the large Jewish presence in Hollywood at that time, a huge amount of hatred directed at Germans, who were stereotyped as Nazis or pseudo-Hitlers. Almost all of these offensive cartoons have now been banned. The most irritating thing about Amazon’s disclaimer is that it tells the public what it ought to think. It assumes to be more enlightened and doesn’t give us the opportunity to judge for ourselves. Animation historian and author Jerry Beck explained in the Daily Beast:

“Amazon seems to have forgotten that Tom and Jerry was made for adults as much as it was for children. [Amazon] should be showcasing Tom and Jerry among classic movies in a way that gives them cultural context. The advisory is really meant to warn parents that the cartoon may include things like smoking or the black housekeeper that they might have to explain to their children.”

For the people who find it hard to see the name of a favourite childhood cartoon dragged in the mud, go back and watch it. Watch it carefully and reflect on whether this is a horrible, bigoted, prejudiced cartoon…or is it simply a charmingly funny cat and mouse story who – a bit like your old Nan – might sometimes say “coloured” instead of “black”?

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Harry Brennan is a Modern Languages student. He writes about British national politics.

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