[Sca-cooks] Sambos, Zambos and Adaptations

Terry Decker t.d.decker at att.net
Thu Sep 6 14:25:24 PDT 2012

It should be noted that the story itself is not racist and that the work was 
originally written and published in Great Britain in 1899 where the 
illustrations probably would not have been an issue.  It has been reprinted 
as The Story of Little Babaji without any outcry.

The major racial issues with the book, as you mostly point out, are its 
publication in the US shortly after Plessy v Ferguson, Bannerman's original 
illustrations that have been described as "pickaninney" and the question of 
how much the book popularized "sambo" as a racial slur (the term was in use 
in the US at least 50 years before the book).

Sambo's Restaurants (started in 1957 and named by a combination of the 
owner's names) weren't intially using the Little Black Sambo theme, but they 
started using it to promote the business fairly early on.  Just in time to 
run into the civil rights movement after the major wins of the 1960's.  The 
restaurant protests and lawsuits started in the 1970's and weren't the major 
factor in the chain closing in 1982, but they represented a bad PR trend 
that exacerbated a set of bad franchise and business decisions that 
conincided with poorly controlled expansion.  The original Sambo's 
Restaurant is supposed to be alive and well in Santa Barbara.  Sambo's did 
make some pretty good pancakes as I recall.


----- Original Message ----- 

As to Little Black Sambo/Zambo being perceived as racist, that is the
case here in the US.  The artistic depictions are of a nappy-headed
little black/negro boy (even though the original was Southern Indian, I
believe).  You may not be aware that there was a chain of restaurants
here (one was in my town) that was originally called "Sambos". They had
an exterior sign showing a little negro boy and the tigers.  After a few
years, there was an outcry by the Black community - so much so that the
restaurant tried to change its name as well as removing the "offensive"
sign.  It didn't work.  The chain went out of business in the early
1980s.  The moral of the Sambo story wasn't the problem; it was the
caricture-like depiction of a particular race and the fact that the term
"sambo" came to be used as a racial slur.  The racial slur still exists,
along with "chink", "jap", "spic"...

Alys K.
Elise Fleming

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