Free the Black Looney Tunes!

Yes, Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarves and Uncle Tom's Bungalow contain racial stereotypes and have long been suppressed. But it's time to lift the censorship and enjoy their joyous art.

Now, to be sure, these cartoons feature minstrel-style caricatures. But Looney Tunes were all about caricature. Italians were swivel-tongued hotheads. Women were eyelash-batting gold diggers, battle-ax spouses or dotty spinsters. Mexicans were impecunious slowpokes — upon which it bears mentioning that Speedy Gonzales is popular in Mexico, and when the Cartoon Network banned his cartoons, Mexican Americans were amply represented among the disappointed, and the ban was lifted in 2002.

Funny Comes in All Colors

In that context, in 2010 can’t we take a joke too? All This and Rabbit Stew has Bugs Bunny pursued by a slow-witted black hunter, who basically does precisely the things Elmer Fudd usually did. The only difference is that whenever the black hunter runs, it’s to a driving boogie vamp, which is just plain catchy.

Well, there’s a little more — in a single sequence, the hunter shoots some craps. You know — “black people shoot craps, ha-ha,” at least in 1941. But is that going to send any black people to the other room in tears?

To be sure, in 1943 the NAACP protested Coal Black. But in those days, things like this were almost the only depiction of blacks in mainstream pop culture. Today we are long past that — or even by the early ’80s, when The Cosby Show was heralded as showing whites that not all black people were poor.

There’s a reason restaurateur B. Smith is no longer hot news. 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.