Walter Lantz and friends

Animator Walter Lantz and some of his friends.

Recently, I came across on You Tube a cartoon that’s been called the most racist cartoon ever made. Its title is “Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat,” and it was made in 1940.

It’s hard to know where to begin. This whole cartoon is basically one racist stereotype of Black people after another.

I can usually find something good even in bad entertainment. For example, Disney’s “Song of the South” is rightly denounced for racist stereotypes. However, the animated sequences featuring Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox and Br’er Bear are some of the best and funniest animated stuff Disney ever did. I also liked how James Baskett portrayed Uncle Remus. He brought a lot of warmth, dignity and strength to the role. Remus was far more decent as a human being than nearly all the white characters in the film.

I can’t say the same thing for “Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat.” I find nothing at all redeeming about it. Even the music wasn’t that good.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. I understand the NAACP objected to the cartoon in 1940, and attempts at re-releasing in later years were met with protests.

So, who directed this piece of dreck? It was none other than Walter Lantz. That’s right, the same Walter Lantz who delighted and entertained the world with Woody Woodpecker, Andy Panda and Chilly Willy.

Given that Lantz directed perhaps the most racist cartoon ever made, does that mean Woody Woodpecker and his friends should be canceled? There are those who would argue that they should be canceled. I suspect there will be people looking to prove Woody Woodpecker is actually a racist character.

Look at what happened to Kate Smith. For years, her magnificent rendition of “God Bless America” was a revered part of the traditions of the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Yankees. There was a statue of her erected outside the Flyers’ arena. Then, it came out that she recorded two songs early in her career that had racist overtones.

Smith is now gone from the Flyers and the Yankees. Her statue has been removed from its place of honor. The Flyers and Yanks say they want to promote “diversity.”

It’s true that Theodor Giesel, AKA Dr. Seuss, did some very racist cartoons and ads before World War II. It’s also clear he changed as time went on. He became an anti-racist, and this was reflected in his work.

However, that hasn’t stopped people from trying to label all his work as racist. His signature character, the Cat in the Hat, has been described as being based on Black minstrel characters. His book, “The Sneetches,” which made fun of prejudice and it made it look ridiculous, has been criticized for not dealing with “structural racism.”

The fact is, if you look hard enough, you can probably find something bad about just about anyone. We are all flawed human beings, and those who entertain us are no different.

Did Lantz intend to make a racist cartoon? Probably not. The stereotypes and prejudices found in “Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat” were all too common in America at the time. He was simply reflecting those stereotypes and prejudices.

It’s curious how some things are considered so bad that someone can get “canceled” while other things are overlooked. As an example, movie director Roman Polanski is often praised as a “great artist.” However, he’s also been convicted of the rape of a child, and there’s a warrant for his arrest in California.

It’s odd how racism is considered such a no-no, but Polanski gets a free pass from the people in Hollywood. The response I hear is he should be judged by the totality of his work, not one incident that took place outside the studio.

Perhaps people like Lantz, Smith and Dr. Seuss also deserve the same sort of consideration. They need to be judged by the totality of their work, not just a few pieces. They have all contributed to American culture in very positive ways. Come to think of it, they probably contributed much more positivity to American culture than Polanski ever did.

One of the people who provided some of the voices in “Scrub Me Mama with a Boogie Beat” was none other than the Man of a Thousand Voices, Mel Blanc. He also provided the voice for Pepe LePew, who’s been called a sexual harasser and even a rapist. Another of his characters was Speedy Gonzalez, who has been described as a racist Mexican stereotype.

Does this mean Blanc should also now be “canceled”?

I know how one of the most famous characters would have responded to this idea:  “That’s dethspicable!”


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.