Wednesday 12 May 2010

France, RDC anti-racism organisations join fight to label 'Tintin in Congo' racist

France's Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN) and a Kinshasa-based association against racism, join the fight to put a warning on the children's comic book 'Tintin in the Congo' because of what they say is racist content.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM (MAY 12, 2010)REUTERS - Congolese-born Mbutu Mondondo Bienvenu wants the children's comic book 'Tintin in the Congo' banned from Belgian shops because he argues it is racist.
On Wednesday (May 12), France's Representative Council of Black Associations (CRAN) and a Kinshasa-based association against racism joined Bienvenu's fight.

While the two associations do not want a total ban on the book, they want at least a warning and a foreword replacing 'Tintin in Congo' in its historical context.

The book came out first in 1930 and traces the adventures of a journalist Tintin and his dog Snowy as they travel through Belgian-controlled Congo.

In the book the Congolese are badly educated, take up servile positions, speak in pidgin french and send Snowy running for cover because of the colour of their skin.

Tintin, for his part, is portrayed as magnanimous white man who teaches their children in a missionary school.

Bienvenu started his fight in 2007, after Britain's Commission for Racial Equality declared 'Tintin in Congo' contained "imagery and words of hideous racial prejudice''.

France's CRAN (Representative Council of Black Associations), an umbrella organisation for 120 associations defending black people's right and the fight against racism, joined the case in Belgium because the book is against European values of tolerance, CRAN President Patrick Lozes said.

''The Belgian procedure starts to take a long time and as a result we do not exclude the possibility of bringing the case in front of a French tribunal to ask for a label, a warning on the book, and a foreword because each day is one day too many because children are reading this book and the book conveys images and messages that are not worthy of the values were are trying to promote within the European Union,'' Lozes said.

The case has also raised issues in the Republic Democratic of Congo, Jean-Claude Ndjakanyi, a lawyer representing an association for the fight against racism in Kinshasa, said.

Mdjakanyi said the book contributes to the epidemic of racism: ''I think there is progressively an awareness that racism is shocking. It's like an epidemic.''

Bienvenu has lived in Belgium for more than 20 years and believes Tintin in the Congo is partly responsible for the racist attitude he faces daily.

Bienvenu says that by portraying the Congolese as servile and stupid Tintin perpetuates a negative image of all black people and that children should not grow up believing this is acceptable.

''You are being refused a flat because you are black. You are being denied a better job because your are black. Because of all that, we are asking ourselves, ''Why do they act that way with us?'' And if we have to start fighting against racism, then all the elements contributing to racism and for example the comic strip, 'Tintin in the Congo', should be banned, I think,'' Bienvenu said.

In Britain, the Commission for Racial Equality forced the UK publishers in 2007 to put a warning sign on the book-cover after declaring it contained "imagery and words of hideous racial prejudice, where the 'savage natives' look like monkeys and talk like imbeciles''.

Bienvenu wants Belgium to go for a total ban.

He is also seeking symbolic damages from Tintin publisher and rights owner Moulinsart.

Moulinsart denies that Herge, Tintin's creator, was racist. Spokesman Alain de Kuyssche argues he was simply a man of his time. Not all sailors are as haphazard as Captain Haddock, not all scientists are as forgetful as Professor Tournesol.

Yet he does admit that Herge felt the need to revise the book in 1946 because if could be seen as offensive.

''It's ridiculous. It's absolutely ridiculous. You know, when you read the entire work of Herge you realise he is everything but racist, but colonialist. He is laughing at colonialists,'' De Kuyssche said.

''He reflects the way black people were represented. I can tell you that in 1946 he (Herge) felt the need to review and revise 'Tintin in the Congo'. Others didn't do it,'' De Kuyssche added.

For example, a geography lesson where native Congolese were being taught about their country Belgium became a mathematic class. Belgium controlled the country that is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo until 1960.

A native Congolese wearing the european-style trouser and shirt outfit in the 1930 version wears a more traditional loincloth in the later version.

De Kuyssche said Tintin had not been in the Congo before he wrote the book. He said he was inspired by what he read in the press or what he saw in the Africa Museum in Brussels' suburb of Tervuren.

De Kuyssche said the book should be read in the context of the period when it was published.

Yet he also says that if you ban Tintin you might as well ban Tarzan, or the works of English writers Charles Dickens or Rudyard Kipling who have also been criticised for their patronising and colonial writings.

Bienvenu won't hear those arguments and is ready to go far to have his case heard.

''I started in 2007. It has been three years and a few weeks of manoeuvres to delay the case will not tire me. And I am saying we will continue to where the story ends, and that could be the European Court of human rights,'' Bienvenu said.

''Tintin in the Congo'' is one of 23 books which track the adventures of the fictional young journalist and his trusty dog Snowy.

Two million Tintin albums are sold every year, De Kuyssche said. Hollywood director Steven Spielberg

The tufty-haired Tintin first appeared in 1929 and featured in adventures until 1976, selling more than 200 million copies worldwide.