This is a loaded topic as it is something that prevalent even in today’s works of fiction. With the recent live broadcast of the musical Peter Pan on NBC this has been brought back into the spotlight. Entertainment Weekly has an interesting article up about kid’s classics that are marred by racism and it is an informative piece. Sure most of the examples are from cartoons but racism and over-generalizations are still used in many of the popular shows and movies that we watch today. This is especially true in television where characters are painted with the broadest strokes, if a character is Hispanic they will be religious and most of the time are Catholic, if they are Asian they are smart.
In the live broadcast of Peter Pan NBC has changed one of the numbers, the song sung by the Indians, called Ugg-a-Wugg and they made it less offensive for the modern viewer, they removed the word redskin and made it sound like they weren’t just making up sounds in the refrain. I haven’t watched it yet to actually comment on the change. Both versions will be on Youtube if you have any questions about it. They consulted Native American tribes to help with this and they even had a nationwide search to find an actual Native American to play Tiger Lily. If you haven’t seen Peter Pan before it’s not like you are missing the song, as they just replaced the lyrics. The question that arises from this is does stripping the racism from works of the past really help anyone?
Are there people out there demanding Huckleberry Finn to be reprinted without using the word or derivative of Negro in it, should we change How To Succeed in Business… and make it less sexist. There are really not merits to changing these things, as I am sure there will be countless productions at high school levels where nothing is changed at all. Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rogers wrote that racism is taught from parent to child, this is something that we simply ignore it doesn’t matter. I think that by trying to sanitize the world of racism is a Sisyphean task. Over the years racism has gotten less and less and the current youngest generation (I-Gen/Gen Z/Homeland Generation) will grow up in a world were their grandparents lived through the Civil Rights Movement and their parents elected the first African-American president. So they will live in a world that is less overtly racist, but racism is still around and it will always be there just under the surface.