Unless I am mistaken, during all (or most) of these debates on "Tintin au Congo", the terms "racism" and "racist" are never properly defined.
I’m not quite certain what you are driving at - is the distinction you are making that the terms in general are not defined, or that how the terms would be applied to this book is not defined?
If it’s the first, well like many things it is difficult to define a term which relates to a point of view. Broadly speaking, racism is the view that ethnic characteristics define one’s behaviour, and that there are superior and inferior races.
However this definition itself will sit in a continuum, because what one person may perceive as racist, another will not take offence to. Such examination must look at the intention of the work, and the amount of offence that may be given, intentionally or unintentionally. There isn’t a fixed level that can be measured, or a scientific test for it.
For example, the depiction of the Scotsmen in Black Island
might be seen as a light-hearted use of a common archetype, as promoted by the likes of Sir Harry Lauder, or a heavy-handed reliance on a crude stereotype used to ridicule the Scots since before the Highland Clearances.
Again, I think it something which has to be looked at on a case-by-case basis: to look for another analogy, we know that breaking windows by throwing stones is anti-social and dangerous; however, there is a big difference between you throwing stones and breaking my windows because you don’t like me, and throwing stones and breaking my windows because you are going to drag me out when my house is burning down. I can put up with the anti-social aspect of having no windows because I’ve come out of it with my life.
If you are just throwing stones out of ignorance, that is maybe in some ways excusable, but the sad fact is that I still end up with no windows, and nothing gained, so I’d like to think that the best way round that is to take away your stones, or at least for you to stop throwing them…
So, as I suggested last time, I think that the perceived racism within Huckleberry Finn
, for example, is there because Twain is turning a spotlight on it, and finding the position of those who express notions of racial superiority wanting. I can see a place for that in a world where the spotlight perhaps hasn’t yet penetrated to all the corners.Congo
doesn’t really do that, it is merely an example of a book that one can hold up and say, “This is the sort of questionable material that was produced in the early 20th century”, and it would be possible to do that with a few frames, you don’t need the whole book to show that.
Furthermore, with Twain, you could also produce other books, newspaper articles and general evidence that he was very much a champion of fairness and an exposer of hypocrisy.
With Hergé it would be much harder, even when he was most likely casting his stones out of ignorance and in tune with the society of the time in which he lived; you have only got to show the potentially anti-Semitic interpretation which can be placed on some of his characters, and the depiction of the islanders in The Secret Ray
, to show that he might have thought more about what he was doing, and taken better action to allay his critics’ fears.