Yesterday in my Bible and Race in the United States of America class, I asked students how differently they might read the Bible were it introduced with the following disclaimer:
The cartoons you are about to see are products of their time. They may depict some of the ethnic and racial prejudices that were commonplace in American society. These depictions were wrong then and are wrong today. While the following does not represent the Warner Bros. view of today’s society, these cartoons are being presented as they were originally created, because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed. (h/t/ @stilkov & @roguevelvet).
I stumbled upon this image on my Twitter feed. From what I can gather, Warner Bros. has re-released some of the cartoons that the company shelved for their unsavory depictions of race and ethnicity. Depending on your age and socialization, you can probably remember when Bugs Bunny got laughs for wearing blackface or when it was not uncommon to find Mammies singing a merry melody.
With the passage of time and copyright control, many of these cartoons were locked in a vault, presumably to shield viewers from the horrid past. But since 2011, Warner Bros. apparently has tried to approach history in a more nuanced manner.
I’m currently putting together the syllabus for my Introduction to New Testament course, and I’m pretty sure I’ll start off with this disclaimer. I think it gets those who want to ignore the social violence of the Old and New Testaments to take a second look. And it challenges those who would dismiss the racy classic to think about why anyone–including contemporary folks–would and should care to hold on to it.
Richard Newton, PhD is curator of Sowing the Seed and Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Elizabethtown College. His scholarship focuses on the anthropology of scriptures.