Subject: Arthur was 100% black
April 21, 2017 11:22 AM   Subscribe

"After thinking about it a bit more, I realized that, for many, this wasn't an inherent fact. Bugs Bunny is a rabbit, and while he is anthropomorphic, the suspension of disbelief only stretches so far for some people. It might not be a widely held understanding for white people, so immediately after talking to my friend about Bugs Bunny being black, I turned to my (admittedly, mostly white) colleagues and asked around. "Do you think Bugs Bunny is black?" I asked, only for many to not really understand the question." posted by palindromic (119 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is great. Bugs Bunny was always coded Brooklyn to me, in a way that has largely disappeared from actual Brooklyn, but was still current in pop culture. That was as much as I picked up on when he was a kid; when I was older, I heard it argued that he was Jewish. But I am completely here for these takes.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:28 AM on April 21, 2017 [27 favorites]


See also this tumblr discussion about race on Arthur.
posted by rewil at 11:33 AM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


Foghorn Leghorn?

The only time a black person I talked to about this didn't understand what I was saying were times when we would disagree on which characters are black (Foghorn Leghorn is a point of a major point of contention).

OK then!
posted by thelonius at 11:36 AM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


"White people don't want to see race anywhere

Would it be fair to say that maybe what we're talking about in pieces like this indicates a distinction between race and identity? They're overlapping concepts for certain, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're the same, and it seems to me by the time you're talking about the black-ness of an anthropomorphic rabbit, you've left the realm of things that are explicitly racial if still tied up with identity.
posted by wildblueyonder at 11:38 AM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


I wonder if that may have been spillover from Thundercats, as Panthro and Donatello both took on similar roles as "the genius engineer/tech guy".

Maybe someone else can find it, but there's a great writeup somewhere on the concept of the Supercapable Black Nerd from 80s/90s media as a form of model minority.
posted by griphus at 11:43 AM on April 21, 2017 [23 favorites]


In a Tumblr post, New York City-based artist Jayson Musson argues that Panthro from ThunderCats is an unsung African American hero.

Even as a small (white) child, Panthro's blackness was crystal clear. I'm not sure I understood at the time why that was, but it was self-evident.

Foghorn Leghorn, on the other hand? Very, very white. Like Senator Claghorn levels of white.
posted by explosion at 11:45 AM on April 21, 2017 [37 favorites]


Hong Kong Phooey (Number One Superguy) was almost certainly supposed to be black, but not to the writers' credit. I loved that show as a kid and tried rewatching it - boy does it not hold up.

I agree that Bugs was more Brooklyn / ethnic than specifically coded - to me he was a Marx Brother. But definitely Other, so this works for me.
posted by Mchelly at 11:46 AM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


Bugs Bunny was always coded Brooklyn to me, in a way that has largely disappeared from actual Brooklyn, but was still current in pop culture.

The equivalent of Bugs Bunny's voice today -- the specific Brooklyn/Bronx accent of a working-class minority -- would absolutely be either Hispanic or Black. "Funny" voices (that aren't snooty) are almost always mined from working class accents as they are broader and there's no real Jewish working class in the same sense as there was when Mel Blanc (himself a West coast Jew) developed Bugs' voice.
posted by griphus at 11:48 AM on April 21, 2017 [17 favorites]


Yeah Bugs' real last name is obviously Bernstein.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:49 AM on April 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


Deputy Dawg is also probably white, I think.
posted by thelonius at 11:51 AM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


The interesting question to ask, for me, is did the cartoon-makers intend to code those characters as black? I assume that everyone who worked on Bugs Bunny was white, so how would they even know what they were doing? They were plenty good at racism, but coding Bugs as black would seem to involve way more subtlety than they were capable of.
posted by klanawa at 11:51 AM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Also, as a Canadian, I'm curious about whether any cartoon characters exist that read as indigenous.
posted by klanawa at 11:52 AM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


As I was typing that, it occurred to me that both of those cases kind of dovetailed with Geordi Laforge, who first popped up in like 88/89.

I remember it made a specific example out of the hacker from Die Hard if that helps.
posted by griphus at 11:53 AM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


John Redcorn
posted by overeducated_alligator at 11:54 AM on April 21, 2017


Backyardigans is great for this.
posted by My Dad at 11:54 AM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yeah, gotta go with Bugs as a Marx Brother ("of course you know, this means war" was literally a Groucho line). I can see how he could be viewed as having black characteristics today but I don't think you can definitively put him in one or the other camp exclusively. A lot of these work (the ones from the Arthur series certainly - Brain even celebrated Kwanzaa) and hell, if black people want to claim Scrappy Doo I'm more than happy to give him away. But Spongebob? Nope, I see nothing black there.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 11:55 AM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


I assume that everyone who worked on Bugs Bunny was white, so how would they even know what they were doing?

The people working on Bugs weren't white at that time, they were mostly Jewish and (like most of non-talent Hollywood) came out of the Jewish working class from the East Coast. Personally I don't think Bugs was coded as black necessarily, but he was absolutely coded as a ethnic minority as opposed to guys like Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam who were absolutely coded as white (even back then.)
posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on April 21, 2017 [40 favorites]


Was there actually anyone who thought that Panthro -- the character voiced by Bill Cosby's TV dad -- wasn't supposed to be black?
posted by Etrigan at 11:56 AM on April 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


if black people want to claim Scrappy Doo I'm more than happy to give him away

Well but he's not really yours to give. (Or mine, for that matter.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 11:58 AM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


John Redcorn

I mean coded as indigenous in the sense of the article, not an explicit stereotype.
posted by klanawa at 12:00 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yeah, gotta go with Bugs as a Marx Brother ("of course you know, this means war" was literally a Groucho line)

I don't think the author is making an argument that these characters are literally black people, so I'm not sure if it needs to be refuted in this way.
posted by Think_Long at 12:00 PM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


The equivalent of Bugs Bunny's voice today -- the specific Brooklyn/Bronx accent of a working-class minority -- would absolutely be either Hispanic or Black.

Bugs just gets older as the accent that characterizes him shifts backwards in time. I imagine Bugs as a very elderly bunny indeed now.
posted by corb at 12:01 PM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


Arthur is an odd one for me, because I couldn't even tell what kind of animal he was supposed to be. But D.W. definitely made me think of Dee from What's Happening!!
posted by 2N2222 at 12:04 PM on April 21, 2017


"They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets," says Sesame Workshop President and CEO Gary Knell.
posted by PlusDistance at 12:04 PM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


The people working on Bugs weren't white at that time, they were mostly Jewish and (like most of non-talent Hollywood) came out of the Jewish working class from the East Coast.

Yeah, I think he's almost a send-up of Groucho -- I mean, do you really want to try to tell me that carrot is not actually Groucho's cigar?
posted by jamjam at 12:05 PM on April 21, 2017 [14 favorites]


I (a white millennial) loooooooved A Goofy Movie as a kid and am the enjoying the hell out of the backstory and black coded perspective on the story. I missed out on most of the cartoons being discussed but I love thinking of Bugs Bunny in this new light . It also seems to me that any characters out there that played, to the kid watching, as representing that kids own race makes plenty of sense, even without specific or intentional messages therein (though I don't doubt said intentionality). I mean, if they were at all worth watching.
posted by Lisitasan at 12:08 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Arthur is an odd one for me, because I couldn't even tell what kind of animal he was supposed to be. But D.W. definitely made me think of Dee from What's Happening!!

I always understood that his family were aardvarks, but I don't remember where I got that information. Wikipedia seems to back me up, though.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:08 PM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Yeah, Panthro was of course black.

I wonder how much the Bugs thing ties into the Space-Jam era marketing of Looney Toons as "urban," something that never really made much sense to me. As for the original Looney Toons, there was so much overt racism that I just figured they were white/Jewish because non-whites were so explicitly, stereotypically and offensively marked.
posted by klangklangston at 12:10 PM on April 21, 2017


Bugs is definitely an old-timey Brooklyn Jew in manner and accent, but you have to concede he has a heavy dose of Bre'r Rabbit in his psychological makeup and narrative function.
posted by praemunire at 12:10 PM on April 21, 2017 [19 favorites]


Bugs Bunny did drag pretty often, but he also did blackface (among other things) at least once, which doesn't hold up all that well.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:12 PM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


Hong Kong Phooey (Number One Superguy) was almost certainly supposed to be black

Scatman Crothers.
posted by pracowity at 12:13 PM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Foghorn Leghorn and my white southern grandfather sounded nigh-identical when they spoke - same stammer, same inflections. If someone found evidence that Grandpa Jim was actually an android whose lexical corpus was exclusively populated by Foghorn Leghorn shorts, it would be less surprising to our family than you'd think.
posted by palindromic at 12:16 PM on April 21, 2017 [26 favorites]


Sarah Hagi, who wrote this, has a great Twitter, and her writing for Vice has been amazing. She also recently wrote (on a very different note), "I Went to a Pro-Islamophobia Rally Hosted by Canada's Breitbart in My Hijab".
posted by ITheCosmos at 12:18 PM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


I don't know if I ever internalized Bugs as black, but ever since I was little mythology-devouring kiddo, I always associated Bugs with Anansi.
posted by Fiberoptic Zebroid and The Hypnagogic Jerks at 12:21 PM on April 21, 2017 [11 favorites]


The only two on the list that I don't entirely get are Luigi, since the Mario Brothers are Italian stereotypes through and through, and Optimus Prime, since Peter Cullen's voice for him always sounded like a robot John Wayne to me. But to each their own!
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:21 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm having trouble thinking of old Loony Tunes characters I ever read as black. The only one I can think of was Mama Bear from the few Three Bears shorts that were done, which focused more on Junior Bear, and the extremely angry Papa Bear over the frumpy long suffering Mama Bear.

Interestingly, It never occurred to me that Papa and Junior Bear could also be black.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:23 PM on April 21, 2017


Bugs is definitely an old-timey Brooklyn Jew in manner and accent, but you have to concede he has a heavy dose of Bre'r Rabbit in his psychological makeup and narrative function.

...
I don't know if I ever internalized Bugs as black, but ever since I was little mythology-devouring kiddo, I always associated Bugs with Anansi.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other.
posted by griphus at 12:25 PM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


My own personal imposition of real human racial identities onto anthropomorphic animal cartoon characters is thus:

In my head, I've always interpreted Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony as Indian. I think this is cross-pollination, as I was really into the comic Morning Glories as the same time I was watching a lot of My Little Pony. The comic's colour palette is very similar to Twilight Sparkle's (purples, magentas, and pastels), and Zoe has a similar hairstyle, so I guess I latched on to her for my mental picture of what Twilight Sparkle might look like as a human.

Brains are weird, that's my defence.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:25 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I always thought of Arthur as Asian (aside from being an aardvark) but there is no reason he could not be read as black. Classic Bugs was definitely Jewish/Brooklyn but hey, characters evolve and you could say his more recent incarnations are different.

Road Runner I would definitely see as a person of color (maybe indigenous!) always having to outwit the Man, or rather the Coyote.
posted by emjaybee at 12:30 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I've never interpreted cartoon characters racially, but this had me intrigued and I just watched a Mel Blanc appearance on Letterman, and I have to say, that man is infinitely more interesting than TFA.
posted by Laotic at 12:31 PM on April 21, 2017


It just occurred to me: I wonder how much of the identification of Arthur as black comes from the millions of kids who were first exposed to the books through Bill Cosby's reading of "Arthur's Eyes" on Reading Rainbow.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:36 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Yosemite Sam however, is David Crosby. Or vice versa.
posted by jonmc at 12:37 PM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Twilight Sparkle as Indian is a very common fan conception. I imagine Pinkie Pie as Hispanic, probably because of the whole "chimi cherry chonga" business and the way she broke out in Spanish at the end of "The Goof-Off."
posted by SPrintF at 12:38 PM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


Bugs Bunny, much like Groucho before and alongside him, is an exemplar of a Vaudevillian schnorrer, hailing from a particular Jewish context. Also: he is a rabbit. He "is" "black" to the extent that one could redefine those words to reach a particular desired result.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:41 PM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


Arthur is an aardvark.
posted by jazon at 12:45 PM on April 21, 2017


Also, I remember watching an interview with Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs) where he said that Bugs' voice was meant to be a combo of the Brooklyn and Bronx accents.
posted by jonmc at 12:46 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Arthur is an aardvark.

So, is it safe to say Arthur got a nose job for television? Maybe the TV execs thought he looked too ethnic.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:52 PM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


The moment just now where the thought entered my head that Bugs sounds a lot like Flavor Flav...there's no unthinking that.

Yeah boy! [chomps on carrot, chews loudly]
posted by zippy at 12:54 PM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Yosemite Sam however, is David Crosby. Or vice versa.

Crosby? There's not enough fight in the man. Merle Haggard, maybe. Or Ted Nugent.

Who should be a Looney Tunes character is Joe Walsh.
posted by IndigoJones at 12:56 PM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


"It may be this, on Google Books: Color Monitors: The Black Face of Technology in America (amazon link):"

It probably is — I recognized the argument but couldn't place it, so I'm glad you dug that back up. My dad had to read that book as part of his master's degree in technical communication, so I ended up reading it over a trip back home. It's really frustrating, because the guy has some decent insights, but it seems like he came up with a provocative thesis first (that the technological savvy of black characters is actually a ploy to reinforce white superiority because whites are freed from the obligation of engaging with technology) and then shoehorns all evidence into it, ignoring counter-examples. It's frustrating because he's not nearly as conversant in sci-fi or nerdery as he thinks he is, and it also smacks all the way through of a white dude ignoring nuance in order to make a strident argument on behalf of people with more complicated feelings (the huge gulf between how Kevorkian talks about e.g. Geordi and how Afro-Futurists talk about him is really stark and telling). And a lot of it feels like sort of the worst impulses of Susan Sontag, where she'd overstate critical theory in order to have a provocative argument that often was more worthwhile in prompting consideration of all the ways she was wrong.

Sorry. Derail. Though it makes me think about how Frylock, the only semi-competent member of ATHF, is the black guy.
posted by klangklangston at 12:56 PM on April 21, 2017 [9 favorites]


It should be obvious that the original incarnation of Bugs Bunny (up until, say, the late 60's) was Brooklyn Jewish, not black. I don't think this is me "not wanting to see race."

Looney Toons/Warner Bros. and other post-war creators of cartoons could only portray race in terms of caricature. Hekyl and Jekyl come to mind, as well as the housekeeper in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. Or the portrayal of black people as "pickaninnies" in most cartoons (e.g., when a gag cigar blew up).

Aside for caricature, in wartime and post-war cartoons (the era of Bugs Bunny), black people are essentially absent. There is no coding.

In terms of Foghorn Leghorn , I've read the character is supposed to be a riff or reference to radio character "Senator Claghorn."

Kennedy aides used to mock LBJ (the vice president) for resembling Claghorn.
posted by My Dad at 12:57 PM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


"Arthur is an aardvark."

Aardvarks are African.
posted by klangklangston at 12:57 PM on April 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


It should be obvious that the original incarnation of Bugs Bunny (up until, say, the late 60's) was Brooklyn Jewish, not black.

So here's the thing is "Brooklyn/Bronx Jewish/Irish" (the, for the lack of a better term, consensus- canonical explanation of Bugs' voice) more or less wrong vs. "black" than "Brooklyn Jewish"?

Again, I don't think Bugs is black but "Bugs is Brooklyn Jewish" is also wrong (just less wrong) as per the creators of Bugs Bunny.
posted by griphus at 1:07 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I think it's okay, though, to simultaneously know that Bugs wasn't intended to be black as far as his creators were concerned, and still be able to read him as Black as far as gestalt goes. It reminds me of Lenny Bruce's Jewish vs. Goyish.
posted by Mchelly at 1:09 PM on April 21, 2017 [10 favorites]


I think it's important to understand the difference between the idea that Bugs was created to be black/Jewish/whatever, and the idea that Bugs, today, is black.

The author is saying that no matter how the original creators intended it, Bugs reads as "black" now.
posted by explosion at 1:10 PM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


The author is saying that no matter how the original creators intended it, Bugs reads as "black" now.

...if one happened to be black. Which I am not. So, yes, I would have no idea about that (since I am not black).
posted by My Dad at 1:14 PM on April 21, 2017


I was gonna say something, but explosion already said it better. The discussion is not about creator intent but how the character reads in a modern context.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:15 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


FWIW, "Arthur" was one of the few contemporary children's cartoons I could stand and actually enjoyed when our oldest son was younger, back in the mid-2000's (with your youngest son, born seven years after his sibling, we don't have a tv anymore and don't watch the "Treehouse" channel).

There's something about Arthur's neighborhood I like. It seems sort of retro to me, like it's out of the world of the young adult books I used to read in the late seventies and early eighties. We now live in that sort of neighborhood.
posted by My Dad at 1:17 PM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Bugs, like a lot of cartoon characters, is basically a trickster figure. To get all uppity and quote wikipedia, a trickster, "exhibits a great degree of intellect or secret knowledge, and uses it to play tricks or otherwise disobey normal rules and conventional behaviour."

It seems to me that this makes tricksters resonate particularly strongly with marginalized groups who find the normal rules of conventional behaviour slanted against them and must use their wits to subvert those rules in order to succeed in a society that is stacked against them. So however the creators wanted to portray Bugs, it's not surprising that he would be seen as a sympathetic figure by black Americans, a character who gets the challenges they face and is sympathetic to their plight.
posted by Naberius at 1:20 PM on April 21, 2017 [31 favorites]


Bugs Bunny is a wise-ass to the core, so you could read him as any other. It's been made clear on this thread that he is anything but White Establishment. He was/is a hero to the American Surrealists. The Chicago Surrealists had their first show (1968) in the Gallery Bugs Bunny. (On preview: what Naberius said above.)
posted by kozad at 1:20 PM on April 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


This is an interesting idea to me because it reminds me of my own people—queers—reading queerness into characters who aren't intended to be queer by the creators. It's an act of recognition, a way of taking ownership of works that otherwise exclude us, and a creative response.
posted by Orlop at 1:24 PM on April 21, 2017 [25 favorites]


The discussion is not about creator intent but how the character reads in a modern context.


I wonder how much of the adoption of Bugs as black has to do with as corb mentioned above the fact that his voice used to be a specific signifier of something but has since died out. You can see this on the Simpsons too: the "old Jewish immigrant" voice that was shorthand for "old man" in cartoons for ages but now doesn't really work as that generation isn't around anymore and Jews aren't emigrating here like they used to.

So Bugs can read as black more easily now than before because his voice is no longer pointing at a living demographic. Which is great because as the essay makes clear the "adoption" of characters as black is a really important thing for black kids wanting representation.
posted by griphus at 1:26 PM on April 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


This is a great article, and a great argument for why representation is important in kids' media.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:30 PM on April 21, 2017


The author is saying that no matter how the original creators intended it, Bugs reads as "black" now.

Enh? In the article, the author was openly frustrated by how many (mostly white) (...but how many Jewish?) people had the literally the opposite impression. Perhaps you think that they *should* feel differently, or that their input should count for less or not at all, but that's another ball of wax.

Bugs is an eternal trickster. Part of the reason why is a non-human is because he is something much larger than a person. That's a big part of why people relate to him. I'm not taking anything away from the fact that people, whether as groups or as individuals, will find their own special sympathy/resonance/etc with Bugs Bunny. That's all real, too, in its own way.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:31 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


klangklangston, griphus - this is something of a derail, but I remember seeing an article/articles on the topic of black nerds being a cliche that covered a lot of ground: It gave shows a way to include black people and therefore "promote diversity;" it made those black people not-scary by making them geeky nerds, and it took away the protagonists' need to be tech-y in ways that might alienate anti-intellectual audiences. But I can't find it.

Found a different article about the black geek role:
The black geek is never the protagonist. He may be brilliant, but he’s essentially part of the equipment. Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) is the ideal type: He appears, ingeniously solves a technical problem, and disappears. He’s the perfect nerd, a brainiac with no back story and no personal life. It’s casting that could pass muster in 1966, respectful but other. It’s casting as set decoration.
(And if there's more of this, it should probably go to memail. Argh. I'll keep looking.)
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 1:32 PM on April 21, 2017 [5 favorites]


I wonder how much the Bugs thing ties into the Space-Jam era marketing of Looney Toons as "urban," something that never really made much sense to me.

I think you have the causality a bit backwards; Looney Tunes iconography was adopted by the urban/black community (at least in NYC) pretty solidly in the late 80s and early 90s through the early 2000s (and now again with 90s retro being in vogue) and Space Jam (1996) took advantage of that, at least in part.
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on April 21, 2017 [12 favorites]


The people working on Bugs weren't white at that time, they were mostly Jewish and (like most of non-talent Hollywood) came out of the Jewish working class from the East Coast. Personally I don't think Bugs was coded as black necessarily, but he was absolutely coded as a ethnic minority as opposed to guys like Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam who were absolutely coded as white (even back then.)

I see it much more as Bugs representing the working class city dweller and Elmer the respectable suburbanite. Bugs was always the feisty underdog whose street smarts and quick wits allowed him to defeat his "betters". It's certainly possible to read that in race terms today, but I'm pretty sure the original intention had more to do with class. From what I've read about the creation of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, the stereotype that Bugs' voice suggested for most people when he first appeared was smartass Brooklyn cabbie, and that fits his personality pretty well.
posted by Paul Slade at 1:37 PM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


So Bugs can read as black more easily now than before because his voice is no longer pointing at a living demographic.

True, but it also goes to show the importance of relying on archetypes. Bugs Bunny is nothing so mundane as a person, and I don't just mean in the human-or-rabbit sense. He's larger than life in the same way that Robin Hood is. That's huge part of what prevents him from ever becoming too dated, or limited in appeal. There will always be Others and wiseacres and hunters and the hunted. Bugs Bunny is eternal!
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:38 PM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


(It's hard to say Space Jam taking advantage of urban/black tastes as the primary mover because of just how hugely popular both Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes were in 1996 across all swaths of culture.)
posted by griphus at 1:39 PM on April 21, 2017


Also, as a Canadian, I'm curious about whether any cartoon characters exist that read as indigenous.

Schaeffer from the Raccoons came immediately to mind. My main memories of his character was that he was wise and spoke slowly, which is a pretty common stereotype for indigenous North American cartoon characters.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:42 PM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


Thinking about it, Bugs still doesn't come across to me as anything other than early mid 20th century Brooklyn generically. Not black, but not WASPy either. Just a lower/working class smart guy, foil to authority figures.

It would be interesting to explore how much of the accent would still be remembered and recognized at all were it not for Bugs Bunny.

On the other hand, maybe older era wacky Daffy Duck reads to me more black than later envious and greedy Daffy Duck.

And nobody has yet mentioned Bart Simpson? I remember when this was a thing, pre-www internet.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:42 PM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


Also, as a Canadian, I'm curious about whether any cartoon characters exist that read as indigenous.

Outside of stereotypes, this would be a tough one. I do think it's interesting in that I've been watching a few animated kid shows on FNX these days, and if I couldn't see the characters skin tones, I would have trouble distinguishing most as NA/indegenous. Many of the characters sound and act pretty generic. How's that for globalism and homogeneity?
posted by 2N2222 at 1:47 PM on April 21, 2017


Bugs Bunny's accent is a mishmosh of the so-called Bronx and Brooklyn accents of the time. Bugs is a non-human who speaks in a unique, fictive, but not-alien manner. Calling people "doc" and "mac" is instantly recognizable as being nothing other than Bugs.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:51 PM on April 21, 2017


Thinking about it, Bugs still doesn't come across to me as anything other than early mid 20th century Brooklyn generically. Not black, but not WASPy either.

I think one of the big points the piece makes is that kids of color didn't get to have a concept of someone just being "generically" a character with no specific race, which is why the adoption of characters:
But also, why would [white people] need to understand the need to identify with non-human characters by attributing them to a race? When it comes to entertainment, white people never have to imagine themselves as being the stars of movies or shows because they always already are.
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on April 21, 2017 [7 favorites]


This makes complete sense. Not being black myself I am not sure what makes Bugs Bunny black, but it is clear that Bugs is at least brown, definitely not white.

FWIW, my cousins and me, aged between 5 and 9, just KNEW that Elmer Fudd was white American, and Bugs Bunny was Mexican. Particularly undocumented Mexican expat in the US. We would yell at Bugs 'Aguas con la Migra!' when Fudd showed up.

Take into account we were watching dubbed cartoons, the accents had nothing to do with it.
posted by Dr. Curare at 1:58 PM on April 21, 2017 [19 favorites]


How about Morph? (UK classic)
posted by leibniz at 2:03 PM on April 21, 2017


I'd been clear that Bugs Bunny was bisexual and possibly genderqueer but hadn't considered that he was black - I was just like "okay, crossdressing bisexual rabbit" and that was as far as I got.

Arthur is so obvious though. I don't even know how anyone can debate Arthur.
posted by bile and syntax at 2:19 PM on April 21, 2017 [8 favorites]


I think one of the big points the piece makes is that kids of color didn't get to have a concept of someone just being "generically" a character with no specific race, which is why the adoption of characters:


Being a former kid of color, and now a grown up of color, I don't really need to have someone explain to me that I didn't get the concept of a cartoon character having no specific race. Even if I am old enough to have seen Bugs Bunny do blackface on broadcast TV. What does come across is that he was not a figure with the weight of the establishment behind him. He was the one poking at its constrictions and crossing its boundaries. I can see how that can be read in a lot of ways. It did not read specifically to me as black.
posted by 2N2222 at 2:31 PM on April 21, 2017 [13 favorites]


Oh, my apologies if that came off as 'splainy.
posted by griphus at 2:35 PM on April 21, 2017


I mean, do you really want to try to tell me that carrot is not actually Groucho's cigar?

Clark Gable in It Happened One Night, if this thread on Snopes (and various other sources) are to be believed.
posted by asterix at 2:40 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


Came to point out the Clark Gable bit. Also, the original Elmer Fudd character was black.
posted by lkc at 2:56 PM on April 21, 2017


GhostintheMachine: But Spongebob? Nope, I see nothing black there.

Not that I had given it much thought prior to the thread, but I think there's a lot of overlap between spongebob and steve urkel.
posted by picklenickle at 3:01 PM on April 21, 2017



Bugs is definitely an old-timey Brooklyn Jew in manner and accent, but you have to concede he has a heavy dose of Bre'r Rabbit in his psychological makeup and narrative function.

...
I don't know if I ever internalized Bugs as black, but ever since I was little mythology-devouring kiddo, I always associated Bugs with Anansi.

Six of one, half a dozen of the other.



Bugs is Mullah Nasreddin.
posted by grobstein at 3:09 PM on April 21, 2017 [6 favorites]


Bugs is Anansi, Coyote, Loki, and Puck. He's a trickster.
posted by vibrotronica at 3:11 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


That AAEA article is not accurate. A very white Elmer debuted in "Elmer's Candid Camera" (March 2, 1940). He was redesigned a bit for Bugs' debut in "A Wild Hare", July 27 1940. "All This and Rabbit Stew" came out in Sept. 1941, and its antagonist is not Elmer.
posted by zompist at 3:19 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I guess that's really the thing, Bugs Bunny's historical coding is primarily as a character/personality type that doesn't really exist anymore. So, with the modern viewer and more emphatically the modern writer robbed of that beaten-in context, perhaps his coding has shifted to most portray a black character. So might it not right to say that even if the Bugs Bunny of the 1950s wasn't necessarily black, the Bugs of Space Jam and the modern day is?

Someone on twitter points out that "scrappy is every white guy with a jug of protein powder and a planet fitness membership" though, and that really seems entirely accurate to me. Luigi baffles me.
posted by kafziel at 3:25 PM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


That Forhorn Leghorn is a point of contention blows my mind. He has *always* given me the "white plantation owner condescending to his inferiors" vibe.

In terms of Foghorn Leghorn , I've read the character is supposed to be a riff or reference to radio character "Senator Claghorn."

Once you see the source material, it's pretty screamingly obvious.
posted by quite unimportant at 4:06 PM on April 21, 2017 [10 favorites]


It's cool to identify elements of origins in Bugs, but Bugs is Bugs, not simply a Brooklyn Jew or Groucho Marx (or whatever) in a rabbit suit.

In terms of Foghorn Leghorn , I've read the character is supposed to be a riff or reference to radio character "Senator Claghorn."

And the time is perfect, too. The Claghorn character became popular on radio in 1945 and Foghorn Leghorn appeared in 1946.
posted by pracowity at 4:20 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I'm a little surprised Disney's Gargoyles hasn't been mentioned--mostly since it was one of my all time favorite cartoons, and I'm apparently too old to have ever seen Arthur--but it's also an interesting example since they turned the main gargoyles human in one episode, and Goliath was indeed black.
posted by Pryde at 5:02 PM on April 21, 2017 [11 favorites]


I agree that Bugs was more Brooklyn / ethnic than specifically coded

So, 1) as a white person and as per the article, I have never before thought about the race of a non-human cartoon character before this second, so there's some privilege I didn't even realize I had, and 2) I don't know that I read Bugs Bunny as black, but when I stopped to consider the matter I realized that I in no way thought of him as white.

Very interesting. Dr. Curare's comment about Bugs being an undocumented immigrant fascinates me!
posted by chainsofreedom at 5:24 PM on April 21, 2017 [1 favorite]


I always found Bugs to be aspirational. Whatever we want to be, Bugs already is. Clever enough to eat and live comfortably without working too hard? Yep, that's Bugs. Confident enough in his own sexuality to cross-dress with no lasting ill effects in an effort to get the powerful to do his bidding? Yep, that's Bugs. Able to get the upper hand over oppressive older white men who deal in state-sanctioned violence? Yep, that's Bugs.

Another part of aspiring to be like someone else is assigning our heroes qualities they may not actually have. (For reference, see recent US politics, including the Obama administration, the Clinton and Sanders campaigns, and Our Nation's Current Debacle.) I personally think of Bugs as altruistic, the kind of guy who humiliates would-be bullies and helps others less fortunate than himself. Friz Freleng described him the same way... but I can't remember a single cartoon where Bugs actually does help out someone lower on the American mid-century socioeconomic ladder.

I feel like there is evidence that Bugs's creators didn't think of him as black, or Jewish, or queer, but there's also evidence they didn't think of him as white or Christian or straight either. The less explicitly-defined a drawn character is, the more a viewer can see themselves in that character (shoutout to Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics and whatnot). But authorial intent matters little. I know I never saw Bugs as black or Jewish growing up, but I recognized other Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes non-human characters as white (e.g. Foghorn Leghorn as noted above) in a way I never did with Bugs.

All this is to say that I can understand how easy and fulfilling it might be for a person of color to ascribe blackness to Bugs. And that's great, because Bugs is great, and being like Bugs Bunny is an ambitious and rewarding life goal for anyone, and if you've got one part of being like Bugs taken care of, the rest will be easier, right?

As far as "All This and Rabbit Stew" goes, I have lots of feelings and facts about why it's the worst cartoon short ever made. But I'd prefer not to think about that short or expose others to it. It's that bad. In its worst moments, it makes me regret my admiration for Bugs.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:35 PM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


So is Panthro.
posted by infinitewindow at 5:49 PM on April 21, 2017


"What up, dog?"

Huh. Aight.
posted by Beginner's Mind at 5:52 PM on April 21, 2017


Road Runner I would definitely see as a person of color (maybe indigenous!) always having to outwit the Man, or rather the Coyote.

I don't think the Road Runner was ever meant to be sympathetic, or even a character really. We were meant to chuckle with bitter recognition at the plight of the Coyote, forever chasing this unattainable thing. Bugs was a charming trickster type, but I think the Road Runner was just a symbol of a maddeningly elusive goal. It zooms through the desert with a smug little smirk, occasionally sticking out its tongue at its would-be pursuer, while the coyote becomes increasingly more desperate and ragged. AFAIK, that's literally all we ever see of the Road Runner. Just speed and a smirk.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:22 PM on April 21, 2017 [3 favorites]


"White people don't want to see race anywhere," Nakamura told me. "They're discouraged externally and internally from noticing it because they're afraid they're going to get in trouble or they're straight up racist."

My white coworker caught me reading this and saw the subject line. He responded with "I don't know about that."
posted by Become A Silhouette at 6:29 PM on April 21, 2017 [4 favorites]


Oh FFS. This is an article about a shared cultural experience of (some) black people. If you are white, coming to this thread to say that these black people have it wrong and Bugs Bunny is Jewish or Brooklyn or aracial is obnoxious. Don't tell me how black people are doing it wrong.
posted by medusa at 7:22 PM on April 21, 2017 [12 favorites]


If you go back to the earliest silent cartoons, nearly all the notable animal characters were plain black in color because that was an easy way to color them... Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat, Bonzo the Dog, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit (who later changed color when Walter Lantz took over the character), Krazy Kat ... and all leaned at least slightly toward "minstrel show" black personalities... which ultimately led to Bosko the kinda-human "talk-ink kid". Mickey's original adversary was the equally black Pete (the big dog), but then they added a very white and very angry duck named Donald. And another (but nicer) black dog named Goofy, whose mannerisms were far more like "rural white trash".

After Fleischer Studios' black-faced-dog Bonzo and white-faced-clown Koko became sidekicks to Betty Boop (whose original design was as a lady dog!), Popeye took over and made that studio very human-centric.

Terrytoons' first breakout character was the white hick human Farmer Al Falfa, but among its biggest stars were the obviously black Heckle and Jeckle and the black-colored-but-talks-like-Superman Mighty Mouse. In later years, they had the very white-southern Deputy Dawg and his main adversary, a somewhat obvious black-southern Muskie the Muskrat (I read an article about the challenges they had booking those cartoons in theaters in the "Jim Crow South").

Warner Bros.' first breakout star was the very white (and once in color, very pink) Porky Pig who they later teamed with the wacky black duck Daffy (obviously with so much of his design and character intended to be 'the anti-Donald'), and Bugs Bunny was intended as a less chaotic, more sophisticated trickster than Daffy, therefore grey fur with a white muzzle and white belly. Seems ethnic but not black to me. Tazmanian Devil by his origin was obviously Australian Aborigine (a different kind of black). To me, Tweety was white and Sylvester black. Foghorn Leghorn was admittedly based on Southern White radio character Senator Claghorn. Of course they created the most OBVIOUSLY ethnic cartoon character of the time, Speedy Gonzalez. The Road Runner, by design, had no real character, he was just a 'force of nature', and Wile E. Coyote tried to be an 'intellectual' version of Elmer Fudd's stereotypical hunter, so very white.

Hanna-Barbera had worked so hard to avoid ethnic characteristics in its animal characters (even Magilla Gorilla was very white) so I was pleasantly shocked to see them use Scatman Crothers for Hong Kong Phooey.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:59 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I see it much more as Bugs representing the working class city dweller and Elmer the respectable suburbanite. Bugs was always the feisty underdog whose street smarts and quick wits allowed him to defeat his "betters". It's certainly possible to read that in race terms today, but I'm pretty sure the original intention had more to do with class.

My name is Donald J. Trump Elmer J. Fudd, Millionaire. I own a mansion and a yacht.

(It's hard to say Space Jam taking advantage of urban/black tastes as the primary mover because of just how hugely popular both Michael Jordan and Looney Tunes were in 1996 across all swaths of culture.)

Two words: Lola Bunny
posted by mikelieman at 10:00 PM on April 21, 2017


On the one hand: Bugs black? He's a Brooklynite! Some crazy Irish/Jewish mix or something!

On the other hand: Early American animation has hella problematic depictions of ethnicity by modern standards, there were a ton of characters who took their design cues from minstrel shows, there may well be some serious Blackness hiding under that Brooklyn white accent and Mel Blanc chomping on a carrot, then spitting it out into the trash when the take finished because he hated carrots.

On the gripping hand: Does nobody else remember the zillions of bootleg Black Looney Toons shirts you saw in the eighties? Sometimes they were given brown fur, sometimes they were dripping in Urban Signifiers, often both. This guy is far from the first person to say "I am black and I see something of myself in Bugs". And as a white lady who knows a bit of postmodern theory, I'm not gonna deny him that. (And as a white lady kicking around a tv show pitch that's explicitly hoping to have the cartoon animal characters code as white, I'm very interested in his list of Cartoon Characters That Black People Generally Agree Code As Black To Them for learning purposes...)
posted by egypturnash at 11:33 PM on April 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


I can see it; hell, "Blazing Saddles" as a movie is essentially Bugs Bunny as a black man.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 1:13 AM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I can see it; hell, "Blazing Saddles" as a movie is essentially Bugs Bunny as a black man.

I will repeat what I hope to be the epitaph on my grave.

"Blazing Saddles was the high point in human civilization. It's all been downhill from there."
posted by mikelieman at 3:17 AM on April 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


"Blazing Saddles was the high point in human civilization. It's all been downhill from there."

I feel the same way about Bugs' and Daffy's Duck/Rabbit/Duck trilogy, but let's not fight about it.
posted by Paul Slade at 4:19 AM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


I remember seeing an early Disney model sheet of Goofy where he was described as being like a "simple negro farm lad" or something like that. It shocked me, because Goofy always struck me as kind of a Gomer Pyle type, a small-town white bumpkin. It's disturbing to think he may have been intended as a racial caricature, but hopefully that was just a note scrawled by one artist and not the general studio take on the character. I'm not sure where I saw that sheet, or I'd link to it.

Spongebob? He's a super dorky white guy, about as honky as a yellow sponge can possibly be. If he's black, so's Pee-Wee!

(Also, sorry emjaybee. I'm afraid my last comment got a little too, "Well, um, actually...")
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:20 AM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


Oh FFS. This is an article about a shared cultural experience of (some) black people. If you are white, coming to this thread to say that these black people have it wrong and Bugs Bunny is Jewish or Brooklyn or aracial is obnoxious. Don't tell me how black people are doing it wrong.

I've been thinking about this comment a bunch and: is the adoption of Bugs Bunny as black considered cultural appropriation? I think it is, just not at all in the way that everyone always gets het up about it. Rather it's the kind that people who often argue against cultural appropriation use as a positive example: a cultural work created by a certain group of people (in this case meant for everyone, not just those people) is adopted and in many ways improved and explored by a different group of people. This is good! This is what makes good culture! The fact that Bugs Bunny was conceived and created by Jews shouldn't have an impact on this.

But! Bugs Bunny was created at a studio founded by Jews, voiced by a Jew, and made to resemble in many ways a Jew. This isn't definitive (in the sense that they've admitted there's some Irish in there) but you're not getting the inherent Jewishness of Bugs Bunny out of him no matter how you turn it. Does that mean he belongs to Jews? Absolutely not! He belongs to, well, Americans, and black Americans are Americans and, commercially, there have been far more odious things done with Bugs that this non-commercial, personal, supportive experience is one of the things we should celebrate.

But, again, if we're talking about cultural experience, we can't drain out the culture the experience came with and fill it back up with another. It's syncretic, but that means the past has to be acknowledged.
posted by griphus at 4:33 AM on April 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


One set of cartoon characters that were unmistakably black to me—a depiction that was basically racist—were the crows from "Dumbo."

And while Optimus Prime's inclusion surprises me, Jazz was definitely black. He was orginially voiced by legendary musician Scatman Crothers.

I do wish the author of the original article had gone into more detail. I realize the abstract "why" is a tricky concept here, but I'd love to know hear his thoughts about what makes each individual character he lists black, in his view. That might help others to identify patterns.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:54 AM on April 22, 2017


griphus: "But, again, if we're talking about cultural experience, we can't drain out the culture the experience came with and fill it back up with another. It's syncretic, but that means the past has to be acknowledged."

I'm only citing the end, but just a really good comment in general, griphus.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:58 AM on April 22, 2017


On the other hand, maybe older era wacky Daffy Duck reads to me more black than later envious and greedy Daffy Duck.

When I was a kid, my (black) uncle was highly offended by the character of Daffy Duck. Daffy was constantly the butt of Bugs's jokes and would almost never win in any kind of battle of wits between them. My uncle thought that Bugs was meant to portray a white man putting black foolish Daffy in his place. At the time, my all-knowing self thought my uncle was just being reading race into things where it didn't belong, like old grownups often did, but I've since sadly come to appreciate his point of view. Regardless of the overt intentions of the studio, itself debatable considering those were some highly-layered works of art, American society has never not racialized anything that could possibly be racialized. To think otherwise is naive. Clearly the Looney Tunes were grounded in minstrelsy. But one of their most useful features was that as cartoon animals they could be chameleons, black, white, even transforming from one to another in the blink of an eye (possibly offensive YouTube link).

This is an article about a shared cultural experience of (some) black people. If you are white, coming to this thread to say that these black people have it wrong and Bugs Bunny is Jewish or Brooklyn or aracial is obnoxious. Don't tell me how black people are doing it wrong.

The way I see it this thread is an opportunity for me as a black person to learn something about how white people view cartoon characters in racial terms. I don't believe I have ever sat down and watched a classic (non-anime era) cartoon with a white person in my entire life. Certainly not as a child, when shows like this mostly came on Saturday mornings, and I had no white friends coming for sleepover in the projects. Too bad -- as kids we would've had loud, boisterous, honest conversations on the issue, staking out various characters as avatars for our own race with no concern for social niceties. As an older adult it's very difficult to broach these kinds of discussions -- people on all sides often feel they're being led into some kind of trap and no good can come from an unguarded response which might trip an invisible offense-triggering wire. Fool me twice shame on me, I'll just nod and keep it moving. So the fact that metafilter exists as a forum where these exchanges can take place in mutually respectful form is something that should not be lightly surrendered. As black people we may often feel that the knowledge gap between black and white people is strictly one way. "We already know all about y'all, we're swimming in your shit every day, so basically if we're going to discuss race you need to learn to listen to us, period. " And yes that's kind of true but I think not as true as it used to be. Generations back, blacks often worked as maids, porters, nannies, etc., jobs where as servants they were nigh invisible, and their white employers were unguarded in how they behaved. Now, people have been trained to be much more coded in multiracial environments. People tend not to even ponder on such commonplace trivia, and we miss out on the ways it separates us and draws us together. (On the other hand, reality TV, I guess. But even there, there's a selective performance going on.) I'm digressing; all this is meant to say that I find white perspectives on this subject equally as novel and fascinating as y'all might feel about our perspectives and I appreciate the inclusion of various voices.
posted by xigxag at 6:31 AM on April 22, 2017 [18 favorites]


So, is it safe to say Arthur got a nose job for television?

The genetic engineering needed to get 'em to talk needed the nose shortened. Other effects of GMOing animals to talk include a visual appearance of line drawings.

Take plants and GMOing them to talk? They carry their judgemental morals with 'em and they end up looking like fabric. Monsanto should be feared based off of veggietales.....that's the real franken-food.

Think gene treatment for humans to help with speech is without risk? Naw, you start glowing like lawnmower man.

Just look at the horrors of Youtube - a medium that is all about people making audio speech. And look at how popular kitten videos are - media that is about NOT human speech.

It all went off the rails with the talkies. Because would you consider these topics if all you saw were subtitles?
posted by rough ashlar at 7:04 AM on April 22, 2017



Road Runner I would definitely see as a person of color (maybe indigenous!) always having to outwit the Man, or rather the Coyote.

That doesn't sit right with me. Road Runner is basically the smirking, smug, unaware embodiment of privilege. The laws of his universe are basically stacked in his favour.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:21 AM on April 22, 2017 [7 favorites]


If you are white, coming to this thread to say that these black people have it wrong and Bugs Bunny is Jewish or Brooklyn or aracial is obnoxious. Don't tell me how black people are doing it wrong.

For me, it was the way Bugs said "Albuquerque" that marked him as Brooklyn Jewish. But above all, Bugs's great achievement is always managing, effortlessly, to put one over on the rich white (Gentile) guy who wants to obliterate him. So why not both?

I have no idea what the Roadrunner's ethnic antecedents are, but she's clearly female.

What I really want to know is what Woody Woodpecker is.
posted by tully_monster at 7:24 AM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


So why not both?

Check out the Underdog theme music, which feints at a sort of Curtis Mayfield groove before transitioning to klezmer.
posted by thelonius at 8:03 AM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


As a Jew, I was always explicitly taught about Bugs and Groucho as exemplars of a particular kind of specifically Jewish humor. It doesn't make Bugs a Jew, of course, because he himself is a rabbit. He is intended to be relatable to anybody who roots for the clever underdog. It is unsurprising that, even just within this thread, you see various people of various backgrounds having related specifically to Bugs in different ways.

It is also of course interesting to hear from people who don't have that context, and/or who are viewing Bugs from their own contexts. Different people have different perspectives, go figure!
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:11 PM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


What I really want to know is what Woody Woodpecker is.

A woodpecker. Or: Kekec on amphetamines.
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:12 PM on April 22, 2017


What I really want to know is what Woody Woodpecker is.

Irritating.
posted by klanawa at 6:21 PM on April 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


What I really want to know is what Woody Woodpecker is.

Very white. He's annoying, destructive to the point of violence, blithely ignores advice, and no matter how foolish or disruptive he gets, nothing really bad ever happens to him. When he does get temporarily caught by his own shenanigans, he immediately blames whoever's nearby.

He's the epitome of "emotional labor? what's that? I just wanna have fun!"
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 8:35 PM on April 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


I was just reminded of the case of George Herriman, the creator of Krazy Kat, who himself was classified as "colored" on his 1880 Louisiana birth certificate, but "passed as white" so well that it wasn't discovered until a writer was researching a biography years after his death. While his black cat character didn't play up racial characteristics, her unrequited attraction to the white mouse Ignatz was controversial enough just for its inter-species aspect. And elsewhere in the newspaper, he addressed racial issues, including Sports Page cartoons defending black boxing champ Jack Johnson.

And if you're looking for black creators in the cartoon field, look up Floyd Norman, Disney's first black animator, hired in the '50s and at 81, still working for the little black mouse.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:00 PM on April 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


Is there some reason everyone's drawing clear lines between "Bugs Bunny is Jewish" and "Bugs Bunny is Black"? I mean, there are many Black Jewish people in the US, and i'm pretty sure there were a few around even back in the day. Some of them probably even talk with funny accents.
posted by adrienneleigh at 10:37 PM on April 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


The thing that is the weirdest about this topic from my own experience is in seeing Bugs or some of the other long standing Looney Tunes characters as having stable identities. I have no issue with people seeing Bugs as black, since he does carry a strong sense of urban ethnic identity in his manner and in the nature of many conflicts he's involved in. Since the idea of what urban life means has changed over time, Bugs connection to identity could be sensibly fluid as well.

There is some understandable contention in trying to categorize identity ahistorically, but as that is how people will come to understand Bugs, it is only natural that different perspectives will emerge depending on what is seen and what outside knowledge is brought to bear on the question. If one is more familiar with early twentieth century culture and comes to Bugs with even a little of the pre-existing archetypes or characters Bugs has some similarities with, then identifying Bugs as being like-identified makes perfect sense and could seem unquestionably true as one points to the history. But Bugs and those other characters didn't hold a stable identity over time, so while we can talk about connections over time, those connections are also of different creators in different eras adapting Bugs to what they think is suitable and amusing.

Look at Porky and Daffy, for example. Early on in their interactions, Porky was the more neurotic and uptight character, often seeming to be suburban or at least a semi-respectable homeowner type, while Daffy showed little care for respectability or stability and would often act to thwart those who did care for such things, notably Porky in a number of instances. In later cartoons, those roles were almost reversed, and Daffy was the more uptight character wanting notice and fame while Porky was chill. One could argue Daffy started out as black and become whiter while Porky started white and became blacker depending on what attitudes and postures one wants to claim as more essentially black or white. (An idea which has its issues of its own of course, but which nonetheless still has some cultural resonance to it.)

It's no different with Bugs. His character also shifted pretty dramatically over time and in the handling of different creators. As the most famous of the Looney Tunes characters, he maintains a aura of general superiority over most situations, but what those situations are and his manner of dealing with them varied. How you identify who Bugs is then, I suspect, comes a great deal from where you first got to know him and how you located him in conjunction with whatever problem and characters he was engaged with. In a sense, it's like trying to identify the "real" Batman. Which is he really? The Dark Knight of the late eighties or rainbow Batman of the fifties? Both obviously, and with Bugs that question of identity is also multi-faceted depending on who is looking and what is being claimed as an identifier.

Is Bugs black? Sure, he definitely can be as there are more than enough traits one could point to in defense of that claim, just as he is certainly also Jewish and Irish and sometimes generic rich white guy as well. We fit the labels to our associations for good or bad.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:56 AM on April 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


"I was just reminded of the case of George Herriman, the creator of Krazy Kat, who himself was classified as "colored" on his 1880 Louisiana birth certificate, but "passed as white" so well that it wasn't discovered until a writer was researching a biography years after his death. While his black cat character didn't play up racial characteristics, her unrequited attraction to the white mouse Ignatz was controversial enough just for its inter-species aspect. And elsewhere in the newspaper, he addressed racial issues, including Sports Page cartoons defending black boxing champ Jack Johnson."

Fun fact: Until 1994, Louisiana used the "one drop rule," and had a state official who zealously pursued genealogical records in order to change the race on people's birth certificates. It came up to the Supreme Court after a woman who grew up as white got her passport and found out that according to the boot state, she was black. SCOTUS ruled that states could classify race however they wanted, but Louisiana's legislature recognized that it was no longer a good look and changed the law.

Despite looking mighty white, if I'd been born in Louisiana, my birth certificate would have listed me as black.
posted by klangklangston at 12:59 PM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]


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