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Japan's bigoted exports to kids

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If a teacher these days dared read "Little Black Sambo" in school, that teacher would be banished from the classroom. Maligned for racial stereotyping, the book, which exaggerated black features, was banned decades ago by schools and libraries. So there's little chance of Sambo showing up at story time, except in Julius Lester's politically correct 1996 revival entitled "Sam and the Tigers."

Racial stereotyping in the world of children persists, however. Today, racist images are more likely to appear in computer animation than between the covers of books. Two such characters appear in "Pokmon" and "Dragonball Z," wildly popular cartoons and digital games from Nintendo and Sony, respectively.

Few of Pokmon's 150 evolving pocket monsters have human attributes. However, the character Jynx, Pokmon #124, has decidedly human features: jet-black skin, protruding pink lips, gaping eyes, a straight blonde mane, and a full figure, complete with cleavage and wiggly hips. In her pink gown, Jynx is a dead ringer for an obese drag queen.

When I first glimpsed Jynx on the "Pokmon" cartoon, I thought surely the character was an aberration. Then I saw Mr. Popo, a cosmic character from "Dragonball Z." Mr. Popo is a rotund, turban-clad genie with pointy ears, jet-black skin, shiny white eyes, and, yes, big red lips.

I discovered these characters because my 10-year-old son is a Pokmaniac. He watches the cartoon, collects the trading cards, plays the digital game, and surfs the Net for game codes and trivia. He still pleads for new Pokmon games, but declares that "Dragonball Z" is his favorite cartoon, as his daily doodles of the show's protagonist Goku attest.

Not coincidentally, both Jynx and Mr. Popo were created by Japanese animators. Apparently, racist stereotypes that would shock Americans don't raise an eyebrow in much of Asia.

Hong Kong's Hazel & Hawley Chemical Co. would probably still be hawking Darkie toothpaste had the company not been acquired by Colgate. The Darkie brand's Al Jolson-inspired logo, a grinning caricature in blackface and a top hat, was as offensive as its name. Colgate bought the company in 1985, and then ditched the logo and changed the product's name to Darlie after US civil rights groups protested. However, the Cantonese name - Haak Yahn Nga Gou (Black Man Toothpaste) - remains.


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