The Pickaninny Shirt

The design on the ‘Funny Pickaninny’ t-shirt.

Mz. Nikita gave me the lowdown on a t-shirt made by a woman from Russia. The name of the t-shirt is the ‘Funny Pickaninny T-Shirt” as it appears on the website. The image on the t-shirt appears to be a caricature of a someone with apparent African features, with a sign at the bottom right that reads, “Start every day with a smile AND GET IT OVER WITH.” Since with website is an online print shop, the image could appear on a variety of items.

The obvious problem with this image is the name ‘pickaninny’.

The pickaninny (picaninny) is a racist caricature of black children. No different in appearance to the racist image of blacks i.e. big bulging eyes, clown-like red lips, nappy hair, speaking in mock ebonics or racist black vernacular (I is, You is, We is), opoorly dressed or not dressed at all and mostly seen as gleefully stuffing their faces with (stolen) watermelon and chicken. They are often seen as neglected kids, shiftless, dumb, running from alligators and have a disturbing level of sexualization. In short, the pickaninny was the children’s version of the coon.

Little Black Sambo is, perhaps, the most famous known example of the pickaninny caricature.

Pickaninnies are part of American’s history of storytelling. According to Ferris State University’s online Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, the first famous pickaninny was a slave girl named Topsy who appeared in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The character was used to help expose the evils of slavery, and she was used as the end result of it by being poorly dressed and untamable.

Pickaninnes made their way into the imaginations of film making, always as the only representation of how black children are. The most famous, earliest examples are seen in the Our Gang (The Little Rascals) films with characters such as Sunshine Sammy, Farina Pineapple, Stymie and of course, Buckwheat. Some argued that in the series, all children, including the white ones, were buffoons always getting into trouble. However, the antics of the black children were likely seen as definitive of their race.

The earliest known images of black children on film are traced back to Thomas Edison’s inventions of the kinetoscope and the kinetograph in 1891, the prototypes of early motion picture technology. He experimented using black children as “interesting side effects”. In 1904, he produced Ten Pickaninnies where black children are seen as running and playing. The nameless children were referred to such names as inky kids, black lambs, and bad chillun, among others.

Cartoons were not off limits. The pickaninny caricature was seen as main characters to their own shorts, which would eventually be banned from television. Popular cartoons from Looney Tunes, Hanna Barbara and Disney would end up briefly looking like pickaninnies as wild takes or as a result of some mishap usually from accidents involving dark and black objects such as charcoal or mud or from explosions. The character would emerge with a black face large lips, big eyes and even picky hair.

As a quick side note, the pickaninny was also spotted in the video game world. The game Doki Doki Panic, which would be converted into Super Mario Bros. 2 for the West, is a glaring example.

On the left is Super Mario Bros 2 with Mario holding a turtle shell over his head. On the right is a character from Doki Doki Panic holding what is no doubt a pickaninny/black face item.

The pickaninny shirt that is being sold is haunting example of old racism coming back in full force. Then again, some will argue that the caricature has always been around in some form. However, like racism itself, it has masked itself into a not-so-obvious form of entertainment. Some would say that it has morphed into a new image while retaining the same demeaning stereotypes of black youth. After all, most people today, as they did since day one a couple of centuries ago, think that black children are, by nature, slow and wild. And there’s no need for anyone to use black face to illustrate that racist stereotype. Though, some have still tried.

49 thoughts on “The Pickaninny Shirt

  1. Brothwolf

    Yurugu is obsessed with us. Always have been, always will be. No shock there. I wouldn’t be surprised if the creator of the shirt was sleeping with the biggest, blackest African in the deepest jungle of the Congo.

    I also wouldn’t be surprised if she/he had a black child.

    It’s apart of their sickness.

  2. What I find interesting about this, is the fact that this cunt is conversant with this type of racist stereotypes being from Russia(they are extremely racist to start). You’d be flabbergasted at how many North American whites are conversant with historical racist images and ideologies and will spew them at times of anger or for plain shits and giggles. Of course they are not ‘racist’, just pissed off at the time because you hurt their feelings and they want to hurt you in return. Comical and so transparent!

  3. *Le SIGH* It’s never going to end. This and those damn golliwog dolls. Abagond did a post on the golliwogs. And Whites collect those ugly things and think they are cute,. In the U.K. is were they originated from. There is a children’s story called Noddy and one of the them naughty black little golliwog is called “nigger” Racist eurocentric assholes.

  4. ..Omgawsh, thank you sooo much for postin’ my suggestioin Brothawolf! I have yet to get a call back from the company of this wretched shirt, but as promised will certainly let you know when (and/or if) I hear any feed back from them about this heinous shirt. That being said, I just wanted to say that while I was Not even looking for some material such as this (as a matter of fact, was searching for some history on POC), that damn T-shirt just happened to appear in my box, and lo and behold “the pickanniny” showed uP! Such “artists” like this need to continuously be called on their bullshizz so as to let them and their companies know (like I did) that it is not accepatable, and that they truly need to catch uP and get with the “so-called modern times” because we will not take it anymore lying down! On a side-note, I recently had a person in my neighborhood relate a story to me about how she put a racist “nigger-hatin'” chick in her place, and let me just say that this individual will most likely no longer be poppin’ off at the mouth about how she thinks that white folks are supposedly “better” than Anyone else again, for a long time I am sure! ; D

  5. P.S. As far as the Super Mario games goes, all my peeps know how much I have always loved playing these videogames (and countless others, as I am both a woman and a tomboy), but just seeing that “character” stereotyped above just leaves a “dirty” and uneasy feeling in both my stomach and my mouth-anyone else have thoughts about this (?)

  6. Here is what a South Asian Australian comedian Nazeem Hussein shows about Australia’s “love” of the golliwog doll to show how one type of racism is accepted, but others are not.

    1. @ Mickey:

      Thanks for the video! It is really eye-opening!
      Australia is a very racist country. Look at how they continue to treat the Aboriginals, and non-White immigrants. For years, the country only allowed White immigrants.

      1. Yeah, but at least they have “Sorry Day”, the day where they apologize to the Aborigines for the “stolen generation” deal where they kidnapped Black and mixed race Aboriginal children and moved them into White homes and tried to breed them into White society. Meanwhile, getting White people in American to apologize for slavery, Jim Crow, segregation, lynching, and other ills done to Blacks is like trying to get a homicidal crackhead to let you take just one hit off of his damn pipe.

      2. @ Mickey:

        That’s true. Have you seen the movie “Rabbit-Proof Fence?” It’s a really good movie that deals with the “Stolen Generation.”

      3. @ Courtney H.

        Yes, I own the “Rabbit-Proof Fence” DVD. Love it. There is also a movie called “The Sappphires” about an all-girl singing group featuring Aboriginal women which is based on a true story. One of the storylines deals with one of the women who was stolen and tries to struggle with her identity. And the movie “Australia” featuring Nicole Kidman also has the Stolen Generation subplot.

  7. @ Mickey : Thanks for your good looking out. I know you always respond to my comments and i appreciate that. Janet Jackson received one of those damned things from a fan. And she posted it up on the internet. The fan wrote “This is for you, her name is Maria, she is very life like, how does it make you feel” WTF? That’s how i learned about the golliwog. Janet Jackson wanted to know how her fans felt about this gift she recieved. I saw a post thread on Abagond’s blog. He did a post and it just enraged me,. Then several posters said they collected these damn things. Some whites are just clueless and refuse to understand how ugly and racist these things are.

      1. @Brotha Wolf: You have to consider also that the school is named after Robert E. Lee. I don’t think we should hold our breath, waiting for something to be done about this, but good for the students for going after them.

    1. @ Courtney H. : I am not surprised about this. There wa a discussion on another blog about the foolish romanticism of southern icons like southern whites holding on to racist icons like southern belles, they pay top dollar to send young white girls to a summer camp to keep that foolishness going, and they love the hell out of that damn confederate flag. And I am not surprised about them still loving Robert E. Lee. Southern whites love the era of the Civil war and the Confederacy. I am not surprised about this.

    2. Lee is not that bad, just misunderstood. Sorry Yanks, it looks like you didn’t really win the was if these morons are still allowed to flaunt these fools and this flag!

  8. A black man walks into a high school’s administrative office. Shortly after, a black woman who is a teacher there, walks in. The secretary says to her: “Who’s that darkie, your husband”? Folks, this happened to my sister today at the school she teaches at. She reported it to the principal who as a manager is obliged to act on this incident. She initially asked my sister what she ‘wanted to do about it’. My sister threw it back into her lap. I will say I was stunned by this. Usually they are not this blatant.

    1. Keep in mind this is 2014, Toronto, Canada, in a high school. That the woman feels comfortable saying this shows that systemic racism abounds. This cow slipped up by being blatant rather than subtle as is usually their wont. I find it interesting that this woman was conversant with this antiquated antebellum racist term ‘darkie’. The man was sitting in the principle’s office at the time when my sister entered the administrative part of the office. It illustrates the prevalence of racism.

  9. @Mary Yes indeed, that so-called artist gets no pass from just because she happens to be far away in the land-o-the-Ruskies” either-and neither does the U.S. company who helps peddle that shizz! @ Mickey and @ Courtney Great links about the “enlightened Aussies” [snarf] who “innocently saw NO apparent racism oozing from that detestable golliwog doll, they should GTFOH with that weak-azz Land-Down-Under-Shi#!! As for that damn racist azz “institution of learning” concerning one of the Biggest Bigots aka Robert E. lee, this is just beyond embarrassing at this point for the ole’ U,S. and only strengthens my resolve to Never want to serve in the military for this nation, nor contribute any funding to non-POC colleges either!

  10. @ Brothawolf, Well..It all started when my friend was walking down the street and ran into a neighbor of hers (who is a known “nutter”, or loonie-toon if you will-oh and a druggie)-and this broad says outta nowhere: “The niggers are back, all of the niggers are back”, and my pal asked her: “Are you talkin’ to me, and loony says “Yes, I am, what are you gonna do about it?” According to my homegurl she then proceeded to “Do somethin’ about it”, and next thing you know this heffa has a jacked up eye! Now did this stop her(?) Sadly (or comically?) the answer is a resounding NO: because 1 hour later, this kray-kray chick came back around the corner (she saw her outside) and said “This isn’t over with!” And guess what happened AGAIN? Yep, Another eye somehow gettin’ popped this 2nd time around! It was all I could do not to fall out on the street LmbO!!!

  11. LOL I feel yah! It never ceases to amaze how no matter how “mentally disturbed” (or high, or whatever) some o’ these folks claim to be, they don’t ever, ever seem to forget how to say that wretched-azz “n” word (and some others) though, right? ;-D

  12. @ Herneith I just recently got back from Vancouver, B.C. and must say that I have a blast, though I did have the misfortune of dealing 1 snooty, wannabe-bourgeois Parisian waiter (I know he was, because he would not shut up about it lol)-but have yet to make it to T-town. Given that nasty azz trauma/drama that you and your dear fam has had to endure is certainly not making me want to book a flight there for my next spring break anytime soon, though I must say that it won’t be entirely ruled out because of kind, intelligent people like you, in order words Toronto best to be Thankful for having cool residents such as people like you, otherwise dickheadz like the ones you guys dealt with will certainly be hurtful to the city’s tourism board, believe it! *Internet Hug* 🙂

    1. Come here anyway, at least there are more black folk than in Vancouver. The black population here is very diverse! Toronto also has the most culturally diverse cuisine than anywhere else. As for the incipient and or blatant racism, it is here, however, one learns to navigate their way around it (at least I do). I have an ongoing workplace complaint based on threatening letters and have been dealing with the lawyer this week. It is a good thing I have a sense of the absurd and have a gregarious personality (if I am not pondering things such as shopping for example). I have the patience of Job and have a strong belief in Karma. Come to Toronto, you will have a good time.

  13. ..I noticed the lack of melanin in Vancouver, lol though the men seemed to quite appreciative to see me and my fam members (we come in brown, caramel, chocolate, butter pecan, etc.) and they were staring and smiling at us Hard (one business dude even licked his lips at me like I was the last ham sandwich at the automat)! X-D At your recommendation Herneith, I will certainly keep Toronto on my next-to-do list on visiting Canada-really,you had me already at “diverse cuisine” Mmmm…Oh yeah, fingers crossed for you about the workplace situation, I’m pulling for yah! Maybe you’ll get compensated, and we shop together when I come to Toronto? Lol 😀

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