When we think of racist cartoons, most of us immediately think of those old black and white Disney shorts that mostly disappeared long ago except for a few YouTube links titled MOST RACIST CARTOON EVER. You know the ones.
Thing is, those notoriously racist black and white cartoons were made back in the 1930s, and you’d think by the time we reached the end of the 20th century we would be evolved enough as a society not to be totally racist, especially on TV. Well, you’d think wrong.
Although anyone who parked themselves in front of the television as a child during that glorious time when shows now featured on The Splat reigned supreme on Nickelodeon may not even realize just how racist some of our favorite shows were back in those days. But if you really think about it, suddenly it all starts to make sense. Like why did the yellow ranger on Power Rangers have to be Asian? And, for that matter, why was the black ranger not only African-American but a really good dancer? Maybe they should have added a rainbow ranger who was really good at interior design and personal grooming just to get all the stereotypes out of the way on that one.
Some 90s kids shows were only subtly racist, or slipped into racist territory for a single episode, but still others let the racism fly free just like a Confederate flag on the back of a pickup truck slogging through the mud somewhere in West Virginia. Here, we take a look at all variety of kid show racism throughout the last great decade.
15. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers
It’s a shame we even have to explain what’s completely racist about the Power Rangers — note: we’re talking the early Power Rangers, none of that Megaforce nonsense — but let’s go ahead and unpack this together.
The pink ranger gets a pass for being a girl (that obviousness will be saved for an article about sexism in 90s cartoons), but come on, the yellow ranger is Asian. ASIAN. But they left it at that, didn’t they? I mean, isn’t that plenty? No, of course not. They made the black ranger black. Come on, you guys.
14. Legends Of The Hidden Temple
So, the whole premise of Legends of the Hidden Temple — which aired on Nickelodeon from 1993-1995 — was that a bunch of mostly privileged white kids ran around this temple full of artifacts from this guy named Olmec and stole his stuff. It was supposed to be an Indiana Jones type thing except stealing artifacts from temples was never really cool in the first place.
Olmec was supposedly Mayan, though in a way that made you pretty sure the producers of this show think Mexicans and Nicaraguans are the same thing. Additionally, the voice of Olmec was actually a white guy from Indiana. They couldn’t have found a single voice actor of Mayan descent to voice the culturally-ambiguous guardian of the temple? Nah, a guy named Dee from Indiana who looks like Matthew Perry from Friends. So. White. You guys.
Doug was one of those cartoons during Nickelodeon’s Golden Age that transfixed the Fruity Pebble-eating masses from 1991-1994. Centered around an almost-bald dork named — wait for it — Doug, it followed the adventures of its namesake and his friends, all of whom were varying shades of colors not found in human skin, especially Roger the school bully. For some odd reason, Roger was green-skinned with orange Macklemore hair.
Doug did have a BFF Skeeter who maybe could have been black-ish, if African Americans come in blue and have awkward catchphrases like Honk! Honk! Doug creator Jim Jinkins insists Skeeter is black, but he’s an old white guy from the former Confederate capitol of the United States so what does he know.
12. Kenan And Kel
I know what you’re thinking right now: “how could a show based around two black guys be racist?” I’m so glad you asked.
Although grape soda is more traditionally associated with something that all black people like by non-black people who tend to think in stereotypes, orange soda comes in a close second as stereotypical black person drink of choice. Kenan and Kel managed to make this into a colossal joke. Who loves orange soda? Kel loves orange soda.
Perhaps if they left the joke at that it would have been fine. But no, Kel spent the entire show stealing orange soda from the grocery store where his friend Kenan worked. That’s right, he never actually paid a dime for all that orange soda he drank. Stereotypes, they’re hilarious, you guys.
For the most part, Pokemon isn’t racist because how could little animal-like critters you trap in balls be racist? Perhaps it’s an issue for PETA. But race? Nah.
Except one character, and we all know to which character I am referring. When the episode “Holiday Hi-Jynx” aired in 1999, African-American author Carole Boston Weatherford immediately pointed out that Jynx looked a lot like the kind of lawn jockey a card-carrying racist might keep on his stoop. Weatherford summed Jynx’s appearance up thusly: “Pokemon #124 has decidedly human features [in contrast to most other characters]: jet-black skin, huge pink lips, gaping eyes, a straight blonde mane and a full figure, complete with cleavage and wiggly hips. Jynx resembles an overweight drag queen incarnation of Little Black Sambo, a racist stereotype from a children’s book long ago purged from libraries.”
So, let’s get the obvious out of the way: ducks don’t have a race, especially cartoon ones. But in the imaginary town of Duckburg, stereotypes matter.
On air from September 18, 1987 – November 28, 1990, the Disney cartoon centered around the miserly Scrooge McDuck, his great-nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and a revolving cast of B-list characters such as Duckworth the butler and Gyro Gearloose the mad scientist, er, inventor.
Though nowadays Scots can be found all over the world, Scottish people as we know them were mostly established in — you guessed it — Scotland in the 9th century. Scrooge McDuck, meanwhile, is an old Disney character, first appearing in a comic book in 1947. And also a really cliché example of a Scot, down to the tartan and bagpipe-playing. Really, you guys, he already has an accent, we don’t need bagpipes to know he’s Scottish.
9. Dragon Ball Z
So, Mr. Popo is an incredibly black guy whose job it is to be the gardener, janitor, and, basically, servant of the Guardian of the Earth. They don’t outright call him a slave but they might as well. I mean he cleans up the house and does whatever the Guardian of the Earth says, come on.
And then there’s Killa. He’s a pretty obscure character, but he’s also a massive, muscled black guy with ridiculously pink lips who speaks total gibberish. To be fair, Dragon Ball Z isn’t the brain child of a society that once imported black people from tribal lands in Africa, so maybe they don’t understand why this character is so problematic.
Killa could easily be based on former Knicks center Patrick Ewing, only Patrick Ewing as seen by a bunch of racist cartoonists who think all black people have giant pink lips and speak only in mumbling Ebonics.
8. Boy Meets World
Airing on ABC from 1993-2000, Boy Meets World was the TGIF show for the Trapper Keeper set during that time period. It centered around the ultra-white Matthews family, mainly son Cory and his ultra-white friends and teachers. In season five, Cory’s kinda edgy but not really best friend Shawn meets a black girl named Angela, with whom he begins an adorable love affair.
Angela reappeared briefly for the modern BMW spin-off Girl Meets World, but for only five minutes, if that, to play into some diluted plot line to explain how she and Shawn never worked out. The actress who played Angela (Trina McGee) spoke out and said it was racist that she was so poorly represented in the spin-off show. Not to mention the fact that she was the only black character to have any kind of substantial role on either show.
Similar to Legends of the Hidden Temple using so-called Mayan imagery around which to build an entire show, the 90s cartoon Taz-Mania (yeah, you forgot about that one didn’t you!) centered around the lives of various cartoon characters on the fictional island of Tazmania. The completely made up Tazmania is so obviously based on the real-life Tasmania, which lies to the south of Australia.
Yeah, so, here’s the thing about that. Aboriginal people have occupied Tasmania for tens of thousands of years, as have species of animal unique to the region. But as often happens when people not from a place make up a show about that place, they just threw in a bunch of bushwhackers and non-American animals that maybe might find themselves on an island thousands of miles away. It was the perfect example of how people tend to lump a race — or even entire continent — into a big mound of steaming stereotypes. OK, so it was a cartoon, but still.
6. Ren & Stimpy
When you think of the twisted Nickelodeon cartoon Ren & Stimpy, you probably think about that weird horse guy with the socks always falling down and Powered Toast Man. What you likely don’t think about is just how completely racist Ren was as a character framed in the context of the fact that he was a chihuahua.
Listen, we all know a few real-life unhinged chihuahuas. But they generally don’t bark with a Mexican accent. Now, it’s worth noting Ren Hoek’s ethnicity has never actually been revealed, but we can pretty safely assume he’s Mexican since chihuahuas don’t just have origins in Mexico, they are literally named after the Mexican state of Chihuahua. Doesn’t get much more Mexican than that.
As we all know, Ren was a real pendejo to his BFF Stimpy. He was also a crazed, demented lunatic, prone to fits of rage and violence unlike any seen in real-life chihuahuas. As such, he reflected quite poorly on everyone’s favorite Mexican dog.
5. Hey Arnold!
The fact that the Nickelodeon cartoon Hey Arnold! centered around this really likeable blonde kid wasn’t really problematic on its own, but ask yourself why Arnold had a black best friend named Gerald who looked like what every white person from the suburbs thinks an inner city black kid should look like. He even dabbed, for the love of all that is football-shaped. Did you ever see Arnold dab? Of course you didn’t, because cartoon white kids with disproportionate heads don’t do that.
Gerald Martin Johanssen serves as his BFF Arnold’s voice of reason, spitting out pearls of wisdom while rocking some variety of a red shirt with the number 33 on it. Because black people are sporty or something. He couldn’t wear glasses or be a punk rocker, nah, he had to be a dabber in a jersey with a high-top hairdo. Way to go, Nickelodeon, you nailed it on that one.
4. The Powerpuff Girls
You’re probably wondering how on earth little Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup could possibly be racist. Sexist? Maybe. Relics of a patriarchal society in which a young lady’s value is derived solely from her ability to bail out the bumbling mayor of her town? Definitely. But racist? Nah.
Although his assumed race is never actually clearly laid out, main antagonist Mojo Jojo the crazed chimp and former lab assistant of the girls’ creator Professor Utonium speaks in a very distinct Japanese accent. Despite this, wild Internet theories exist that Mo’Jo is actually intended to be a black stereotype (um, monkey? That’s racist on its own just to assume, people), and even that he is Indian because of the ‘turban’ on his head. So yeah, um, Internet, I think you mean ‘Sikh’ and that isn’t actually a turban, it’s more like duct tape holding his massive, Chemical X-enlarged brain in.
3. Rocket Power
Rocket Power was one of those shows that made you kind of wish your dad was a cool surfer guy in a floppy hat just like Raymond “Raymundo” Rocket, but then you remembered how embarrassing your dad could be and decided it would be worse if he bummed around in a wrinkled Ocean Pacific t-shirt. Although the elder Rocket was a poorly-done beach bum stereotype, he wasn’t the problem here.
The problem lies in his friend, business partner, and former bandmate Tito Makani, a living, breathing (well, at least in their imaginary cartoon world) stereotype of what people who aren’t Hawaiian expect Hawaiians to be. He was best known for spouting all this wisdom from the ancient Hawaiians, because of course every Hawaiian person is an encyclopedia of phrases their ancestors may or may not have said. For example: “No common brudda ever knows the pain of the flower as it grows.” What does that even mean?
2. Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers
Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers debuted on the Disney Channel in 1989, and went into syndication from 1990-1993. The premise of the show was classic Disney chipmunks Chip (the more reasonable one) and Dale (the wacky one) heading up a detective agency that solved miniature crimes in their little critter world. The show pushed Chip and Dale’s odd couple dynamic even further than the earlier cartoons, making Chip stoic whereas Dale was a bumbling jackass in a Hawaiian shirt because nothing says “I fail to take life seriously” like going through it in a Hawaiian shirt.
But just like Lady and the Tramp — everyone remembers Si and Am singing “we are Siamese if you please” — Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers went full on racist when they introduced antagonists The Siamese Twin Gang, a pair of laundromat-owning, illegal-gambling, broken-English-speaking Siamese cats. So original, you guys.
Talespin was a short-run, two-season Disney show that debuted in 1990. It was based very loosely, or rather creatively, on the well-known movie The Jungle Book, which itself was based on the Rudyard Kipling book by the same name. By the time we got to 1990 from 1894, Kipling’s anthropomorphic storytellers run an air freight company and battle air pirates because that seems so likely for bears to do.
One episode in particular really got people into a tizzy. Main character Baloo headed out in search of the secret city of Panda-La, a beautiful but inaccessible pagoda-filled wonderland somewhere in the Far East populated by — you guessed it — pandas. But not just regular pandas, pandas with Fu Manchu moustaches and looking like Raiden from Mortal Kombat in those conical straw hats because all Asian people wear those hats ya know. So, long story short the sneaky pandas are nice to Baloo’s face but then when he heads home to his own town, they follow him and try to attack the city. He beats them, of course, because there’s no way Cape Suzette was going to go down to a bunch of cliché oriental bears.
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