No, Mickey Mouse wasn’t based on racist parody called ‘Jigaboo’ – but that’s half the story

Was Disney’s iconic cartoon character Mickey Mouse inspired by a character named Jigaboo, a racist caricature of black people?

A meme shared on Facebook says so. It shows Mickey Mouse in his trademark two-button red shorts and white gloves next to a crude parody of a black child – also wearing two-button red shorts and white gloves.

The text reads: “RACISM… Mickey Mouse was a remake of a character named Jigaboo who was made to mock black people.”

But the image of “Jigaboo” was created in 1994 by US artist Michael Ray Charles. Mickey Mouse first appeared in 1928, 66 years earlier.

The meme has already been checked by Snopes and AFP, who rated it false.

‘Exposing underlying racism in culture’

But it’s not a coincidence that Charles’s painting resembles Mickey Mouse.

The artist’s work, according to his ArtNet profile, “explores historic African American stereotypes… appropriating images from advertising and pop culture to expose the underlying racism prevalent in contemporary culture”.

The painting, titled (Forever Free) BEWARE, is in the collection of the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in New York.

It highlights the actual racist past of Mickey Mouse.

Minstrel shows and mockery

The original Mickey Mouse – who first appeared as Steamboat Willie – wore the top hat and white gloves of “incredibly racist” minstrel shows, according to an article on Cracked.

“Minstrel shows were a once-popular form of American entertainment wherein white performers would black up their faces to do silly sketches and sing songs while wearing tuxedos, top hats, and yes, those white gloves,” says Cracked writer Nate Yungman.

“They’re mostly remembered today as a tragic byproduct of more racist times.”

And early Mickey Mouse cartoons were extremely racist. “Mickey Mouse strips circa 1930-1933 lampooned and exaggerated the features of the black person” and were filled with “racial epithets”, according to one collector’s description.

So while Mickey Mouse wasn’t based on the “Jigaboo” character shown, the meme’s initial accusation isn’t far off. – Africa Check (22/03/19)


 

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