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An Insight on Walt Disney's Alleged Racism

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by , 08-11-2011 at 10:26 AM (11315 Views)
It has become a popular myth that the famed Walt Disney, and the company that he created, were racist and/or anti-Semitic. It is this reason that I attempt to fairly set the record straight, and explain the slant truths and misconceptions. The biggest problem with the myth is the fact that many people spread it without understanding any of the actual facts. If you search through Yahoo Answers, you will see all sorts of people expressing this belief. They often hear it from a friend, or from a television show. Those who form their own opinions, just think about certain scenes from Disney movies as "racist," but don't know the true motive behind them. Many people fail to recognize the difference between "racism" and a "stereotype." They also must understand the significance of the time period of which these movies were created. I plan to shed light on each of these topics.

To begin, I'll discuss the origin and continuation of the belief that Walt Disney himself was an anti-Semite. It is difficult to say exactly when the rumor started, or why. Some believe that it was during a 1941 workers strike at Disney. But however it started, it is still to this day stated by fact as many people, and therefore spread. It certainly doesn't help when television shows spread the rumor. I specifically mention the popular show "Family Guy," which criticizes Walt for allegedly hating Jews, despite the fact that the show makes several Jewish stereotypes itself. People argue that that's alright, because "Family Guy is supposed to be like that. It criticizes everyone." That would be fair if it weren't for the hypocrisy behind it. It's easy to assume things, but if you watch Disney movies or short films, it will be a very difficult task to find even the slightest Jewish stereotype. In fact, Walt Disney created several anti-Nazi propaganda short films during the World War II era. Many say that he supported the Nazis, and was a traitor to the Americans. Those who claim that clearly haven't seen the shorts themselves, as these shorts are extremely critical of Hitler and the Nazis. Despite all of this, this generation mostly believes that Walt Disney was anti-Semitic without any proof at all. Documentation has been searched for to find proof, and none has ever been found. (1) Several Jewish workers have even come forward to defend Walt. (2) There is no evidence to support Walt Disney being anti-Semitic, but there is plenty to support that he was not.

It has also been said that Walt Disney was racist against African Americans, among other ethnicities. What's odd about this accusation is that it actually makes more sense than the anti-Semitism rumor, yet it isn't nearly as wide-spread. There is in fact, evidence to support it. This being said, the belief tends to be greatly exaggerated. I'll begin by explaining the reasoning behind this one. There is no evidence of Walt Disney ever being cruel or discriminatory to anyone. And the Walt Disney Company had workers from all sorts of backgrounds. But the racism rumors were a result of stereotypes being depicted in Disney films. People do try to deny these stereotypes, but there is no denying that they were there. Such stereotypes were depicted in classic Disney short films and such feature-length films as "Fantasia," "The Three Caballeros," "Peter Pan," and several others. Many of the examples have since been edited from the films. But the stereotypes were evident and there's no use in pretending like they weren't there. With that said, there is a big difference between a "stereotype" and downright "racism." Racism is defined on Dictionary.com as "a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others." (3) While the Disney Company did depict racial stereotypes, they never implied that one race was better than the other, or showed any hate toward a race. There was nothing malicious about any of the depictions. That does not excuse them. But creating these characters is no worse than telling a racist joke, which nearly all of us do. These racial stereotypes are in the back of everyone's mind, and they were even more apparent in the 1940's, where people weren't nearly as tolerant as they are now. In addition to this, Walt Disney wasn't solely responsible for every film that was worked on. It took the effort of many other workers to create his vision. He isn't to be blamed for every stereotype. This belief is backed up by the fact that there were plenty of examples of stereotypes in Disney films created after Walt's death in films such as "The Jungle Book," "Lady and the Tramp," and more. Disney was even concerned about being accused of racism, so he created Uncle Remus as the lead character of "Song of the South." Most people think that this movie is racist, and it has been banned. But Walt didn't intend it this way. He even cleared the script with Remus's actor and several organizations to try and make sure that no one would take offense. The public reaction shocked him, and hurt his reputation. (4)

Point being, there are many misconceptions about Walt Disney, and the exaggerated truths are surrounded by hypocrisy. If you're going to blindly believe something without checking up on the facts, keep it to yourself and don't spread a rumor that may or may not be true. Don't even take my word for it. Look up your own facts. But from my research, Walt Disney was a tolerant person. I have yet to find any examples that demonstrate any sort of hate toward anyone. And weather you believe that or not, he was a creative genius who did amazing things for animation and the movie industry. Rather than insult him for minor flaws, let's appreciate his accomplishments.


1) http://www.cartoonbrew.com/disney/why-walt...ing-racist.html
2) http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/8...ist.html?cat=37
3) http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/racism
4) http://dailycartoonist.com/index.php/2009/...disney-a-racist

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  1. Superpan's Avatar
    Hear Hear! That said, a few nitpicks.

    1. Unfortunately, a Jewish stereotype did first appear in the first cut of The Three Little Pigs. It was redone in later prints and it seems to have been poor judgement on the part of those behind it, but nothing worse than the stereotypes found in Warner Bros. cartoons.

    2. Lady and the Tramp and much of The Jungle Book were made before Walt died.

    That said, he wasn't a bigot as much as a product of his times. I don't think he bore ill will towards anyone except maybe communists, though I don't think he dwelt on it. Meanwhile, heroes like Henry Ford and Charls Lindbergh are celebrated despite being virulent anti-semites and Hitler supporters.
  2. Daxdiv's Avatar
    Reading this reminds me of something one of my college professors told me. He thought that Walt was a Nazi supporter and that one reason was because if you looked at one of the statues in the park where he's holding Mickey's hand, looking at it from the "right angle" makes it look like the Nazi salute. >_>

    Yeah, I never really bought that Walt was an anti-Semite or a racist. Song of the South makes me think that it just got a lot of "Unfortunate Implications" behind it. Especially after reading about what you posted with Walt going out of his way to make sure it couldn't be construed as RACIST!
  3. Oldiesfreak1854's Avatar
    Lady and the Tramp came out in 1955, 11 years BEFORE Walt Disney died.
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