Racism in Disney’s Dumbo

by criticalhit009

Everyone knows of the racism in Walt Disney’s Dumbo, in particular the literalizaiton of the Jim Crow stereotype. But upon rewatching it, I was struck with the racism that occurs in the tent building segment. Faceless African Americans build the circus tents midst a late night storm, perpetuating stereotypes of black poverty as they sing about their poor saving habits, illiteracy, and contentment with slave wages:

We work all day, we work all night
We never learned to read or write
We’re happy-hearted roustabouts
Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
When other folks have gone to bed
We slave until we’re almost dead
We’re happy-hearted roustabouts
Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike! Ugh! Hike!
We don’t know when we get our pay
And when we do, we throw our pay away

Dumbo is such a strange film that merits more discussion, with its sketch-like plot construction, trippy imagery, and more. But its treatment of race in particular has been the subject of many an essay for a good reason.

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