Are the Smurfs racist? Are there destructive racial messages hidden in the subtext of the Smurfs stories? Are the Smurfs really discriminatory against non-blues? Watch a video and read on to find out for yourself!
Are the Smurfs Racist?
The Smurfs may be messengers of hate... at least, according to critics. This article will list the charges leveled at the Smurfs, and provide analysis to determine whether or not our blue friends are racist hate-mongers.
Comics are sometimes used to showcase racist attitudes. A succinct political comic, written to sully or denigrate a race or culture, has been used since the dawn of the medium to vilify groups of people. The Smurfs are accused of doing the same towards black-skinned people. The Smurfs are charged as being racist because of the comic book, "The Black Smurf". In the story, a Smurf gets bitten by an infected flying bug only to be transformed into a mindless, evil and violent attacker. Once bitten, the Smurf changes from his normal blue color to black, and says nothing but the word "G'nap". Yes, you read that correctly - the Smurfs are accused of being racist because of a single comic where the characters get sick and turn black.
The color black has been used since time immemorial to represent death and sickness. Whether or not there is an inherent racial message in the universal representation of "black" as a color cannot fairly be placed on the shoulders of Peyo and the Smurfs. Peyo did not originate the concept that "black" can represent illness. Black also has a long history of representing evil in literature: the "Black Knight" is a popular menacing character in fiction and villains often wear black hats in Westerns. Moreover, the very concept of white vs. black, or opposing moral forces, is commonplace in popular culture. Those that resist evil are told to "turn to the light". In Star Wars, characters must resist "the dark side". In the creation of Smurfette, when Smurfette has black hair she is evil but the blond-haired version of her is considered good.
Comic books use shorthand, or convention, to get points across quickly. When someone is excited, for example, an "exclamation point" may appear above their head, in order to let the reader know immediately that the subject is excited. These conventions quickly convey what is happening to readers, some of whom may be very young and not at a full reading comprehension level. The Smurfs is a comic that is read by children all over the world - the comics must accurately relay what is happening in the story in a very straightforward and simple manner to be understood by wide variety of people. The idea that a character getting sick turns "black" is a very simple way to convey that the Smurfs are "sick" once bitten.
The Black Smurf is simply a Smurf version of the Black Plague or Black Death from the late Middle Ages - with a modern zombie twist. It's a zombie story, more or less - and no one can seriously suggest that zombies are racist and expect to be taken seriously.
G'napp Attack: The Black Smurf Versus The Purple Smurf
So are the Smurfs racist? No. They've gone to extremes, as well, to protect the Smurfs good name. When the Black Smurf comic was turned into a Hanna Barbera cartoon, the color was even changed from black to purple, in the hope that no feelings would be hurt. Hanna Barbera used an overabundance of caution to ensure no one could misinterpret the story. As well, Papercutz changed their re-issued edition of the Black Smurf to match the cartoon version, and called it The Purple Smurf as well.
The charge that Smurfs are racist - all because of one comic book that never once remotely discusses racial ideology in any way (other than simply using the color black), is absurd. In fact, if anything, the Smurfs should be considered anti-human before they could even remotely be considered "racists". There are endless stories where the Smurfs describe their mistrust and wariness of humans - all people - and never once is skin color, nationality, or race mentioned.
At no time in the history of the Smurfs is skin color, skin tone, race, nationality, religion, or ethnic identity even hinted at...except once. There is one part of the Peyo Smurfs canon that is usually overlooked by critics - the characters of the Swoofs. The Swoofs are the only Smurf characters that could possibly be seen to display racial overtones.
So who are the Swoofs? The Swoofs are a race of creatures that the Smurfs themselves created in order to entertain Dreamy Smurf. The Smurfs dress up as "Swoofs" to pretend they're on another planet, so Dreamy Smurf can believe he has traveled to outerspace.
The only problem with this is the fact that, viewed many years after the story was written, the Swoofs have certain visual cartoon characteristics associated with black or African cultural stereotypes. The Swoofs dress, act and speak in an unsophisticated way that is evocative of Mammy and Little Black Sambo. Many cartoons from the 20th century, including the Flintstones, Donald Duck, and Bugs Bunny have been accused of racist stereotypes as well - they are products of their time.
In Peyo's defense, the look of the Swoofs was copied from a "savage" cartoon archetype that was not viewed as overtly racist when it was created many decades ago. Still, in the modern era, the Swoofs represent unfortunate stereotypes in this culturally sensitive age of political correctness.
The next complaint is the idea that the Smurfs - namely the character of Gargamel, is anti-semitic.
The idea of anti-semitism is predicated on the notion that Gargamel conforms to Jewish stereotypes. The fact that the Smurf stories have never once talked about religion does not sway critics. But let's go over how Gargamel looks, first, to see if there is even a whiff of truth to this. First, Gargamel is reasonably tall. Gargamel is balding. Gargamel is very poor to the point of being poverty-stricken and wears patched clothing. Do these sound like Jewish stereotypes?
Gargamel has a Big Nose
In addition, like many comic book bad guys, Gargamel has a pronounced nose. Lots of cartoon characters have large noses. They're funny to children. Many cartoon characters, including those in the Smurfs, have exaggerated physical features, including, arms, legs, foreheads, noses, and feet. Why? Because they're funny cartoon characters! They're supposed to look silly and exaggerated. To even suggest that Peyo's representation of Gargamel is similar to actual anti-semitic racist caricatures leads to the most important point of this analysis: some people see things that aren't there because of their own overactive imagination.
Gargamel doesn't wear a yarmulke or a Star of David - or any other identifiable Jewish symbols. Yet critics say Gargamel is a caricature of Jews. Quite frankly, this idea is hogwash. It says more about the eye of the beholder, and prejudices of the beholder, than it does Peyo's comic. Gargamel is any ugly, greedy man, but how on earth does that make him Jewish? How does one possibly make that leap? The leap is only possible if the reader imbues the comic with so much of his / her prejudice and worldview that they end up seeing what they want to see. Gargamel goes from looking like a funny bad guy to whatever nightmare interpretation the reader conjures up. But the anti-semitic content is not on Peyo's printed page.
The Smurfs are Not Racist
Peyo's Smurfs are not racist nor anti-semitic. It is easy to misinterpret artistic intent, though, and it is possible some readers of the Smurfs might have questions. This article has attempted to answer them. The real question readers must ask themselves is, what were the creator's intentions? Through today's cultural lense, the Swoofs do have racial overtones - but there is nothing to suggest Peyo was racist or had a racial message of any kind. And, even if he did, what would it be - Blue Power? Blue Supremacy? On its face, the whole discussion is surreal and overreaching. If you want something to worry about, here is something far more relevant to discuss: think about why there is only one female Smurf in a village full of males... is Smurfette sexist?