What happened to Little Black Sambo? As a white girl growing up in West Virginia in the 1970s, I remember it on my childhood bookshelf. It was on my friends’ shelves too. It may also have been in the dentist’s office, along with Highlights for Children and Joseph and His Coat of Many Colors.
It was not on the shelves of the local day care, a center run by an entrepreneurial black woman who saw a business opportunity in the droves of young white mothers who were socialized in the 1950s and ’60s to be housewives and then dumped into the workforce by the 1970s economy.
I remember the story primarily for its description of the tigers chasing one another round and round a tree until they melt into butter, butter that Sambo’s mother uses for a stack of crispy pancakes. In the 35 intervening years, I knew the book had been relegated to the dustbin of racist cultural artifacts, but I didn’t remember it well enough to know why. READ MORE: I never noticed how racist so many children’s books are until I started reading to my kids | Vox.