The Lazy Sambo

The Lazy Sambo

Sculpture of Black Male laying in the sun. Photo Taken by Maurice A. Byrd Jr


Little Black Sambo

‘Sambo’ was originally a fictional character created by the wife of a Scottish doctor in the Indian Medical Service, Helen Bannerman.  The purpose was reading material for her two young daughters.

An admiring friend returning to England persuaded Bannerman to let him show the book to London publishers.  Without her knowledge, the copyright was sold to Grant Richards for a measly five pounds (Bader, Barbara, 1996).  Bannerman not only lost a fortune but right of direction.  Meaning, Bannerman was unable to control not only the direction of her story, but its distribution.

Once the story hit the United States, it turned from “The Little Black Boy,” to the “Little Black ‘Sambo (Bader, Barbara, 1996).'”  The novel resonated in the US and became a permanent fixture among educated Americans.  Since, the term ‘Sambo’ has been used to denigrate and ministerially caricature the Negro-American as lazy, conniving, and more.

Outside of our Pumula accommodation are statues with striking resemblance to ‘Sambo.’  To the casual observer, these statues may represent a beautiful landscape; one that recalls the antebellum south.  To me, these statues represent symbolic-violence; representing centuries of forced humiliation and oppression.  I can only imagine how the Namibian staff feels working around these retro-progressive figures.  Hopefully, they do not understand the mental slavery they are forced to embrace.  Or hopefully they do.

However, we live in a world with constant bigotry and consistent perpetuation of bigotry.  I wonder if the makers of these statues understand the pain they cause other people, but then again, only 29% of Americans have the undergraduate education to recognize a travesty such as ‘Sambo’ (Bureau of Labor and Statistics, 2010).