Dumbo and Racism

Aloha my wonderful merfolk!

As adult Disney fans, we all know how the world and indeed, how Disney has changed over the decades it has been a wonderful part of peoples lives. However, as a child, you don’t pick up on things such as racism in movies, especially animated ones. You just see cute characters in situations with other characters or helping move the story along but you never realise the darker side of the stories.

Dumbo was one of many early Disney movies to be criticised for it’s racist portrayals of characters. This blog post will discuss these racism claims and share with you peoples thoughts into the movie.

Disclaimer: Just because I am writing about the racism that people see in this movie, does not mean I wish to shred Disney’s reputation or put a black mark on it. As mentioned in my first post of this week, Dumbo is one of my favourite Disney movies. I have merely read about the instances of racism in this movie and wish to write about it. So please, no nasty comments are to be left regarding myself, what you think my opinion on this be etc etc. Discussion is welcome but please, keep nasty comments away from my blog. Thank you.



Roustabouts is the second song to appear in Dumbo and is sung by the workers at the circus as they put up the giant circus tent. The reason this song caused so much controversy is people believe it to be a song about slavery and the lyrics mention aspects of the life of a slave. For example, one line in the song says ‘We work all day, we work all night, we never learned to read and write’. It was a very rare occurrence during the slavery days that a slave would be taught to read and write. The plantation owners did not want smart slaves, they wanted hard working slaves that would do back-breaking labour for little or no pay. This songs seems to talk about that and even show that slavery was ‘okay’ because they were all still happy, jolly folks that liked to sing and liked to work.

We all know of course that slavery is not okay. Working for no pay is not okay. Pushing yourself to work to the point of damaging your health is not okay.

The Crows

The Crow characters in Dumbo are probably the most talked about instance of racism in a Disney animated feature (apart from Song of the south but I class that as a hybrid Disney movie). We all know of course that Dumbo comes across the crows after leaving the circus and they later help him to learn how to fly; giving him the lucky feather.

The crows speak and act in stereotypical African-American mannerisms. It has also been noted that a few of the voice actors of the crows were white men pretending to be black men; notably that lead crow character.

The leader of the crows is called Jim Crowe. This is a shout to the Jim Crow laws which allowed racial segregation in the southern states of the USA. This meant that there separate public bathrooms, places to sit on a bus, sides of the street etc for white people and for black people.  These laws were in place until 1965 and were seen as controversial. Looking back on the Jim Crow laws now, we of course, see them as horrific. A breach of human rights and overall, just ridiculous and unfair behaviour all because someone is of a different race. In the 1940s when Dumbo was made, all of the above was seen as the norm. That doesn’t mean it was acceptable but negative portrayals of African-Americans was common practice. Below I’ve linked to videos of the sections where Dumbo and Timothy first meet the crows and also the song When I See An Elephant Fly

What do you think about the apparent racism in Dumbo? Do you think it’s people being too sensitive? Do you think people should stop bringing it up because that’s was the norm during the time the film was made? Do you think it’s worth talking and using it to educate children who watch Disney films?

This is not about racism, but Dumbo so totally got drunk in this movie and that is why he see’s pink elephants everywhere and ends up half way up a tree. Just saying. More controversy.

a mermaid be waiting for you, in mysterious fathoms below

3 thoughts on “Dumbo and Racism

  1. I always cringe a little bit at the ‘indians’ in Disney’s Peter Pan too, especially that song *shudder*
    But, these films provide a valuable talking point – so we can discuss why certain kinds of thinking existed and why its not ok.


    1. Yeah, some aspects of Disney films would never be allowed these days but unfortunately that is how the world was back then. It wasn’t frowned upon so nobody thought anything of it. It’s awful but the world was a lot different back then.


  2. I’m really glad you made a post about this as growing up you don’t always pick up on some of these issues but now I’m an adult there are some elements in Disney films which are a bit uncomfortable to watch now, like the example Kel pointed out above too. I think it’s important to create discussion around it and I agree with you that it can be educational for children growing up too, but I also think a lot has changed since the films initial release, when content like that was deemed OK, so there wasn’t as much controversy around it which is why you see a lot more being shared about it now, which is actually really good to see people discussing and trying to move away from that and towards more diverse films, which I think, Disney is doing a pretty good job of now. Really interesting post! – Tasha


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