London: Grant Richards, 1899. First edition. A Very Good + copy of the book. It has been carefully recased, but presents well. Some soiling to the pages and a contemporary gift inscription on the front end paper. Complete with all pages and the brightly colored illustrations.
Written by a Scottish author to pass the time on a train with her daughters, Little Black Sambo has deservedly gained its reputation for packaging racism and imperialism for a juvenile audience. Originally set in India, the slew of copycat works that followed easily adapted the premise and characters for Jim Crow America. Because the book "belittled dark-skinned people from India, it served as a boilerplate" and within a year the book was released in the US; replacing Sambo's Indian family with Black American caricatures, "it was even more successful than it had been in England" (Ferris). Admittedly, the racism of the later American versions was heightened. "Bannerman's version did not have characters using bastardized English, for example" and it featured a protagonist who was "a clever little boy who outwitted several tigers"; nevertheless, her inspiration emerged out of her privileged, imperialist position as the wife of a surgeon "serving in the British Army of India," where she lived for 30 years (Ferris). Like the minstrelsy and anti-Black works it inspired, the original text was created for the entertainment of privileged white people occupying "a position of elitism based on their husband and father's occupational status and on their white skins in a colonized nation of dark-skinned people" (Ferris). Today, its value rests in teaching us about racism and colorism across cultures, in urging us to consider how children are indoctrinated into white supremacy from an early age, and in admitting how many of these attitudes persist today. Very Good + (Item #1640)