Is Asterix Racist?

Along with The Adventures of Tintin, Goscinny and Uderzo’s Asterix came to me at an early age; both of these comics, particularly the latter, were a huge influence on my life as a child. Recently, to my chagrin, the famous French comic has come under fire for latent themes of racism and xenophobia, particularly their depiction of Africans and various non-white ethnicities. Other characters, like the cranky old Geriatrix, are often heard spouting their distrust of foreigners and non-villagers: “I’ve got nothing against foreigners. Some of my best friends are foreigners. But these particular foreigners aren’t from this village!”Asterix olympics

 

Naturally, as a child, it wasn’t the racism that I focused on; I was captivated by the colourful illustrations and humorous storylines that are accessible to any age group. And, of course, now, as an adult, I hate to see a childhood favourite be labeled as racist, given its tremendous influence on my life, and for just how much I loved reading and collecting them.

Set during the Roman invasion of Ancient France, aka Gaul, Asterix takes place in the small village of the eponymous hero, as the inhabitants struggle for autonomy and independence against the constant onslaught of Roman Centurions. Along with his gargantuan best friend, Obelix, Asterix traverses the Roman Empire and beyond, visiting and exploring many different cultures. They are incredibly clever and very humorous, each issue a proud display of French culture and nationalism. First published in the late 1950s, Asterix was released to a nation with relatively fresh memories of WWII; to be sure, this is a story of the underdog coming out on top- a nice dose of French pride.

Asterix - Spain

Nonetheless, the comic also possesse

s a somewhat colonial mindset, given France’s history in Africa and elsewhere. Indeed, looking back at this VLUU P1200  / Samsung P1200extremely nostalgic series, certain issues come to mind, like Asterix and the Great Crossing, where Asterix and Obelix travel by ship to North America, eventually having a run-in with the natives, who could not be more stereotypical. Red-skinned and wielding tomahawks, things start off on a pretty rough note, but both sides end up friends before the protagonists return to Gaul.

Asterix - Native Americans 2

Other questionable depictions of race, to name a few, include Asterix and Cleopatra, Asterix in Corsica, and Asterix and the Black Gold. In hindsight, the stereotypes are appalling, and would never make it out of the editor’s office. Yet, having enjoyed Asterix immensely as a child, should I be obligated to utterly denounce the entire series for its racial themes? In spite of my guilt I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stop loving Asterix, given our history.

Asterix - Egypt

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5 Responses to Is Asterix Racist?

  1. evangelosl says:

    I don’t think you personally need to denounce the Asterix comics as racist. As you said, your innocence probably privileged you not to see or understand the racial representations as a kid. That being said, you may wanna disclaimer your kids, or go the extra mile to explain to them the polotics behind it, if you ever do have kids and wanna hook them up with sick Asterix comics. A lot of people thing children are stupid but you’d be surprised how smart they are when your trust them with important life information.

  2. Martin says:

    I know it is a little bit late to comment on this, but I was thinking about children books from the view of modern concept of xenophoby and I think that yes, there are some heavy stereotypes in Asterix series, and no, I don’t believe that these comics are racist. Protagonists visit numerous regions during their travels and the inhabitants are often portrayed through a set of simpistic racial of national stereotypes. Native Americans are red-skinned, they spend nights dancing around bonfires while yelling “howgh!” Helvets (Swiss) make a lot of cheese, stay out of every possible confict and hide a lot of gold for Romans. British are phlegmatic, cold and constantly tea-sipping (well, a hot water with milk, but you know what I mean) people who get excited only when you destroy their lawn. Also, all these very different and unique people are described as brave, or inventive, or hospitable. Asterix and Obelix make friends even among the Romans, the main antagonists of the series.
    I grew up on Asterix’s comics and if I learned anything, it was the fact that there are many interesting and unique cultures around the world and that they can be just as friendly, brave and proud as any member of the culture I come from. It’s all put in a quite basic fashion, I admit. But to speak from my personal experience as a child, I also found all the places and peoples the protagonists visit fascinating and unique.

  3. jixiang says:

    The way Egyptians are portrayed in Asterix and Cleopatra is troubling by modern standards: they are shown as despotic Orientals, who even then didn’t know how to treat their workers in a decent fashion, unlike the civilised European Gauls.
    All the same, Asterix is a great comic and I don’t think it means ill. The stereotyped portrayal of Corsicans and people from other French regions and European countries should be seen as a harmless joke. After all, the series would be no fun without a dose of stereotypes!

  4. BLK says:

    Just sat down to watch Asterix and Cleopatra, and the first thing that appears is a depiction of what the narrator thinks an Egyptian sounds like. I was not amused. I feel they should have step more cautiously as I don’t think if you showed this to an Egyptian that they find humor.

  5. Fiksdal says:

    Meh, Asterix may be a bit racist. But really, it makes fun of all kinds of ethnicities (including white Europeans.) Look at how it portrays the Romans, the Goths, the Scandinavians, even the Gauls themselves are being made fun of. Alright, maybe the Europeans are portrayed slightly better? But still, they’re just making fun of everybody. The main antagonists in the comic are white Europeans. Are any Italians taking offense? Sure, the black pirate who sort of looks like a gorilla is not so flattering, but all of the pirates are portrayed ugly, fat, etc. I guess there is some racism in the comic. But European society as a whole was pretty much racist back then. That’s probably the main issue. The comic can be seen as a reminder of that.

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