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Dutchess_III's avatar

For those who remember the restaurant, do you think "Sambo's" was so named specifically to insult black people?

Asked by Dutchess_III (42446points) February 22nd, 2016

Back story: Went to visit Chris and his kids. Two year old Zoey is that that age where she’ll repeat any word you ask her to say, sometimes with hilarious results.

We probably spent 15 minutes throwing different words, and sounds, at her for her to mimic. After she’d repeat the word she fold her arms in great satisfaction, and smugly look up at Grammpa (upon whose lap she was sitting,) certain she’d been perfect. In all her innocence, she WAS utterly perfect! We were rolling.

Then that game ended and we went on to other things that didn’t involve the kids.

About 20 minutes later, she found another outlet for her energy. She started running around and around and around her 9 month old brother, who was laying on the floor. She was running at dizzying speeds.
I said, “What are you, Sambo?!”
Well, there was a word she could say perfectly. She was racing around and around and around her brother chirping, “Sambo! Sambo!”
I just fell on the floor. My son laughingly said, “Way to go Mom!”
Of course, we can all see it. They’re in public, in a busy store, baby in the cart, Zoey running around and around the cart yelling “Sambo! Sambo!” And we’re all gonna die!

Well, that brought on a discussion after we got home. I asked Rick if he ever remembered going to Sambos.‘s It was a delicious pancake restaurant in the 60’s. It had illustrations of the story, “Little Black Sambo” framed around the walls, illustrations I knew well, because I knew the story.
Then…the resturaunt disappeared. I remember there was a brouhaha over the name being racist, but I was little when it happened so it’s really vague. I don’t think I even knew what “racist” was. Anyway, Sambo’s disappeared.

Then we went back to watching the movie.
Suddenly I mumbled, “Denny’s.”
Rick said, “What?”
I said, “Denny’s,” not even sure why I said it.

So I started researching.

The place closed down amid accusations of black racism due to the name, and many of them were bought by the Denny’s pancake house chain, though how I made that connection I couldn’t tell you. I was really young when it happened. Anyway, when I was in my late teens, in the 70’s, we used to to go Denny’s after the bars closed, because it was the only place open (not a coincidence, as my research quickly showed.)

There is nothing inherently racist about the story, that I can tell, and I remember it well from my childhood. Even reading it now, I don’t see how it could be offensive. In fact, the Wiki article about it notes: “Critics of the time observed that Bannerman presents one of the first black heroes in children’s literature and regarded as a book that positively portrayed black characters in both the text and pictures, especially in comparison to the more negative books of that era that depicted blacks as simple and uncivilized.”

Further,, the name originally came out of the combining the last names of the founders, SAM Battistone, Sr. and Newell BOhnett.

FUTHERMORE the story was based on a kid from South India, not an African child.

In my opinion, there was nothing racist about the story. There was even a moral to the story, which was nothing to be ashamed of, and I don’t think there was any racial motive behind naming it “Sambo’s,” so why was it forced to shut down?

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26 Answers

elbanditoroso's avatar

No. If you look at their web page, SAMBO was part of the first name of one of the owners, and part of the last name of one of the other owners.

link – first paragraph.

It was the racists who screwed things up.

zenvelo's avatar

Sambo’s wasn’t “forced to shut down”; the original one in Santa Barbara is still open. But it was not a well managed chain and went bankrupt in 1979.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@elbanditoroso, Yes, I know. That was included in the details, along with the same link. I know it was long read.

@zenvelo Yes, they made an unprecedented decision to launch ”Their unique “Fraction of the Action” promotion – whereby managers were entitled to 20% of the profits from their stores, with employees allowed to bid for a percentage of the remaining profits – was an early company expansion plan and the growth of the company outpaced its control…” They just weren’t prepared for how well that worked.

But the allegations of racism and the expensive lawsuits that followed sure didn’t help. You know people started avoiding going there so they wouldn’t seem racist.

si3tech's avatar

I believe they closed due to accusations of racism. So, racists caused a huge ruckus, as only racists can, and forced the closure!

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Sambo was Indian, not black.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

^^ Racism, the “anti-racist’s” stock in trade

Want to fight racism?

Get back to work, hire based on merit alone, go home, enjoy your cocktail, turn off liberal radio.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Yes, @SecondHandStoke. The fact that the kid was Indian was also noted in the details. Doesn’t anybody read those any more? Although, in fairness, in the 60’s and before,
anyone who wasn’t “white” was a target for racism.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

^ Yes I read.

My point is that the whole “Sambo” racism thing is unfounded. This is because at least in the US only “racism” against blacks allows people to cash in.

In other words those that cry racism should be expected to do their homework like everyone else.

But then again, at least in the 21st century when did facts get in the way of the race hustler’s agenda?

YARNLADY's avatar

There was nothing racist about it, absolutely nothing.

My husband was working at Sambo’s headquarters in Carpinteria, California at the time they went down. It was entirely due to a very bad business decision at the time to reverse the Fraction of the Action plan.

Additional Note: Hubby was fully vested in their retirement program at the time, but now that he is retirement age, there is no information available, and probably no money either.

filmfann's avatar

I don’t think it was named as a racial insult. Even products like Aunt Jemima or Uncle Ben, whose icons are obviously black, are not meant as insulting, though they may be insensitive.

SecondHandStoke's avatar

Frankly. playing to overt racism wouldn’t be the foundation for a good business model, even in the 1960’s

More proof that racism is in the eye of the beholder.

SecondHandStoke's avatar


Since I am not concerned about race I am going to look to Uncle Ben for rice if his is the best.

Aunt Jemima didn’t just make the best pancakes but she was an absolute ANIMAL in the sack.

ibstubro's avatar

I was reading details until my eyes rolled back in my head.

Heck, I knew the answer anyway, so I went to the answers, where I saw that @elbanditoroso was spot on.

Seems that the answer as well as all the discussion pertinent to the question is in the details.

Jak's avatar

Ha. I remember the story well, and in the illustration of my book, the boy was black. That was probably a mistake made by a later publisher as it was in Junior Trails which was a collection of stories. But I remember that the Tigers turned into “ghee” which is clarified butter and definitely an Indian condiment. Also, tigers live in India, there are none in Africa. I remember that well because of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ gaffe with the tiger in the original Tarzan story.
But there are far too many people who are always looking for shit to be offended about so they can put on a show of righteous outrage. Actually, I don’t really know why they do it. I know that there is always some sort of pay off for the things we do, but what exactly that pay off is for those type eludes me.
I know that ignorance plays a big part. The less you know about something, the easier it is to jump to a conclusion.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Well even considering the owners’ name, the association of Sambo with pancakes as well as the scenes depicted on the walls pretty much cinch the case for racism. The thing that must be remembered is that the chain was up and prosperous before anyone gave a shit whether or not black folks were offended, and there were no negative consequences to open racism.

Jak's avatar

…let me just add that when I was talking about people being offended I was actually not refering to people of color but to white people with an axe to grind.

Dutchess_III's avatar

@stanleybmanly I don’t understand what could be wrong with associating any ethnic group with pancakes. “They’re probably the earliest and most widespread cereal food eaten in prehistoric societies.” So sayeth Wikipedia.. And that makes sense.

And how do you figure the scenes depicted on the walls were racist? The scenes depict a child of color outwitting 4 hungry tigers. How is that racist? Just the fact that it was a brown kid who used his brains? Are they not supposed to have any?

@Jak, I think your answer above is spot on. They combined the last names of the founders, and as the civil rights movement geared up, it just went from there. I agree with folks who say that sometimes people just go looking for racism, especially in the 60’s.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@DutchessIII I’m not saying that the association of pancakes with ethnicity is derogatory. I’m saying that the choice of the name “Sambo’s” IS both deliberate and racist with the illustrations on the wall being the icing of confirmation on the cake of bigotry.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, it became offensive at some point. It originally meant “a person of mixed race, especially of black and Indian or black and European blood.” It came to us from the Latin American Spanish word “zambo.”

Also, could you please explain how the illustrations were offensive?

zenvelo's avatar

This is one of the illustrations of Sambo and the Tiger.

jca's avatar

He’s whiter than me.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Right @zenvelo. I don’t see a thing wrong with it. Does anyone else?

Dutchess_III's avatar

@jca It depends on which version you see. Some of them are more African than Indian, but I honestly don’t remember those. I just remember his cool, glittery clothes and turban.

dappled_leaves's avatar

This is the illustration that appeared on the cover of the original version of Little Black Sambo. It was made by the book’s author, Helen Bannerman. She illustrated her own book. There have been many different versions published over the years, with illustrations in many different styles. People say that the original illustrations are racist, and I agree. It’s almost the textbook example of a pickaninny. There’s a reason we don’t have lawn jockeys anymore, either.

It makes no difference that the story is about pancakes, or that it is set in India, or that it is beloved by one’s very nice grandparents. These kinds of images have been used in children’s books and other types of stories all over the world. We should be able to recognize them for what they are.

As to the restaurant, I’d never heard of it before this question, but I wouldn’t jump to assume that the restaurant name was racist. I would, however, question the sanity of anyone who used that name for a restaurant now, given that “Sambo” is literally a synonym for the N word.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Well, now, yes. Of course. It was opened, and named, in 1957.
The illustrations I remember were really colorful. The clothes were really colorful, brocaded and stuff. Not the simple stuff Bannerman used.

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