"Little Black Sambo, Sambo, Sambo/His face and hands are completely black/Even his butt is completely black."
Word of nursery-schoolers in Saitama Prefecture chanting a "Little Black Sambo" song — "akin to what might be taught by a white supremacist group" — spread online recently, prompting 21st century-style activism: Facebook postings, blogosphere commotion, an online petition, CCed e-mails to Tokorozawa City Hall. In a phone call, a Midori Hoikuen nursery school employee admitted to having read and then re-enacted — with toddlers — the best-selling children's book "Little Black Sambo" (known here as "Chibikuro Sanbo"). The re-enactment's song lyrics, as printed above, were allegedly translated by a biracial child's concerned parent and then uploaded onto Facebook.
Since the first, Victorian-era printing of "Little Black Sambo," its pejorative title and caricature illustrations — pitch-black faces with bulging red lips, white balloon eyes — have been a perennial bone of contention for civil-rights proponents in the U.S. and, later, Japan. Harlem Renaissance writer Langston Hughes described the text in 1932 as "amusing undoubtedly to the white child, but like an unkind word to one who has known too many hurts to enjoy the additional pain of being laughed at."