That’s All Folks

For the next sixty minutes a few drunken, droopy-feathered Native Americans fail to catch the Warner Bros. rabbit, much less assimilate. A Mexican mouse tries to outwit the gringo pussycat, so he can sneak across the border and steal the queso. A seemingly endless lineup of African-American cats, crows, bullfrogs, maids, crap shooters, cotton pickers, and cannibals act a gravelly-voiced Looney Tunes fool to the strains of “Swanee River” and Duke Ellington’s “Jungle Nights in Harlem.” Sometimes a shotgun blast or dynamite explosion turns a nominally white character like Porky Pig into a gunpowder-colored minstrel. Bestowing upon him honorary-nigger status, which allows him to sing merry melodies like “Camptown Races” over the closing credits with impunity. The program ends with Popeye and Bugs Bunny taking turns single-handedly winning World War II by flummoxing bucktoothed, four-eyed, gibberish-speaking Japanese soldiers with giant mallets and geisha subterfuge. Finally, after Superman, supported by gongs and a cheering audience, pulverizes the Imperial Navy into complete submission, the lights come back on. After two hours of sitting in the dark laughing at unmitigated racism, in the brightness the guilt sets in. Everyone can see your face, and you feel like your mother caught you masturbating.

—an excerpt from The Sellout by Paul Beatty

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