It has been 50 years this week since Franklin appeared as the first black character in the Peanuts comic strip, an addition intended as a political statement by creator Charles Schulz. Four years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 put an end to segregation, Franklin took his place alongside Charlie Brown, who — in case anybody doesn’t know — is white. But on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah, Roy Wood Jr. pointed out how Franklin went from a political statement in the strip to a racial stereotype in the cartoons, and he had clips to back up his claim.
In one clip from 1992, four of the characters are doing the Hokey Pokey before a baseball game. Franklin enters carrying a boombox on his shoulder and wearing a backward hat, and starts dancing and rapping. Wood said, “Why couldn’t Franklin just do the Hokey Pokey, Trevor? You telling me black kids can’t put [their] left foot in and take [their] left foot out? It looked like Franklin was auditioning for House Party 2.”
In an earlier clip, from 1984, Franklin and one of his black friends, again with a boombox, are break dancing on the sidewalk. In another, this one from 1972, white kids are shaking hands with Snoopy at what appears to be a birthday party. But when it got to Franklin, they slap hands. And in the 1973 Thanksgiving special, Franklin is sitting by himself on one side of the table, while all the other kids and Snoopy sit on the other side.
So Wood had just one request for future Peanuts cartoons: “The cartoon should honor the original revolutionary spirit of Franklin. If you are going to make him rap, do it right,” Jones said.
They then cut to the clip in which Franklin is rapping, only not to the original music. This time it’s s to “This Is America,” Childish Gambino’s scathing critique of gun violence and race relations in the U.S. today.
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