The Peanuts Gang can shed light on today's racial issues
Charles Shultz gave us much to think about in his comic strip and television specials.
In light of what is going on in America in 2020, we could all take a step back and remember lessons taught to us by the integration of the Peanuts gang. It began with Harriet Glickman, who was an African American school teacher. She died in March of this past year. Glickman contacted Charles Shultz in 1968 after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. because she was concerned with race relations in the United States. She expressed her concern that there were no African American children in the Charlie Brown cartoons and in that same year Shultz introduced a little black boy named Franklin to his cast of characters.
History was made, but Sparky Shultz was no stranger to controversy and breaking new ground. He had to fight CBS execs in order to have Linus quote from the Bible in "A Charlie Brown Christmas." Shultz won and the holiday cartoon has been one of the most watched each year for over five decades. Franklin first appeared in the black and white cartoon strip that ran in newspapers, handing Charlie Brown a beach ball. Charles Shultz said he received some hate mail but most people were open to diversity in the comic strip. Just think about that for a moment. People who lived in a diverse America, did not want that depicted in a cartoon.
The first time Franklin joins the Peanuts gang on television was during "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" in November 1973. Some people have expressed outrage at the seating arrangement because Franklin is sitting by himself while everyone else is on the opposite side of the table. Those who hold this view have accused Charles Shultz of being racist. Others have said over the years that perhaps Shultz was exposing racism and how blacks are often excluded or sitting on the sidelines. A third explanations is that Franklin simply arrived at the table after everyone else was seated. A fourth scenario that no one brought up is that perhaps Franklin segregated himself.
In my 61 years I have observed situations where African Americans were excluded or made to sit separately from whites and I have seen black people segregate themselves because they don't believe they belong. Indifference is a reality in many facets of life. I recall telling my husband that I kept running into the same two Somalian women is various places and how when I would speak they would give me dirty looks and seem to move away. My spouse asked me if I had never heard that true Africans feel they are better than those of us who have Caucasian blood in our veins because of slavery. He said my light complexion was probably a real problem for them.
Was Franklin invited but made to sit by himself as blacks were once relegated to the back of the bus and movie theaters? Could he perhaps have felt uncomfortable in a situation where he was the only person of color and set himself apart from the others, or was he simply late and there was nowhere else to sit? Charles Shultz, to my knowledge, never addressed this so perhaps he set us all up to consider all the possibilities and be honest with ourselves on race relations. I know black people who complain about Franklin every Thanksgiving because they have been excluded from so much because of the color of their skin. They are not even open to any other possibility.
The varied beliefs regarding the animated Thanksgiving show is much like today, where people have different opinions regarding the same matter. Consider George Floyd, who died after a police officer held a knee to his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. Some Americans believe it was racism, while others say it was a bad cop and race had nothing to do with it. A third view held is that Floyd must have been resisting arrest and that he died of causes not related to Derek Chauvin cutting off his breath. Just like in the Peanuts holiday classic, people who see the same thing cannot agree on what has taken place. There are Americans who say Donald Trump is making America great again, while others say he is dividing the nation and increasing racism. It reminds me of how one person says a glass is half full of water and another says it is empty.
In the final photo, the Peanuts gang is having fun and showing us that differences should not matter. Those who have followed the strip know that Pigpen is always full of dust and dirt, Snoopy is a dog, Woodstock a bird, and Franklin is black. Peppermint Patty is a tomboy, Marcie is relatively new and not really in sync with the others, and Schroder is a geek who plays the piano and loves Beethoven. Charlie Brown is considered a block head and Linus still has a blanket. Sally is the youngest and often acts like a brat and Shermy just seems to go along for the ride without much to say. They are all different and have their own issues, but together they make up the Peanuts Gang. It's time Americans see each other as just that, fellow citizens and stop looking at what divides us. I believe this is why Charles Shultz agreed to bring Franklin to the table, and why he sat alone.