The Sambo's Controversy

The Sambo's sign has a controversial history

A tale of a little boy outsmarting tigers, saving himself and others from certain death became one of serious racial overtones. So the story goes as written at the turn of the century: a little boy goes loses his clothes when tigers antagonize him. In the end, the tigers turn on each other, melting into butter that ends up coating Sambo's pancakes. This is the root of the Sambo's controversy.

Earlier in the century the name Sambo had been associated with a controversy surrounding the book, Little Black Sambo (forthcoming image), published in 1899. The boy's overriding characteristic was that he was very dark-skinned, a trait that some took advantage of to label him with stereotypical African demeanor. Sambo morphed into controversy when other publishers took on the new version of the character, publishing books that depicted him derogatorily.

The character Sambo, recreated by Sambos began not as the morphed controversy that had been created, but returned as a heroic young boy of East Indian descent. Many refused to see Sambo as he was originally. When the owners of an increasingly popular restaurant chain decided to brand the turn-of-the-century Sambo's tale as part of their namesake in the 1960s, an explosive controversy erupted questioning who Sambo really was that ultimately caused the business to fail.

In the 1960s and 70s, the restaurant chain Sambos in the United States grew quickly as a popular place to grab a breakfast anytime. By 1981 1,117 restaurants in 47 states which had the Sambos name (originally a combination of the owners' names Sam and Bo) quickly came under fire by accusations of racism. One restaurant shut down after another. The next year all but the original restaurant in Santa Barbara, California shut their doors.

As you can see from the Sambos case, much experimentation and research needs to be done before designers come up with final logo. Logos lend themselves to controversy because the characters within them are often distorted and out of perspective, leaving them open to be connected to negative symbols and stereotypes used throughout history.


Anonymous said…
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Signage Design Australia
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