Good Grief. ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ Is Racist?

“If you look hard enough for something,” the saying goes, “you will find it.” The beloved children’s character Thomas the Tank Engine now stands accused of being racist, because the good guys blow white steam and the bad guys blow black steam. Seriously. It was written in The Guardian on Tuesday.

Thomas the Tank Engine began in the imagination of a little British Vicar’s son who lived near the railroad tracks. According to the Daily Mail, young Wilbert Awdry, born in 1911, would often listen to the trains in the middle of the night, and imagine that they were talking to each other. The first train would struggle to make it up the hill to the tunnel, saying, “I can’t do it.” A smaller engine would come up from behind to push the first up the hill, saying, “Oh, yes, you can.”

Those fanciful tales became the bedtime stories for Awdry’s son decades later, as Christopher lay in bed with the measles in 1942. The senior Awdry drew pictures to accompany his talking train engines. The stories were a hit with Wilbert Adwry’s son, who kept asking for more about the wonderful engines with faces.

Thomas The Racist Tank Engine?

Thomas the Tank Engine took physical form for the very first time at Christmas of 1943, when Reverend Wilbert Awdry carved a wooden tank engine for Christopher and named it Thomas. Awdry’s wife Margaret encouraged her husband to write down and publish his creative train stories. The rest, as they say, is history.

Awdry’s books went on to become the inspiration for one of the most successful and beloved lines of children’s toys and children’s programming ever, with millions of fans worldwide of Thomas the Tank Engine and resulting TV show Thomas and Friends.

Creator Of Thomas The Tank Engine

Can Thomas survive the PC police?

According to Tracy van Slyke of The Guardian, parents have been naively subjecting their innocent children to the horrors of racism, sexism, imperialism, and class warfare, all wrapped up in Thomas and Friends, a show that they thought was just wholesome children’s entertainment. She writes:

“For the record, all the ‘villains’ on Thomas and Friends are the dirty diesel engines. I’d like to think there was a good environmental message in there, but when the good engines pump out white smoke and the bad engines pump out black smoke — and they are all pumping out smoke — it’s not hard to make the leap into the race territory.”

For some people, though, that leap IS pretty hard to see.

A number of commenters wondered if the article was meant to be a satirical piece, perhaps for The Onion? Or maybe placed by the editors in the wrong section? But no. It does not appear that the piece was intended as satire.

Twitchy reports a number of tweets that are much less generous. People are not liking the charges of racism being lodged against a childhood favorite. These are a couple of the milder ones:

According to the Young Conservatives, “We’ve grown accustomed to senseless liberal logic insinuating that anything that has to do with the color spectrum is somehow racist or racially charged, however; the most recent attack [against Thomas the Tank Engine]… is so stupid it just made me chuckle.” The writer continues that the author of the Guardian piece “must be inhaling some of that racist steam she is ranting about.”

Last month, a politically correct gamer launched an online petition, according to a recent Inquisitr article, demanding that the character Link in the popular Zelda video games be changed to a black female. Nintendo’s refusal to do so is, of course, perceived as racist by the PC crowd; never mind the plot discrepancies that would inevitably arise.

Possibly the best response of all to the Thomas conundrum was a satirical post from Guardian commenter “randomwalker” to the article’s author:

“Definitely keep your son away from ‘Lord of the Rings.’ After all the Elves are simply a projection of the Aryan Master Race. And keep him away from ‘Star Wars’ — did you notice that after Anakin turned to the *dark* side he started dressing all in black? The leap into racism is hard to avoid.”

Will this charge of racism and all the other bad -isms forever tarnish the reputation of the Thomas the Tank Engine franchise forever? Has the shiny engine’s respectability been derailed by political correctness? Is there any hope left for Thomas? What do you think?

[images via Entertainment Weekly, Citate Celebre, and Wikimedia]