Let me start by saying this: Racism is still a pressing and widespread phenomenon, one that is a stain on our society and should be confronted wherever it is found. That being said, the modern tendency to increasingly seek out racism in places where it likely doesn’t exist only trivializes the issue and insults the memory of those who have truly been affected by it. 

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This story is being seen by some as a prime example of this. During the much-loved chimney sweep scene in the 1964 classic Mary Poppins, the nanny, played by actress Julie Andrews, dances and sings with soot smeared all over her face. Pretty normal stuff for a chimney sweep, right?

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Not according to Professor Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, who sees something more sinister in the scene. “Instead of wiping it off, she gamely powders her nose and cheeks even blacker,” he wrote in a piece for the New York Times titled: ‘Mary Poppins,’ and a Nanny’s Shameful Flirting With Blackface.

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The article continues by highlighting racist tropes in the original Mary Poppins novel, written by P. L. Travers in 1934, and linking Disney’s history of “blackface minstrelsy” all the way up to the latest incarnation of the iconic nanny, Mary Poppins Returns.

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Of course, he is not wrong in this respect, the original novel and films are full of things that we would find ‘problematic’ in this day and age. But what’s the point? Social norms change over time, we all know that. In 1934 the Nazis were in power for god’s sake. Of course people had different attitudes towards race back then! Going back to try and ‘sanitize’ the past doesn’t achieve anything except deflect attention from real cases of injustice. If anything, exposing people to the prejudices of the old days shows how far we’ve come, even if there is still plenty of work to do. But let’s focus on the real issues, shall we?

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Most people reacted with a mixture of disbelief and mockery

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