Rap mogul Jay-Z has filed trademark documents for the animated Jaybo character from his “The Story Of OJ” video, according to TMZ. The trademark will allow Jay’s S. Carter Enterprises to print the character on everything from coffee mugs to T-shirts.
The character is a riff on the Sambo character inspired by the 1899 children’s book, Little Black Sambo, which features a racist caricature of a South Indian boy named Sambo. The illustrations in the book played into stereotypical “pickaninny” imagery which was designed to exaggerate “Black” features such as enlarged lips, extremely darkened skin color, and large, bugged-out eyes. Such imagery has long been considered demeaning to Black people and other darker-skinned ethnic minorities in America and other Western nations. The term “Sambo” itself has come to be considered a slur due to its origin as a dehumanizing term for a darker-skinned person.
Interestingly, Webster’s Third International Dictionary holds that the term may have been derived from the Kongo word “nzambu,” which means “monkey” — another term that has been used as a derogative for Black people.
“The Story Of OJ” has been controversial, both for its use of the Jaybo character and for certain lines referring to Jewish people in the song. The hook especially drew attention for its repeated use of the “n-word” which was done to highlight that racist attitudes persist despite economic status. Jay-Z has been outspoken about the subject in numerous instances recently, especially with regard to the prison system and backlash against peaceful protestors against injustice. Trademarking Jaybo seems to be Jay-Z’s way of reclaiming (and profiting from) a caricature that has long been used to justify such mistreatment.