They often say, "it's the thought that counts." In the case of Ruby-Spears' Rickety Rocket, it's not just the thought that counts, but the intentions behind it. We're privileged enough to live in an era where the concept of representation has become a major talking point. Although there's still copious work to be done on the representation front, the practice has drastically improved in modernity as opposed to the 20th century.
During the 70s, as companies were beginning to consider the "emerging" Black market, corporations began to aim their products directly at African-Americans. On television, there were more Black shows than ever before, but few were created by Black Americans for Black Americans. One of the few series that served as the exception to the rule was The Adventures of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. The characters on Fat Albert were funny without venturing into stereotypes, creating a mirror for every kid- especially Black ones- to see themselves.
Toward the end of the decade, Ruby-Spears tried their hand at creating an all-Black cartoon in the form of Rickety Rocket, and, oh boy, it's a doozy. On the one hand, the series had four Black leads in 1979. On the other hand, one could view the eponymous Rickety Rocket's design as a grotesque caricature of the very Black Americans the show was aiming to attract.
The whole thing is pretty weird and leaves us with a question. Was Rickety Rocket racist or an early example of representation? Was the thought that catalyzed the show born out of sensitivity, or was it infused with subtle bigotry? It's hard to say.
One of the key reasons the conversation is so nuanced comes down to how Rickety Rocket made Black kids in the late 70s feel. Several African Americans that grew up on the show remember it fondly as one of the rare examples where they saw themselves. In contrast, a comparable number of adults recount feeling like Rickety Rocket was racist from the jump.
Again, it's a complex issue, and I don't have the answers to it. Consequently, I turn it over to you, my Boing Boing family. Even though the legacy of Rickety Rocket isn't black and white, treat the episode linked at the top of this blog like a Rorschach test and tell me how you feel about it in the comments.