The character “Sambo” has long been used as a way to degrade and stereotype black people. But its origins are rarely discussed.
The term first became popular in America in the 1800s. It was Harriet Beecher Stowe’s book Uncle Tom’s Cabin that helped give the term a negative connotation. In her book, the character of Sambo was an overseer who beat Uncle Tom to death.
Another book, The Story of Little Black Sambo, was the story of a dark-skinned East Indian boy whose tale proved the name to be racist and offensive.
But there’s evidence that it may have origins that reach back several hundred years. The word “zambo” in the Spanish and Portuguese Empire described a person of mixed race. In the West African Foulah tribal language, it translates to “uncle.”