Ida Lockett, of Sacramento, California, spent an hour assembling her 5-year-old son's birthday present with him, only to find something a little odd in the instruction booklet. The toy was the Playmobil pirate ship play set, a $63 gift from the boy's aunt, Aimee Norman, and included a dark-skinned figurine with a collar accessory that was meant to be snapped into place on the figurine's neck.
Lockett was adamant that the accessory was a slave collar, that the pirate ship is too similar to a slave ship for her comfort and that the entire thing stank of racism, saying,
"You cannot have this specific accessory and call it anything else. The fact that you can Google it, look it up, say what it is — it's a slave collar... It's definitely racist. It told my son to put a slave cuff around the black character's neck, and then to play with the toy. It's a racist piece. It's a racist toy."
You can see the toy and accompanying instructions in the irate Facebook post that Norman made to Playmobil when the collar was discovered:
The backlash to Norman's complaint and Lockett's dismay was immediate, with very few people seeing anything wrong with the toy, saying things like:
"People who take offense at such things as this need to move to another country. Why? First off its a part of history. You can't wipe it off the face of the planet. History is taught in schools, its in story books, movies, etc. Secondly, the set is not just about slavery, leave it to folks to concentrate on one tiny thing within a broad area." And, "Yet another case of political correctness and false history gone mad."
A few people called Lockett a "drama queen," "butthurt" and "dumbass," and plenty of folks didn't mind telling her that there was no way the toy was meant to depict a slave.
The only problem with that is that, according to Playmobil, that's exactly what it was.
"If you look at the box, you can see that the pirate figure is clearly a crew member on the pirate ship and not a captive... The figure was meant to represent a pirate who was a former slave in a historical context. It was not our intention to offend anyone in anyway[sic].”
Well, the thing about context is that you need to offer it; a tiny slave collar isn't really "context," at least not the kind that 4- to 10-year-olds (the recommended age for the play set) can grasp.
It seems like this keeps happening. Whenever a mother or father or caregiver speaks out about something that really rubs them the wrong way with a child's toy or clothing item — whether that includes weird racist undertones or weird sexist undertones — people pounce on them without much preamble. There are the predictable condescending questions about why this stuff is a big deal, and then there's the screechy "political correctness has gone mad!" crowd.
The reaction is almost always immediate, and the message is always clear: By being offended or upset, you've disturbed these people's delicate sensitivities. They are offended that you are offended.
We should be able to talk about the things that bug us when it comes to our kids. We live in a world where people go bananas all over social media if their flights are delayed or if their pizza is cold on delivery. Complaints about sexism and racism are legitimate and deserve to be heard.
The mockery and ridicule that accompanies this and other similar complaints really only serve as proof as to why we need to keep having these conversations.
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