German toy maker Playmobil is in deep trouble after it created a figurine that looks a bit too much like a slave and even comes with its own collar.
But not everyone agrees that the dark-skinned character with dark hair, tattered pants, and no shoes is meant to be an African-American slave or that the accessory he comes with a collar — including Playmobil itself.
They claim the pirate ship is meant to be historically accurate, the company said in a statement to the Washington Post.
It all starts with an irate California mom named Ida Lockett, who believes the toy and its collar is blatantly racist. According to CBS News, her son was given a Playmobil pirate ship for his fifth birthday by his aunt.
— Global Grind (@GlobalGrind) October 8, 2015
Her son was very excited as she spent the weekend putting the gift together. Afterward, she noticed something peculiar — she found a dark-skinned figurine that appeared to be wearing a shackle around its neck.
In her opinion, the silver cuff couldn’t anything else — Ida interpreted it to be a slave collar.
Even worse: the figure had instructions on how to use the accessory, the New York Daily News noted. The instructions included a small diagram depicting the character, the horseshoe-shaped collar, and arrow indicating quite plainly that it’s meant to be fastened around its neck.
“It’s definitely racist. It told my son to put a slave cuff around the black character’s neck, and then to play with (it).”
Regardless, the ship itself sounds like a pretty cool toy. Retailing at just under $100, it comes with boat floats, two cannons, and a removable upper deck, the Guardian reports. But it also comes with a dungeon, Lockett noted.
Aimee Norman, the aunt responsible for giving the Playmobil ship to the child, was as furious as Ida, posting her disgust on Facebook and noting that “slavery is not a game.” And she made a good point — a black person can play other roles.
“WOW. Would it be too much to ask for you to just create a regular old black pirate? Newsflash, Playmobil: this is the 21st century. People of African descent have contributed to mankind in a myriad of ways that existed outside of the disgusting institution of the slave trade. Selling children’s toys that are suggestive of slavery in play is obscene, even moreso given the marked absence of diversity in your entire toy line.”
While Playmobil didn’t intend to offend anyone, the company is not backing down. They insist it’s supposed to accurately depict life on a 17th-century vessel and the controversial piece is meant to be a member of the crew and is 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.”
The Sacramento NAACP isn’t comforted by that explanation. The organization’s president, Stephen Webb, calls Playmobil’s slave and collar “deplorable” and is calling for it to be “pulled off the shelf.”
Slaves (black & white) were used to row boats. Slavery is wrong but this woman's outrage is ridiculous. http://t.co/kngF1MwJSS
— Debra DeBoer (@debradeboer) October 7, 2015
But not everyone sees a slave in the tiny, dark-skinned figurine or a collar in its little silver cuff, like one woman who posted a comment on Playmobil’s Facebook USA page. Her message: get over it.
“You do realize that pirates took slaves & prisoners of all races right. If you don’t like the idea of pirates and slaves/prisoners then a pirate ship toy is not for you. Also a child has imaginative play and can easily make said character anything he/she wants them to be. Throw away the offending pieces.”
[Photo Courtesy YouTube Screengrab]