Playmobil has incorporated more ethnically diverse characters into their new toy Pirates Ship Set in one of the worst ways possible.
Ida Lockett was initially happy when her son received the nautical play set from his aunt for his fifth birthday. But upon helping the boy put the plastic ensemble together, she noticed the compartment below deck that she describes as a dungeon, and the illustrated instruction in the manual to place a metal brace around the neck of a figurine that resembles a dark-skinned crewmember.
“You cannot have this specific accessory and call it anything else,” Lockett tells the Washington Post. “The fact that you can Google it, look it up, say what it is – it’s a slave collar.”
The mini figure wears no shoes, tattered clothes and a neck cuff with a loop where the chain has presumably broken off.
“It’s definitely racist,” she tells the CBS Sacramento. “It told my son to put a slave cuff around the black character’s neck, and then to play with the toy.”
Lockett tells CBS that her son’s aunt Aimee Norman unsuspectingly bought the questionable set at Toys ‘R Us.
But Norman later took to Playmobil USA’s Facebook page to unleash her disappointment, saying she was “MORTIFIED to have recently bought” the toy for her nephew.
“WOW,” she writes. “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 more so given the marked absence of diversity in your entire toy line.”
Sacramento NAACP President Stephen Webb tells CBS Sacramento that the toy should be removed from the shelves.
“This is deplorable,” he says. “This cannot be accepted.”
When questioned, Playmobil replied in a statement to The Washington Post that the toy’s intended to accurately portray life on a 17th-century pirate ship.
“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,” according to the statement, and which can probably be deduced from the fact he’s heavily armed. “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.”
Many naysayers agree that the firestorm this toy has ignited is superfluous.
“So, giving a kid a toy with guns and cannons that represents an illegal lifestyle filled with theft, murder, rape and assorted mayhem, that’s okay,” says DotMatrix in the comment section of The Washington Post. “But including the fact that escaped slaves became pirates and were treated with equality on board their ships, that’s harmful to children?”
DotMatrix brings up a fair, parallel, point – how did pirate ships, notoriously used as vessels for those who plunder, rape, thieve and murder, become a staple children’s toy?
Even this set comes with the customary skull and crossbone flags, cannons and guns that I presume are meant for imaginary cannon balls and bullets, not bubbles, to imaginatively kill other seafarers, not grace them with butterfly kisses. Can a kid creatively make his crew a band of heroes instead of villains? Sure! But by definition, are pirates people who rob and sink other ships? Yes.
Perhaps the discrepancy with this particular model lays in that no loose scallywag damsels or mini figures sporting bloody bullet holes are included in this set, yet a man with a slave collar is. Maybe the Pirates Ship Set gives too much obtuse context.
The question boils down to, while this is perhaps, unfortunately, a relatively historically accurate toy, is it appropriate for a 5-year-old? No. Just because toy companies can make little mini-figure Hitlers and plop them into Holocaust sets doesn’t mean that it’s a story children should reenact in their bedrooms.
Just as Norman signed her complaint to Playmobil USA on the company’s Facebook page: “#Slavery.is.not.a.game“.
What do you think? Is this Pirates Ship Set a harmless child’s toy? Tell us in the comments section below.
Photo courtesy CBS Sacramento