Racism rears its ugly (potato) head

By Mark Trapp
web posted October 2, 2000

Racism in this country just isn't what it used to be. Blacks in this country have endured slavery, segregation, lynchings and cross-burnings and been deprived of civil rights such as voting privileges. They have overcome all of this and more. Today each of these abuses is looked upon with abhorrence, as they should be, by all people of good will, be they white, black or otherwise.

Compare these past atrocities with what passes for racism today. In Warwick, Rhode Island, for example, members of the Warwick Affirmative Action Commission are complaining that Mr. Potato Head is racist. The State of Rhode Island earlier this year began a tourism campaign based on the children's toy, manufactured by Hasbro, Inc., which is based in the state. It involved placing dozens of six-foot Mr. Potato Heads throughout the state. One statue called 'Salty Spud' was dressed in bright orange rain gear and carried a fishing net. Another statue was dubbed 'Edgar Allen Poe-tato' to honor the writer who once lived in Rhode Island.

The controversial statue 'Tourist Tater' was painted dark brown to appear suntanned and wore an ill-fitting Hawaiian shirt, glasses and a hat. It was placed outside the Warwick City Hall. Donna Fishman, the chairman of the Rhode Island Affirmative Action Committee said that members of the group "are definitely offended by the stereotypical look."

The offending spud in question
The offending spud in question

Stereotypical to whom? Blacks? Potatoes? Tourists? Sunbathers? What is racist about this? I wonder if anyone bothered to ask Ms. Fishman. What would she say? Potatoes are racist? Dark potatoes are racist? Tan people are racist? Hawaiian shirts are racist? What? Ms. Fishman only stated that "Until we walk in the shoes of black people, some of us may be more insensitive of how [something] appears to minorities." I don't know what kind of shoes black people wear, but if it causes them to think that Mr. Potato Head is racist, perhaps they should get some new shoes.

In an effort to explain, the artist who created 'Tourist Tater,' Kathy Szarko, said "He's a potato. That's why he's brown." Yeah, right. The old potatoes-are-brown excuse. She's obviously racist. Likewise, the Executive Director of the state Economic Development Corporation, Tom Schumpert, who is black, stated "We do not intend to offend one single Rhode Islander. I can assure you that no one from the artist to EDC saw this as being offensive." This guy must not be wearing his 'black people' shoes.

This incident demonstrates quite nicely how screwed up political correctness is. If Mr. Potato Head is so racist, why haven't Ms. Fishman and her bunch been picketing Hasbro, which has been churning out the toy for decades. The statue has been up since May—why haven't they complained before now? It also illustrates that in today's world, a 'victim' doesn't need any objective criteria to prove racism. They only need to 'feel' bad.

So, now the mayor of Warwick has pledged to meet with the complainers to see what could be worked out. For her part, Ms. Szarko said "I'll paint him pink if they want me to." Oh sure – the minute she does, the gay lobby will be decrying her lack of sensitivity to their feelings, and branding her a homophobe. For now tourism officials have decided to take it away from outside City Hall.

I wonder if Ms. Fishman and her gang are aware that, if this statue is removed, it will deprive the Potato Head campaign of the one thing no government program can do without – diversity. You would think that the chairman of a state affirmative action committee would be calling for more Potato Heads of 'color,' not less.

Instead of removing the statue, Ms. Fishman should be asking officials to demonstrate diversity and inclusiveness by creating and displaying Potato Heads of all colors, races, and creeds. In addition to several Mrs. Potato Heads, and 'Transgender Tater,' the state should also include gay, lesbian, bisexual, disabled and non-native English speaking Potato Heads. Only in this way can the state fulfill Martin Luther King's dream of a country where one is judged by the 'content of their character, not the color of their skin.' Even if one's skin happens to be potato skin.

By the way, I wonder why the lighter-skinned Mr. Potato Heads aren't coming down? Why aren't they offensive to white people? I suppose only black people are capable of being offended by being compared to potatoes. In addition, why haven't the females of Rhode Island risen up to challenge this blatantly sexist so-called tourism campaign? Why are there only Mr. Potato Heads on display? I suppose the Mrs. Potato Heads are at home, barefoot, pregnant, and doing the laundry. Talk about stereotypical.

These affirmative action officials demonstrate precisely what is wrong in today's PC world. Can't they find something better to complain about? If they can't, doesn't that mean that racism has largely been eradicated here in America? Does anyone honestly believe that Doctor King would have even raised an eyebrow over this? Alas, racism lives on, at least in the minds of those who look hard enough for it. In a world that still includes slavery in Sudan, the caste system in India, racial genocide in Rwanda and land grabs from white farmers in Zimbabwe, if this is what passes for racism in America, I'll take it. Like I said, racism ain't what it used to be.

This is Mark Trapp's first contribution to Enter Stage Right.

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