A Playmobil pirate ship set has sparked a firestorm over a figurine that resembles an African American slave wearing a neck shackle.
Ida Lockett of Sacramento, Calif., said her 5-year-old son received the toy as a birthday present, and when she was helping him assemble it, she noticed the instructions — telling her to put a play shackle around the figure’s neck.
“This right here was found on his neck,” she told CBS Sacramento about the piece.
“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.”
The toy’s instruction manual shows a dark-skinned doll wearing no shoes, ripped pants and a tattered yellow shirt and directs the assembler to pop the silver piece around its neck. The ship appears to include a dungeon.
“It’s definitely racist,” Lockett told the CBS affiliate. “It told my son to put a slave cuff around the black character’s neck, and then to play with the toy.”
Playmobil said in a statement to The Washington Post that the toy was intended to 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. “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.”
Toys R Us could not immediately be reached for comment.
Aimee Norman, the aunt who gave the set to the Sacramento 5-year-old, wrote on the Playmobil USA Facebook page that she was “MORTIFIED to have recently bought” the pirate ship set for her nephew, “only to hear that when assembling it, they found that its assembly instructions indicate to add the neck cuff/shackle to the black character’s neck.”
“WOW,” she wrote. “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.”
Norman added: “#Slavery.is.not.a.game.”
Sacramento NAACP President Stephen Webb said he wants the toy banned.
“This is deplorable,” he told CBS Sacramento. “This cannot be accepted, and it needs to be pulled off the shelf.”
But not everybody agrees.
“You do realize that pirates took slaves & prisoners of all races right?” one woman wrote on the Playmobil USA Facebook page. “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.”
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
This story has been updated.