Outraged customers demand Playmobil stop selling 'racist' figure

The NAACP is demanding action after discovering a Playmobil toy character portraying a dark-skinned figure with a slave collar. Is it racist?

Luke MacGregor/Reuters
A security guard watches as a giant Playmobil character is carried during the launch of an event to mark Playmobil's 40th anniversary, at Camden in London April 30, 2014.

The NAACP is demanding a response to what it calls a “deplorable” toy character in a children’s pirate play set, a dark-skinned male doll that it says looks like a slave.

“It’s a racist piece, it’s a racist toy,” said Ida Lockett, whose son received the toy set for his birthday. “He was excited when he got it. I spent the weekend putting it together.”

Ms. Lockett told CBS Sacramento that she believed the character was intended to be racist after finding a separate piece they were instructed to put around his neck.

“You cannot have this specific accessory and call it anything else,” she said. “The fact that you can Google it, look it up, try to say what it is—it’s a slave collar.”

She also said the ship contained what appeared to be a dungeon.

“This is deplorable, this cannot be accepted, and it needs to be pulled off the shelf,” said Sacramento NAACP President Stephen Webb.

Aimee Norman, the aunt who had gifted the set to Lockett’s son, took to the manufacturer’s Facebook page to complain.

#PlaymobilUSA, I am MORTIFIED to have recently bought your Pirate Ship Set 5135 for my 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,” she wrote. “I suppose it's optional as to whether a kid chooses to then place said character into chains or into a prison cell at the bottom of the ship.” 

Playmobil said in a statement to The Washington Post that the set was created to portray pirates in the 17th century.

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 any way.

This is not the first time the German toy company has been accused of insensitivity, racial or otherwise. 

Some have complained in the past that the company's sets relegate minority characters to stereotypical or backward roles, and fails to integrate them into mostly-white play sets. Others have criticized the company's portrayal of indigenous characters.

Boing Boing's Tanya Schevitz explained her discomfort of the "clueless" company's products, such as a policeman arresting a drunk, apparently homeless man and a cowboys-and-Indians battle at an Old West fort: 

... it was when my preschooler expressed his excitement over the massacre of the Native Americans, that I really realized that Playmobil actually provides the perfect opportunity to teach social justice – through its absolute and utter failure at it.

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