Another Stereotype of the Month entry:
Again I'm writing descriptions for a children's toy catalog, and again I've come across a problematical product. Manhattan Toy makes different sets of Finger Follies finger puppets. Among the sets are:
Again, an Eskimo is the only human in a menagerie of animals. This Eskimo is dressed in a simple parka. He has no high-powered rifle, no snowmobile, no radio or telephone to indicate he's part of the modern world.
Why not an Anglo (or African) game warden with the jungle animal set? Why not a sailor with the coastal set? Why not a set of American animals (bear, buffalo, eagle, wolf) with a rancher, an environmentalist, or a politician establishing another national park?
If every Finger Follies set contained a representative human, I might not complain. As it is, the implications are clear. Real people are off digging for coal and oil, running schools and clinics, making laws, and so on. Only the primitive Eskimo is part of nature. Only he plays with his "animal friends."
Placing the Eskimo at the north pole, as the "bipolar" set does, makes him seem more foreign and exotic. He's no longer a citizen of one of the 50 states, eligible to vote for (or run for) president. He's hundreds miles from US territory, hundreds of miles from civilization, twiddling his thumbs on an ice floe. Or whatever it is that "uncivilized" people do.
This is a blatant case of stereotyping the indigenous person. Though "I is for Indian" storybooks have mostly disappeared, Eskimos continue to suffer. The Inuit people are on the final frontier of humans treated as animals.
P.S. After subtracting points for this cultural faux pas, maybe I'll give Manhattan Toy a point for giving the "bipolar" puppets authentic-sounding names—e.g., Ekiak Eskimo. Of course, a penguin with an Inuit name is a contradiction in terms. Maybe I won't give Manhattan Toy a point after all.
Contact Manhattan Toy about its puppets
Eskimos: the ultimate aborigines
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