April 22, 2009

New Zealanders eat Eskimos

Kiwis not sweet on Inuit tourist's complaintsAn Inuit woman from Canada is making headlines and enemies in New Zealand for suggesting popular marshmallow candies called "Eskimos" are derogatory and racist.

Many Kiwis are outraged over comments by Seeka Veevee Parsons and are demanding the 21-year-old tourist go home if she's offended by their sweet treats.

"I'm just blown away by all this attention," Veevee Parsons said on the phone from the North Island city of Rotorua.

"But I'm happy because I believe it's a step forward for the people of all the world to recognize the Inuit people as a nation ... we're not just living in igloos anymore."

Veevee Parsons, born in Iqaluit, Nunavut, and raised in Glovertown, N.L., landed in New Zealand in February for a four-month trek.

Three weeks ago, she walked into a convenience store and was shocked to find packages of sweets plastered with a smiling face peaking out of a fur-trimmed parka beside an igloo. Inside the bag, colourful marshmallows are shaped like people bundled up for winter.

"I think the term 'Eskimo' can almost be related to the term 'savage' or 'Indian' or maybe even the 'n-word' for African-American people," said Veevee Parsons.

"As a kid, I used to be teased by that name. They used to call me a dirty Eskimo girl."

She said the word was originally an insult meaning "eater of raw flesh." Use of the term in Canada was replaced by "Inuit" in the 1970s, although it is still common to use Eskimo in Alaska.
Comment:  The final point reflects my understanding of the issue. "Eskimo" is in a gray area. It's not obviously offensive to most people--unlike, say, "redskin."

But the candies are stereotypical even if the name isn't offensive. They portray Inuit people with the usual parkas and igloos. Almost every time this happens, people, it's stereotypical.

By the same token, I wouldn't waste much time over Eskimo Pie products. As far as I know, they don't use stereotypical images. Only the questionable word "Eskimo." To me that's like the "Saugatuck Indians"--a low priority as long as the name is the only issue.

The commenters on this article made the usual asinine retorts. The name's been around a long time--i.e., we've been thoughtless and ignorant a long time. The name's not a big deal--i.e., we white people make the decisions and we don't care what you think about it. If someone ever gave me a new reason for accepting a stereotype, I'd probably drop dead from the shock.

Okay to eat minorities?

We could go deeper into the issues surrounding this candy. How about the idea of white people biting off the heads of little Eskimos? Does that seem slightly wrong to anyone?

If it isn't obvious to you, let's do the usual test in these cases. Replace the primitive Eskimo in a parka with a primitive African in a loincloth. Now imagine biting the heads off of little black Africans. Does anyone see a problem with this?

P.S. What's with these Canadian people who think "Indian" is offensive? Do they literally know nothing about American Indians, or what?

Below:  "It's okay to eat the Eskimos because they're just candies, not real people."

1 comment:

wowgold said...

It maybe indeed offending for some but at least she made people aware of this. I wasn't even informed that calling someone is Eskimo is bad.