Is It Racist To Eat Eskimo Pie?

Canadian tourist Seeka Lee Veevee Parsons has become the most unpopular people in the nation of New Zealand because she made clear the word, “Eskimo” was not appropriate to use, and, in particular, it should not be used in selling an “Eskimo Lolly” which is among the best selling candies in New Zealand. She was being interviewed at a tourist location and expressed the view using the word “Eskimo” in any respect was an insult to an Inuit woman. Ms. Parsons said no one in Canada used the expression “Eskimo” anymore because it was viewed as a racist term. The Eskimo Lolly is a multi-colored marshmallow candy in the shape of a person wearing a thick hooded jacket in front of an igloo.

Thousands of New Zelanders expressed their anger at the tourist from Canada for insulting their candy. I have spent my life eating Eskimo pie ice creams and must now reconsider by doing so if I am part of a racist denial of the personhood of the Inuits. Of course, back in Canada, there is a football team named the “Edmonton Eskimos” which apparently is OK.

  • another canadian

    Wow – what a hyper-nerve Ms. Parsons has hit!! I’m amazed at the insecure ranting of so many NZers, and I applaud Ms. Parsons for her courage in the face of this storm of insecurity.

    Yes, Edmonton has a football team named the Eskimos, but any and all cultural references end there. This discussion has already occurred in Canada, but it continues in some circles on other topics, as it should. The Edmonton team has a logo which is simply two capital “E”s. If you did not know that Eskimo was once a derogatory term used to represent a group of people, then it could just as easily be a fabricated name with no meaning whatsoever.

    Yes, there are Eskimo Pies sold in NZ and in Canada, but unlike the lollies, the actual food product is not shaped and marketed as an actual (but misguided) cultural representation of a group of real people.

    If I were Inuk, I too would be offended by these products, especially when so many misunderstandings and misrepresentations already abound. Ms. Parsons could not be honest with herself and true to her heritage if she did not speak out about how these products offend her.

    The real story I see here is the response by so many NZers – that they responded in such a manner around something which they see as a cultural icon, a simple piece of candy. We have seen it here in Canada as well, where the dominant cultural group gets extremely upset about the whole political correctness (PC) debate. What I see with that, is that the dominant group has lost many of the structural advantages they originally put into place (often by force) which allowed them to exert and maintain control and authority over indigenous peoples (and usually for the purposes of robbing them of their land). It is no longer acceptable to do this on the world stage.

    Instead, derogatory remarks and labels, together with often overt discrimination and racism, are the only tactics remaining for those insecure members of dominant groups who need to put down others to make themselves feel better. That is what I see people trying to maintain when they react as they have to this issue. The topic of being “politically correct” is hot-button for those folks, as their not-politically correct language and behaviour is all they have left to prop themselves up as somehow being better than everyone else – which they are not!

    I hope non-Maori NZers have some stronger cultural symbols to embrace than a marshmallow candy (yuk!) that perpetuates an incorrect stereotype of a people they know nothing about.

  • http://www.theimpudentobserver.com Fred Stopsky

    your comments reflect sensitivity. I suspect the battle for human rights should be focused on power and equity as of higher significance than Eskimo pie. One makes choices where to expend energy

  • Dogsbody

    Now that the dust from the great racist lolly debacle has settled and cooler heads have prevailed, allow me to point the finger of blame for this whole scandalous tempest-in-a-igloo: the media.

    A comment by a misguided tourist to New Zealand was blown all out of proportion into an international circus because of the way it was played up by the media on what must have been a very slow news day.

    Yes, Kiwis are noted for their gut reaction to anything that smacks of political correctness being rammed down their throats. But cruel, racist and rude? As an expat Canadian living in New Zealand, that has not been my experience. In fact I’ve found Kiwis to be the most welcoming, kind people I have ever met. I would dare to venture that most Kiwis had no idea the term ‘Eskimo’ was derogatory. Hell, I was born in the same country as Seeka Veevee Parsons and I didn’t know it was an insult.

    ‘Eskimo’ has simply referred to people living in the northern regions of North America. That may very well be lack of knowledge on the general public’s behalf, but it was never meant as racism or cruelty or even a degrading slur.

    I apologise to Ms. Parsons for my initial reaction, which was: “Don’t come into this country and start telling its citizens what to think or do.” But that’s what I thought, plain and simple.

    I felt she was rude, ill-mannered and arrogant. I was also embarrassed by the audacity of her comments, by how she was concerned enough to bother the prime minister of Canada over a candy’s decades-old name when the man surely has bigger problems to worry about.

    As this debate has raged on with insults (and very colourful language) being hurled by both sides, I was intrigued enough to do a bit of digging. And I found that the young lady has a point. She simply stated a fact, that the term ‘Eskimo’ is considered demeaning to her people. Fact. Full stop. Regrettably she didn’t handle it tactfully. We got the impression she was calling us unfeeling racists – in our own backyard.

    Unfortunately, when her comments were picked up and broadcast around the country, they tended to carry a bit of a slant towards culture bashing. And the culture being bashed is the white culture. Caucasians – who happen to make up the majority of the New Zealand population – are once again bearing the brunt of someone’s whinging. But if we happen to mention we might finally be fed up with the nit-picking of every complaining minority, we are instantly tarred as racists.

    So Ms. Parsons set herself up as a target from the beginning. She’s a tourist, a foreigner, a guest who doesn’t understand the white majority is trying to hold on to some of its own culture with one hand – because it is constantly being threatened, eroded and undermined – while swatting away the race card with the other hand. Not fair is it?
    After reading just about everything I could get my hands on about Ms. Parsons’ discourse, I found that most of her own people who commented on this story don’t really mind being called Eskimos and felt the whole thing was ridiculous. It is, they said, just a candy.

    The ones actually making the biggest noise are, in fact, New Zealand’s indigenous people. Maoris are egging her on to be a spokesperson of sorts. It hardly seems fair that Ms. Parsons now bears the brunt of the abuse while others hide behind their laptops and smugly encourage her to take the bullet for them.

    Comments by New Zealand High Commissioner to Canada, Kate Lackey, about Talk Radio being “Rednecky” are absolutely correct. It seemed to me that, as more and more comments were made about Ms. Parsons’ initial remarks, the more her words were twisted and manipulated by the public’s own beliefs and perceptions until it was New Zealand’s very way of life that was suddenly under attack.

    Unfortunately, our good citizens have been fed a heap of codswallop disguised as news. We are all guilty of believing what we hear and see as being the absolute truth when, in fact, it has been filtered to fit broadcasting itineraries.

    Interestingly enough, the lollys or candies which caused the initial furor are not even that tasty – not the finest treat Pascall has ever produced. But talk about hard to find on dairy shelves! Pascall must be doing a brisk business with their Eskimos at the moment. Who would have guessed this brouhaha would be good for sales? Do I smell a conspiracy?

    If Ms. Parsons would have politely written to Pascall and explained her concerns, instead of making a public spectacle of herself, thus dragging Pascall (and the country as a whole) unwillingly into the limelight, the company might have quietly phased out the lolly or changed the name over time. Nobody sets out to intentionally offend a race of people, especially a company that values good public relations. Certainly nobody likes to be embarrassed in front of the world, do they?

    Another Canadian (tomterry@knet.ca) has inserted a blog everywhere this incident is mentioned on the net, in which he/she (hiding behind the computer) officiously states:

    “Instead, derogatory remarks and labels, together with often overt discrimination and racism, are the only tactics remaining for those insecure members of dominant groups who need to put down others to make themselves feel better. …That is what I see people trying to maintain when they react as they have to this issue. The topic of being “politically correct” is hot-button for those folks, as their not-politically correct language and behaviour is all they have left to prop themselves up as somehow being better than everyone else – which they are not!”

    I think this demonstrates this person’s complete ignorance of New Zealanders as a people, while attempting to fan the flames of racism based on one (exaggerated) spark of controversy. This, (to use his/her very own words) “perpetuates an incorrect stereotype of a people” you know nothing about. To which my response is: “Butt out and bugger off. Look after your own backyard before you start poking your nose in other people’s business.”

    I hope the backlash Ms. Parsons has stirred up will teach her to pick her battles and tread more carefully in the future when speaking out in another country. I also hope she, too, is embarrassed by her gaffe. But I applaud her for having the conviction and strength to point out a mistake. In terms of lessons learned, I also trust New Zealanders, myself included, now understand the correct term for Ms. Parsons and her people is Inuit.

    To the media who put Ms. Parsons in such a difficult and culturally sticky position I say, “Shame on you.” This young woman was just making an observation – not attacking our way of life, for crying out loud. Stop sensationalising everything.

    On a lighter note, I would suggest Pascall change the name of the cute little marshmallow people to Canuck Cuties or Hosers Eh!, and then reshape them to resemble adorable ice hockey players or dorky dudes with toques and mittens. We crazy Canadians would love it.

  • http://www.theimpudentobserver.com Fred Stopsky

    well said about a storm in a teacup.

  • Anonymous

    as a tired canadian i just have to say – oh pleeeasse. As a white person should I be offended by WHITE bread now? As a person of Dutch heritage, am I insulted when people say they are “going Dutch”? I say when everyone SHUTS UP about all this Unintentional Racism, then maybe we will find that it doesn’t have to exist.

  • Anonymous

    as a tired canadian i just have to say – oh pleeeasse. As a white person should I be offended by WHITE bread now? As a person of Dutch heritage, am I insulted when people say they are “going Dutch”? I say when everyone SHUTS UP about all this Unintentional Racism, then maybe we will find that it doesn’t have to exist.

  • http://www.theimpudentobserver.com Fred Stopsky

    I agree with your comments concerning seeing racism in ordinary comments made by people. But, reality is there is racism in the USA, not as bad as in years ago, but it does exist. Unless we are willing to confront these issues, they will continue to exist. Discrimination and prejudice are alive. For example, only 5% of major CEOs are female.