Last March, Gov. Lincoln Almond named Mr. Potato Head the official “spokespud” of Rhode Island and started putting up statues of Mr. Potato Head to promote tourism. (Mr. Potato Head is manufactured by Hasbro, which is headquartered in Pawtucket.) Each Mr. Potato Head is sponsored by a different Rhode Island company or organization and expresses a distinct theme. Citizens Financial Group sponsors the Cash Potato. Bernard Golf Properties sponsors the Golf Potato. The Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau sponsors the Edgar Allen Poe-tato. You get the idea.
Today, the Associated Press reports that one of these statues has been deemed racist and will be taken down. The offending statue is the Tourist Potato, sponsored by the city of Warwick’s tourism bureau. “‘If you look at this potato head, the only thing missing is a watermelon,” said Onna Moniz-John, an affirmative-action officer in East Providence, R.I. ”If I saw it first, I would have said, ‘We need to correct this,’ ” agreed Tom Schumpert, who runs the state agency that’s directing the campaign. But Kathy Szarko, the sculptress, denies the sculpture has any racial overtones: “He’s a potato. That’s why he’s brown.” By giving Szarko the last word, the AP leaves the impression that the dustup is just another example of ludicrous hypersensitivity born of political correctness.
But Chatterbox isn’t sure he agrees. He is going to spend the weekend examining the Tourist Potato (click here if you missed it the first time), perhaps while listening to “Rhode Island Is Famous For You” (click here and scroll down to the eleventh song). He will report back Monday.
Photograph of Mr. Potato Head from Rhode Island Tourism.