Skittles shut down Trump Jr. in spectacular fashion, but history has many more examples of sweets being not so sweet.
Photo via Flickr user Jared Cherup
Sociology graduate students of the future: Look no further for your PhD dissertation topic. There are surely a good hundred pages that can be written on "The Politicization of Food in the Donald Trump Presidential Campaign of 2016." And you're very welcome.
From his love of fast food because it is "clean" (and his attendant opinion that there is no need for the Food and Drug Administration); his failed steak, vodka, and wine ventures; and his love-hate relationship with Mexican food, Donald Trump has proven time and again that food is most certainly not a neutral when it comes to politics. And now his progeny, Donald Trump Jr., is getting in on the fun as well. The baby-chinned Mini-Me has grossly and reductively likened an estimated 11 million displaced Syrians to the kaleidoscopic candy that is Skittles in a tweet that has blown up the internet and enraged many.
Whether we're talking about the extremely dubious or the pro-Trump yeasayers, the reaction has been as expected: insane.
The more that comes to light about the post, the more offensive it seems. BBC has reported that the photographer who took the image of the Skittles told them that he is a Cypriot refugee himself and that the image was used without his permission. He said, "I don't support his politics and I would never take his money to use it." If that's not bad enough, the tweet wasn't even original—as Raw Story pointed out, the "poisoned candy" analogy is a meme favored by neo-Nazis and white supremacists for years.
The people at M&M must be collectively enjoying a sigh of relief as they watch the unmitigated clusterfuck unfold. Skittles, meanwhile, has issued a stock—but cutting—response: "Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don't feel it's an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing."
Skittles' management is probably in shock at all the attention—and not in a good way—that their candy is getting.
But, on second thought, maybe they shouldn't be so surprised. Candy has undoubtedly been used in the political sphere to incite racial hatred, bigotry, and xenophobia for a damn long time—and in multiple countries. If you ever wanted evidence of humanity's ability to wreak havoc, witness the use of sweet treats to promote nasty ideology.
We've previously reported on how the leader of a right-wing group in Austria bemoaned "the good old days … when a popular sweet called Negerküsse" (or "Negro kiss") was all the rage. And how an anti-Islamist, nationalist party in Germany, the AfD, was unabashedly handing out branded gummy bears to entice voters to abandon cultural and religious pluralism in favor of frenzied nationalism and xenophobia.
That said, you don't need to look across the ocean to find bigoted uses of candy. How about the history of jimmies—you know, the chocolate sprinkles—in this country? Or how the KKK has been know to use baggies full of candy to persuade people to read their fabulously ignorant propaganda?
Betsy Fisher, Policy Director for the Urban Justice Center's International Refugee Assistance Project, told MUNCHIES the following: "As many have pointed out, refugees are human beings who must be treated with dignity. Further, refugees make significant contributions wherever they are welcomed, including opening businesses and building cultural connections between countries of origin and countries of resettlement. Welcoming refugees promotes the fundamental American value of protecting those who are fleeing from torture and persecution."
On the other hand, a spokesperson for Amnesty International told us that despite working "extensively on the human rights of refugees, as a 501(c)(3) organization we are legally prohibited from commenting on the campaigns of any of the presidential candidates." You'll just have to imagine what their response would be.
The bottom line is that even though Donald Trump Jr.'s comment is most certainly reductive of Syrian refugees, a multifaceted group of 11 million or so people, using the rainbow as a metaphor for the immigrants that make up America at large would be pretty apt. After all, a rainbow-themed candy, just like a country, is only as tasty as the multicolored sum of its parts.