Potato Statue to Be Removed After Complaints of Racism
A 6-foot Mr. Potato Head statue, one of dozens dotting Rhode Island as part of a tourism campaign, will be taken down because of complaints that the grinning, brown-skinned figure appeared racist.
The “Tourist Tater” was painted dark brown to appear suntanned and wore an ill-fitting Hawaiian shirt, glasses and a hat.
The fiberglass figure had been on display since May, but no one had complained until its photo appeared Thursday in a newspaper.
Tourism officials decided Friday to take it away from outside City Hall.
“The whole Potato Head campaign is supposed to encourage people to visit. Obviously, we did not intend to offend anyone,” Mayor Scott Avedisian said.
East Providence affirmative action officer Onna Moniz-John said she thought the statue resembled the antique figurines she collects that portray blacks as buffoons, such as Little Black Sambo.
“If you look at this potato head, the only thing missing is a watermelon,” Moniz-John said.
Tom Schumpert, head of the state Economic Development Corp., which is directing the Mr. Potato Head campaign, said the statue seemed more offensive in the photo.
“If I saw it first, I would have said, ‘We need to correct this,’ ” said Schumpert, who is black.
Kathy Szarko, the artist who designed “Tourist Tater,” said that she meant no offense and that several other spud statues are a similar color.
“He’s a potato. That’s why he’s brown,” Szarko said.
The statues for the “Birthplace of Fun” campaign are based on the toy created by Hasbro Inc., which is based in Pawtucket.
Other figures include the “Salty Spud,” dressed in bright orange rain gear and carrying a fishing net, and “Edgar Allen Poe-tato,” honoring the writer, who lived in the state for a short time.