A California mom was shocked when her child's Playmobil pirate ship set contained a dark-skinned figure wearing a neck shackle. Ida Lockett noticed it while assembling the gift her son received for his fifth birthday. The character, which appeared to be dark-skinned, with black hair, no shoes and tattered pants, came with instructions to put a gray choker-like piece around its neck. The boy's aunt, Aimee Norman, who purchased the gift for him, posted her concern on Playmobil's Facebook page along with images of the figure, the instructions, and Kunta Kinte from Roots:
I am MORTIFIED to have recently bought your Pirate Ship Set 5135 for my nephew only to hear that when assembling it, they found that its assembly instructions indicate to add the neck cuff/shackle to the black character's neck. I suppose it's optional as to whether a kid chooses to then place said character into chains or into a prison cell at the bottom of the ship.
The company responded, explaining that the figure was meant to represent a former slave who became a member of the pirate crew:
The figure was meant to represent a pirate who was a former slave in a historical context. It was not our intention to offend anyone in anyway. If you look at the box, you can see that the pirate figure is clearly a crew member on the pirate ship and not a captive.
This is actually true; on the box the character is up in the crow's nest holding a map and a gun:
It's likely historically accurate that some former slaves became pirates, and also quite understandable that the point could be lost on someone assembling the set for their child. Sometimes people are intentionally racist and it costs them their job. And sometimes things are unfortunately and accidentally racist.