Corporations’ inclusive gestures aren’t progressive — they’re ploys to incite violence.
The supposed announcement that Mr.Potato Head will be changing pronouns and being referred to only as Potato Head has spawned negative responses from conservative groups. The idea of a non-binary Potato Head has sparked conversation around how necessary the gesture is. With the usual buzzwords of snowflakes, woke, and sensitive being thrown around, it is safe to say a non-binary Potato Head did not bring the progressive joy that Hasbro would intend. However, Hasbro never intended to make Mr.Potato Head, or his lovely wife Mrs. Potato Head, non-binary; they wanted to expand the product’s outreach. Hasbro announced that they would be dropping the Mr. to highlight Potato Head’s toy-line as a whole, no longer focusing the brand on one character. What was seemingly an act of progressive representation was just another marketing ploy to expand and refurbish a classic brand. The story of a gender non-conforming Potato Head was falsified with the ill attempt to spark transphobic, bigoted responses by the masses. Although Hasbro is innocent, this opens the door for a larger conversation: corporations’ inclusive gestures aren’t progressive — they’re ploys to incite violence.
It’s fair to say, “Isn’t progress a good thing?”, and yes it is. However, if they did change Mr.Potato Head’s pronouns, that would not be doing anything, especially when a new non-binary toy can be made. People will always be upset when the idea of inclusiveness is brought around, yet no one asked for a non-binary Potato Head, so why would Hasbro announcing it even come across as a fathomable idea?. What non-binary and trans people are asking for our rights, the ability to walk into spaces, and not fear subjugation because of who they are. Even stating that this event happened when it didn’t is a very calculated scheme to spawn absolute and utter hatred.
If the masses assume these “inclusive” acts are the needs and wants of marginalized groups, they won’t care when actual legislation and progress need to be made due to a gaslighting scheme of cry-wolf. These acts are not on the shoulders of marginalized groups, and it has everything to do with the personal biases of those who oppose them. Nevertheless, it is effortless for those in power to frame stories in a manner that seems unnecessary and counterproductive. For instance, during the BLM protests in summer 2020, Black people and Black-owned businesses were pushed to the forefront because of their visibility and suddenly became profitable to corporations in the hopes of seeming inclusive. This should be happening regardless, yet these gestures were shallow and not well thought out. Now, it falls on Black people’s heads to deal with the ramifications of faux diverse statements being under the scrutiny of the conservative right, in which racists use Black people’s hypervisibility to demean the very thing they were fighting for to begin with.
It is a more significant issue that we should even be worried about propaganda and fear-mongering being utilized to negate inclusive thought and progressive movement. Weaponizing real needs and desires to use it against oppressed groups later is an act of violence and a scary but very effective tactic. It’s so easy to spew out unquestioned, unsourced information in the advanced digital age. Issues that matter, that affect people, becoming pawns in larger marketing schemes is a real issue. The quicker people understand what marginalized groups are fighting for, the faster things become a non-issue. It should not matter if Mr.Potato Head came out as Potato Head, but it is hard to ignore the backlash trans and non-binary people will endure.
Sadly, headlines like these are the only ones that exist, and now their usage signifies two varying responses: bigotry and criticism from those who seemingly benefit. For the latter, the disappointment of being let down repeatedly when it comes to representation makes the idea of Potato Head having a non-binary rebrand a quick meme rather than genuine rejoice or interest. It is much easier to spot ingenuine and backhanded gestures after being offered up as props whenever progress and change discussions come about. These issues are never taken seriously and thus continue to trivialize the plight of marginalized groups.
Furthermore, for those that fear change, holding onto their conservative values, a headline like this is a perfect opportunity to demean and diminish progressive ideologies. Good-natured gestures are no longer of good-will regardless of malice or not. Fear-mongering backed by unquestioned social media taglines has furthered a culture that ready access to widespread information should have expelled. It is now pivotal to disgustinish reality and what is cultivated ploys bent on invoking bigoted rhetoric.
Anthony Devone is a student at Morehouse College.