Take My Land, Give me a Happy Meal Instead: Racism Hasn’t Gone Vegetarian Yet

 McDonald’s decided it was a great idea to create a Happy Meal toy that involves featuring:

Who is this you ask? Why it’s none other than George Armstrong Custer, updated for the modern age. Starting on Friday 6/19, this toy became available with the Happy Meal in Vermillion, South Dakota according to and article on reznetnews.org. Where shall I even begin…?

I learned of the story via DiversityInc magazine, which has also chronicled the racist/colonialist/super hero ideology of Burger King, allowing the chain an opportunity to “clarify” in an articlethey published about how the chain fixed their “multicultural misstep. ” DiversityInc’s interpretation is different than my own – I wrote about the Burger King ads in a post entitled “Imperialism Becomes a Born Again Virgin, But Will Turn Tricks for Meat.” DiversityInc gave both Burger King and now McDonald’s an opportunity to offer a fairly weak and staged mea culpa, filled to the brim, with insincere language about their commitments to diversity and inclusion. And yet, you wonder, if they value and respect diversity and inclusion so very much, how is it that those on their development teams seem  so comfortable  creating profit from racist ideologies?

These companies seem to care about diversity only when it impacts their money, they are for-profits, meaning they are for what makes them money. The concern and fear here is that Native Americans and other people of color will not support McDonald’s, not that either Burger King of McDonald’s have transgressed around a central company value. The figurine according to Kevin Abourezk from reznews.org was developed in a partnership between McDonald’s and Twentieth Century Fox, to be part of the distribution/publicity and toy tie-ins with that studio’s film “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

 First, who is Custer:  Custer a native of Ohio, graduated last in his class from West Point. According to PBS, “Custer is hardly a hero, after high school he enrolled in West Point, where he utterly failed to distinguish himself in any positive way.” He was court marshaled shortly after graduating, for failing to break up a fight between two of his classmates. As a cavalryman, he was known for flamboyance and recklessness in battle. In fact, at the Battle of Gettysburg, his troops sustained some of the heaviest casualties – and that an estimated 10,000 – 12,000 died at Gettysburg. Custer’s popularity grew from what was perceived as his valor during battle in the Civil War, and his mentor General Sheridan continued to promote and support him. Custer rose in prominence and the rank of Lt. Col in the U.S Calvary, primarily through his well known brutality toward Native Americans, and combined with his lack of military prowess. In that role, he led several massacres, of unarmed and undefended Native villages; the most violent, a slaughter of Cheyenne men, women, and children. Featuring him as a Happy Meal toy, is the equivalent of featuring George Wallace in a Happy Meal (with cool bull horn and water hose accessory),  or David Duke, (complete with pristine white sheet and instead of voting rolls, a Blackberry), or John Wilkes Booth.

What precisely is the merchandising opportunity here? And why is the Smithsonian’s name in any way connected with this? Is he on the motorcycle to be better able to chase down, pillage, and harm Native Americans? Are we now imagining racist agents with access to more technologically advanced tools to carry out their “work”? Is this a ” a wonder what he could have done if he had a motorcycle?” moment? You’ll notice that the U.S. insignia is still present on the motorcycle, suggesting, that were Custer alive today, the U.S. would still support his reign of violence and malevolent leadership.

And can I just say, what child young enough to still be able to order a Happy Meal, educated in our U.S. school system, would even know who the heck George Armstrong Custer was? I mean for real, do we all understand what we think constitutes an education in this country? No Child Left Behind, would have left Custer behind. I know he wasn’t on the test…But wait, apparently McDonald’s anticipated this and provided a helpful education card, which read: “Ever hear of Custer’s last stand? It was named after George Armstrong Custer who lead (their spelling) his troops into the battle at Little Big Horn.” It does not mention that the brave warriors at Little Big Horn, whom he grossly underestimated, rose to defend themselves and defeated Custer. 

Since we’re in a post-racial era (ha,ha,ha) are people of color now supposed to valorize American mythology and participate in the sainting of people who have perpetuated brutality and violence on our communities? Are we supposed to look at this, and just see a toy, and not a way to erase the history of U.S. sanctioned violence and removal of American Indians. And lastly, it’s just a foolish un-fun toy….

According to reznews.org and DiversityInc, the Custer toy is no longer being distributed….

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