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30 Apr, 2020 20:23

Who needs woke butter wars? Dairy company removes ‘racist’ depiction of Native American woman… but Native artist says it was fine

Who needs woke butter wars? Dairy company removes ‘racist’ depiction of Native American woman… but Native artist says it was fine

Social justice types cheered when Minnesota dairy firm Land O’Lakes removed a “racist” image of a Native American girl from its packaging. But on the bizarre battlefields of the culture wars, nobody wins.

‘Mia,’ a Native American woman complete with feathered headdress, has graced Land O’Lakes’ packaging since the 1920s. During that time she’s gone through several redesigns, but the company quietly scrapped her in February, leaving a plain landscape behind. By the end of the year, Land O’Lakes’ farmers and suppliers will feature on its packaging in her place. 

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The company gave no reason for doing away with Mia, but it’s widely suspected that the move was to please the social justice crowd. Native American academic Lisa Monchalin previously called Mia an example of “sexualized depictions of Indigenous women,” while North Dakota state Rep. Ruth Buffalo (D) - also a Native American – said that the image of the comely butter maiden goes “hand-in-hand with human and sex trafficking of our women and girls … by depicting Native women as sex objects.” 

Hang on. Who on earth associated the butter girl with sex? When last I checked, fully clothed milkmaids don’t make the Playboy centerfolds. Burlap dresses aren’t the new bikini bottoms. Her ties with “human and sex trafficking” too are a ridiculous overreach.

But the ‘conservative’ outcry at her removal is ridiculous too. Land O’Lakes’ website has been flooded with one-star reviews in recent days by customers who say they’ll boycott the company for “buckling” to political correctness. Even Iowa Congressman Steve King (R) got involved, lamenting the work of the “PC millennials” who’ve “taken over” his apparently beloved butter brand. Okay boomer.

To top it all off, Robert DesJarlait, the son of the artist who drew the current iteration of Mia, joined the debate in a Washington Post op-ed on Wednesday. DesJarlait’s father –who is Native American– added some genuine Ojibwe tribal motifs to Mia’s dress, a flourish Robert said helped his father maintain “a connection to his identity.”

She “simply didn’t fit the parameters of a stereotype,” DesJarlait said, adding that her removal “leaves behind a landscape voided of identity and history.” Paraphrasing an ironic meme that’s done the rounds since the debacle kicked off, DesJarlait quipped “they got rid of the Indian and kept the land.”

If there’s anything we can learn from this debacle, it’s that in these most minor battles in the online culture wars, nobody wins. Mia’s inclusion on the butter pack is “racist,” but her removal is “erasure.” You can’t please everyone, and if we remove everything deemed “problematic,” who really benefits?

Not the Native Americans, DesJarlait thinks.

As an Irishman, I don’t feel stigmatized, and certainly not sexualized, when I see the Lucky Charms leprechaun. But I wouldn’t get beat out of shape if General Mills removed his winking visage from their cereal boxes. I simply wouldn’t eat Lucky Charms because I don’t want diabetes.

Maybe everyone aggrieved by ‘Buttergate’ can reevaluate their choices on different grounds. For instance, should Land O’Lakes products be “canceled” not because of their imagery, but because of their practise of pumping their spreadable butter full of canola oil – a nutritionally devoid seed oil that causes oxidation of the organs? 

At the very least, discussing the health implications of consuming such a product would go some way toward solving a real problem.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.