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The racist subtext of Donald Trump Jr's Skittles tweet

Because of the Trayvon Martin trial, Skittles can be a loaded symbol of injustice, or fodder for racist jokes. Photograph: (Getty)

WION Delhi Sep 22, 2016, 08.52 AM (IST) Jeff Halperin

Early this week, Donald Trump Junior, who is a close political adviser to his father, issued a tweet comparing Syrian refugees to poisoned candies:

The tweet, bearing Trump's official campaign logo, was criticised for several reasons. One, the Cato Institute calculated the odds of an American being killed by a refugee to be one in 640,000,000, not three in however many skittles there are in the above bowl. Two, the analogy is logically flawed: leaving uneaten Skittles in a bowl poses no ethical or moral dilemma, which isn't comparable to neglecting the lives of human beings fleeing war.

Wrigley's, Skittles' parent company, having been dragged into this affair made an official statement reaching the same conclusion: "Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don't feel it's an appropriate analogy. We will respectively refrain from further commentary, as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing."

Trump's tweet was also copyright infringement, as the picture was taken without permission. The rightful owner of the picture is especially angry it was used by the Trump campaign this way, as at 6-years-old he himself was a refugee fleeing Cyprus following the Turkish invasion.

In addition to being grossly misleading, xenophobic, logically flawed and theft, the tweet also has a racist connection. Skittles carry very loaded associations for the alt-right—an unofficial assembly of far-right wingers characterised by heavy misogyny, racism and white supremacy—because of the symbol it became during and after the murder trial of George Zimmerman. 

Trayvon Martin was carrying Skittles when George Zimmerman killed him in 2012. This was a very high-profile case in North America. Martin was an African American 17-year-old high school student. Zimmerman was the neighbourhood watch coordinator of a gated community in Florida, an American state with Stand Your Ground laws, meaning it is legal to protect yourself from threats or perceived threats. Zimmerman was ultimately acquitted by a jury after only about a month. 

Skittles became a symbol of injustice to Martin's supporters, and was used in memes by Zimmerman's supporters, who incorporated the candy in jokes mocking the dead teenager. 


Given how many times the Trump campaign has appealed to the alt-right or echoed their racist memes (this racist and bogus crime stat retweeted from a white supremacist account; Hillary Clinton with a Jewish star of David beside dollars and "corruption"; Pepe the frog...), it is hard to imagine that the allusion to skittles is an accident or coincidence. More likely, the campaign is issuing another dog whistle—a kind of covert tip of the hat, or a thumbs up—to the kind of Trump supporters who joke about dead African American teenagers.



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