The monthlong holiday celebration at Sam Bridge Nursery features many scenes one would expect to find at an event called the Reindeer Festival.
There’s the live reindeer, a carousel and Santa Clause greeting eager little ones.
Then there’s the caricature of a black African man trying to cook a white hunter on the side of a children’s ride.
One visitor this week could not believe what she was seeing.
“I went with the young boy I nanny and I didn’t notice it until he got on the train and I took a picture of him,” said Lauren Lodato . “Then I looked closely and saw the rest of the train cars.”
Scenes of a black man with oversized red lips and wearing a loin cloth and a bone in his hair are painted on the side of cars in the ride. As the train passes a story unfolds, culminating in an insinuation that the black man is a cannibal.
Lodato, who didn’t want to make a scene in front of other families there, went home and called the nursery, pointing out the imagery to an employee, saying it perpetuated an inappropriate stereotype.
“She insinuated to me that I wanted to take the train away from the children, like I was trying to be this evil person,” Lodato said. “She got agitated with me.”
The employee said if nobody made a big deal about the imagery, children wouldn’t notice, she said.
“Just because a child doesn’t say something doesn’t mean they aren’t absorbing, processing and internalizing things about that narrative,” said Lodato, who said she is about to graduate with a degree in early childhood education. “I think it’s a very slippery slope to say that just because they are children, the image won’t have a negative impact.”
The last scene on the train depicts the white hunter sneaking out of a large cooking pot, while his black pursuer sleeps against a pole with his shield and spear.
Lodato wasn’t the only person at the event who thought the depiction was a problem.
Justin Ott brought his children to the Reindeer Festival on Saturday from Tarrytown, NY, where he lives. He didn’t notice the images at first, but was surprised when they were pointed out to him. [I think that says it all]
“It looks very stereotypically offensive,” Ott said.
Another woman there with her child, Jennifer Zulli [nee zulu?] , said the images didn’t bother her much.
“There’s so much going on in the world, I don’t really get upset about a children’s ride,” Zulli said. “I think we’ve got bigger problems.”
... The ride belongs to Marenna Amusements, a vendor in Orange that Ketler said TMK is working with for the first time. Company owner George Marenna Jr. said on Saturday the ride has been used for several years at other events throughout the region and there has never been a complaint about it before.
“The ride is called Safari Train,” Marenna said, adding he was “totally shocked” by the complaint. “It’s a safari train that’s going through the safari jungle. It has no relation to racist remarks or anything that’s being made an accusation against.”
The ride was made in Spain, said Marenna.
“The last thing I would want to do is hurt anybody or offend anybody,” he said. “You can’t take it out on a poor guy like me that’s trying to make a holiday season ... this is the most asinine thing I have ever heard of.”