Donald Trump Jr.’s Skittles meme isn’t about candy — it’s about bigotry against refugees

ByDavid Kittos

I was 6 years old when I became a refugee. My memories of that time are not as sharp as they used to be, but I will always remember hearing that the parachutists were landing. That was when we realized we had to flee our village. I remember lots of traveling. I remember anxious nights spent in the houses of people we knew, or barely knew, who were kind enough to give us a place to rest in their homes. 

It was July 1974, and we had become refugees in our own country, Cyprus. People were trying to work out how far the Turkish troops would go. There were two invasions in July and August of that year. When it was over, we were told that over 1,600 people were missing. To my knowledge, none of these people ever returned. The experience has never left me, though I'm well aware many people suffered a lot worse than I did.

On Sept. 19, 2016, Donald Trump Jr. posted an image of a bowl of Skittles, meant to represent the supposed danger posed by Syrian refugees. It was branded with the Trump/Pence logo. I am the photographer. The still life image of a bowl of Skittles candy that Trump used as the basis for his xenophobic campaign ad is mine. My photograph was used without my permission. 

Just this weekend we learned that Trump's 1995 tax records showed he declared a $916 million loss that could have allowed him to legally skip paying federal income taxes for years — while millions of working families in the United States paid theirs. I believe the two incidents are not unrelated. They both show a dangerous level of entitlement. Someone so determined not to pay taxes for 18 years would clearly have no issue with a representative of his campaign violating U.S. copyright law. 

As a refugee myself, Trump's appropriation of my work appalls me. Like many refugees, I have worked my whole life to build a life and for myself in my new home. Photography is my passion, a way for me to be creative and express my point of view to the world. The Trump campaign took my photograph, an innocent picture of a bowl of candy, and used it for a polemic attack on people they have never met. People they don't care to learn about. People just like me. Perhaps the Trumps simply do not care about the suffering of people other than white Americans, as these people do not contribute to the Trump organization's balance sheets.

While I typically do not follow U.S. elections, I have been following this race. Because Trump, in all honesty, scares me. He appropriated my intellectual property. That in itself is against copyright law, which has criminal and civil penalties. But perhaps it's not surprising, given what we have all learned about him throughout this campaign. What is completely unacceptable to me is that his campaign has used my image to spread hate against innocent refugees. Refugees who are fleeing their homes, in fear for their lives and the lives of their children.

Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. know nothing of this sort of sacrifice and fear. Born to prosperity and accustomed to a life of unfettered privilege, both father and son lack the perspective and temperament to empathize with the suffering, the marginalized or the dispossessed.

As with any would-be autocrat, Trump has placed his children in prominent positions of power. Just as Trump is utterly unqualified for the office of president, his children have proven themselves unqualified to be political advisers. Trump Jr.'s apparent value lies in his unquestioning loyalty to his father. This elevation of a candidate's unqualified children to positions of major political influence has little precedent in truly democratic societies, but is very common in unfree societies. This is the very kind of society refugees seek to flee, so it should not surprise the American people that a man who has advocated for war crimes and unconstitutional law enforcement measures would not welcome those fleeing oppression.

Last week, I watched a U.S. presidential debate for the first time. In my view, Mr. Trump's politics can essentially be summarized in a single sentence: "We love America, but hate everyone else." He appears to hate Muslims, refugees, immigrants, women, African-Americans, Mexicans, NATO partners — no one can escape his wrath. It is my hope the American people will repudiate a man that has, time and again, proven himself to be little more than a liar, racist and bully. With the serious problems facing the world today, it's a frightening prospect that someone with such politics is so close to holding the highest office in the United States.

This isn't about candy, it's about bigotry.

I view the U.S. as a place where great things happen when someone works hard, and Americans are inclusive, tolerant and fair. My belief is that I will ultimately be proven right.

David Kittos is a database developer and photographer who lives in Guildford, United Kingdom.