In recent days, reports in certain media outlets have grossly oversimplified and mischaracterized a research paper I published in The Contemporary Pacific entitled, “Unsettling SpongeBob and the Legacies of Violence on Bikini Bottom.” My article does not say that the character of SpongeBob is violent or racist. Instead, it asks readers to consider the way that the show's creation of a fictional world in the non-fictional homelands of the Bikinians removes the U.S. history of violence on that atoll and the Marshallese people from our gaze.
Bikini was the site for U.S. nuclear weapons testing during the Cold War to study and further develop U.S. weapons of mass destruction. Today, the people for whom Bikini is their ancestral homeland (the Bikinians) cannot live on Bikini because it remains too contaminated. Popular culture plays a role in silencing the history and its impact on the Bikinian people, and this can have a particularly insidious and violent impact on Indigenous Pacific Islanders, like the Marshallese (Bikini is one of two ground zero locations for U.S. tests in the Marshall Islands). There is absolutely an element of racism involved in the ways that popular and dominant culture removes Indigenous peoples from their own lands so others can use the lands for their own interests, but that is very different from saying that the character of SpongeBob is racist or violent.