Golliwogs and political correctness

One of the costs of posting on social media is it is easy to offend some without meaning to. Today this happened when I shared something that had earlier resonated and made me smile, under the title: “Bring back the Golliwogs”. While ambivalent to the plea and failing to spot the “Like & Share if you want the golliwogs back” (something I tend not to do on principle) or that the originator of the post was a far right group that I have little time for: “The New Daily Patriot’s”, I shared, fondly remembering my childhood in which golliwogs featured and reacting against the political correctness meaning they do so no longer.

golly1

It gave rise to some interesting exchanges including with one disgruntled “friend” who once he realized it wasn’t a joke decided to defriend me for alleged racism. Another made the (good) point that because golliwogs can unduly offend some that it is better that we consign them to the past and don’t bring them back and, despite my aversion to political correctness, on reflection, I concur. I did put out another post clarifying my position: “Sadly, one of my Facebook friends has just defriended me because of alleged racism. That is his right of course and I suspect he is not the only person I have peeved off in the past that has also defriended me. Just so my Facebook friends know, I have been fighting racism ever since I realised there was such a thing. As for upsetting folk, I suspect I have that tendency more than many and can only apologise when I do so wrongly. As it is, we are, I believe, entering a paradigm when people are afraid to express what they truly believe because it doesn’t sit well with what the people who try to hijack our culture and dictate what is acceptable or not. To those who think on those lines, and while I try to act consistently with my theological understanding, my message is since I will be dead shortly and have little left now to lose and also I am keen to see our culture redeemed – that I couldn’t care a ****! – rant over :-)”

I also thought I would check out the origin of golliwogs and here once again Wikipedia came up trumps: “The golliwog, or golly is a black fictional character created by Florence Kate Upton that appears in children’s books in the late 19th century usually depicted as a type of rag doll. It was reproduced, both by commercial and hobby toy-makers as a children’s toy called the “golliwog”, and had great popularity in Europe and Australia into the 1970s. The doll is characterised by black skin, eyes rimmed in white, clown lips and frizzy hair. Though home-made golliwogs were sometimes female, the golliwog was generally male. For this reason, in the period following World War II, the golliwog was seen, along with the teddy bear, as a suitable soft toy for a young boy. The image of the doll has become the subject of controversy. While some see the golliwog as a cherished cultural artefact and childhood tradition, others argue that the golliwog is a destructive instance of racism against people of African descent, along with pickaninnies, minstrels, mammy figures, and other caricatures, and it has been described as “the least known of the major anti-Black caricatures in the United States”. In recent years, changing political attitudes with regard to race have reduced the popularity and sales of golliwogs as toys. Manufacturers who have used golliwogs as a motif have either withdrawn them as an icon, or changed the name. In particular, the association of the golliwog with the pejorative term “wog” has resulted in use of alternative names such as “golly” and “golly doll” …”. The article goes on to give further info, including confirming the impression of quite a number of my Facebook friends that have fond golliwog memories and like me would feel mortified if that fondness should be in any way associated with racism. It is ironic, in Hitler’s Germany, golliwogs were banned for portraying black people in a favorable light, and in more recent years golliwogs have fallen out of favour, with our new generation now being oblivious to the part played in their parent’s childhood. I couldn’t help smiling when I thought of the “Noddy” books by Enid Blyton, which I introduced to my young son. When I read them at that age, the characters that got up to mischief were often golliwogs – now they are goblins. I wonder why!?

While I was doing my research bit, I thought I would also check out via Google: “political correctness”, which as many who know me well are aware is not something I am particularly keen on. In fact I am decidedly unkeen as it seems to me to too often represent the hijacking of our culture by those who are scornful of those who hold often traditional views and have the temerity to express them when these are not approved by the PC thought police. My first hit was: “Political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct), commonly abbreviated to PC, is a term which, in modern usage, is used to describe language, policies, or measures which are intended not to offend or disadvantage any particular group of people in society”, which interestingly I agree with, illustrating again the need for balance, right perspective and the need to act sensitively.

Going back to my childhood, all my memories of golliwogs were positive ones. I remember being one of many who collected golly labels from Robertson jam jars and when we had enough we could then exchange these for a golly badge (of which there were a number to choose from) and these were to become collector items. The other memory is that golliwogs often featured in children’s literature, in particular that of Enid Blyton. It is with some pride I managed to track down one childhood favorite of my sister’s: “The Three Golliwogs” and having indulged my own nostalgia then presented it to her. But equally I realize, along with Alf Garnet, Benny Hill and the Black and White Minstrel show, that just maybe it is more prudent to consign golliwogs to an innocent but unrepeatable past.

But as with most things I will want us to maintain a right balance and perspective and, while we stand with those who are got at because they are different, we stand up against those who twist childhood innocence into a perversion but at the same time we must not do anything that could be construed racist that unduly offends. While the thought of golliwogs will generally bring a smile as I recall happy memories, I for one WON’T be soon advocating their return.

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