Thursday 8 April 2010

Part G: "Golliwog" " Shhh! Goodness gracious me ..."

Firstly, I cannot gloat about my use of Gs today. It proved gifficult ;) re my topic choice ... I did, however, do my best!

Can any of you remember Florence Kate Upton's book entitled The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg? It introduced a character named the "Golliwogg", for the first time. He was first described as "a horrid sight, the blackest gnome", but he quickly grew to be a genuinely genial character, and is later given a "kind face".

After publication, the term "golliwog" was used both as a reference to the children's toy and as a generic, racist term for Black people. Goodness gracious me! Why on earth did people disgrace this great character name?

In the early 1980s, in revised editions of Enid Blyton's Noddy books Mr. Golly, the golliwog proprietor of the Toytown garage, was changed to Mr. Sparks. Gee, does this mean, I'm not even given the right to say "Golly gosh" anymore?

In September 2008, a girl living in Stockport, named Amanda Schofield, was grabbed by authorities, finger-printed, and DNA-sampled for garnering a golliwog doll in her window. Does this mean I have to gallivant back to Australia and grub through my garage to garbage my Golliwog books? Am I now a criminal?

In February 2009, in an off-air conversation at the BBC, Carol Thatcher referred to the black French tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, competing in the Australian Open, as looking like a golliwog. The comment was graded by the BBC as "wholly unacceptable" and Thatcher was given an ultimatum - unless she apologised she would no longer be a reporter for BBC. She had simply been reminded of her childhood toy. How is that an offense? If I said someone looked like a Ken doll, would that be offensive? If I said someone looked like a rag doll, would that be derogatory?

Now, I don't know about you, but I find all this grotesquely over the top. I genuinely believe singling out the golliwog is worse than it being socially unacceptable. I remember those dolls fondly as a child. And given that Australia has got a gigantic multicultural society, the golliwog doll seemed just like any other. If simply owning a golliwog doll is a criminal offense, then lets abolish Barbie dolls too! Barbie dolls are discriminating against women! Right? And while we're at it, let's get rid of all the toy advertisements aimed toward only one gender, because that's sexist too.

What do you think? Do you find the term 'golliwog' offensive? Why? How do you deal with such issues in your writing? Do you refrain from using particular terms because they aren't deemed PC?


  1. I always remember having a gollywog as a child, all my friends had them they were loved by all. Then in England there was a brand of marmlade with a gollywog on the back, some years ago that was removed......racists I believe.30 years ago I lived in a highly populated coloured area where every race under God's earth lived. My children went to a "Church of England " school, because the hindus and other ethnic religion disagreed with school assembly that was stopped.
    I could go on and on but haven't got the space.....or time.
    Good topic one to get my teeth into.
    Take care.

  2. Real life is never politically correct....and good stories deal with real life issues, golliwogs and all...I think this is ridiculous and definitely over the top!! Physical characteristics are just descriptions...I mean, some of us are black and some of us are white but it's usually the attitude behind it that's racist, depending on the context....Sad. Makes it hard for us writers to capture real life without being it offending someone... Great points in this post!!

  3. Overreaction for fear of being accused of inaction is a possible scenario for their responses. I've never heard of a gollywog, but think they're kinda cute in an ugly kinda way. :)

    Great G post and I learned another something new today!

  4. I've never heard that word before and I happen to love it! Life is turning out to be over thought by those that need more to do I think. *sigh* perhaps I will use that word-see what happens, maybe name a pet or make it a term that refers to happy somethings..

  5. I never heard of that kind of doll, but I can imagine that it has some negative racial overtones for some. In the U.S. there are things that were perfectly acceptable at one time, but would be offensive now. For instance, comedians often did black face routines. They might have said they were just having good fun by imitating black people, but they were actually caricatures, and negative ones at that. For those being portrayed like that, they didn't have the power to really complain, so they acted like it was fine. Once the power balance shifted, they could say what they really thought of the derogatory routines.

    Since I've never heard of a gollywog, I might be totally off-base in the comparison. I have no idea if there was ever a negative association between the dolls. I'm just saying that if someone in the States said that a black baby looked like a cute little pickaninny, that would be really ignorant.

  6. I guess I'm a babe in the woods because I never even knew that word was used as a racial term. In this day and age though, there's so much flying around about being "politically correct" that saying anything can be offensive.

  7. I don't remember the gollywog but I do agree that people are entirely too over the top about things. Why can't they just let it be what it is?

    I don't think I would be too careful to censor any of my writing.

  8. I had two gollywogs when I was a kid. One had earrings, the other didn't, and both were much loved, even though they were very different personalities.
    Frankly, I find the ethinic cleansing of Blyton books offensive - don't they realise that they are actually denying diversity by doing so. How boring would it be if everyone looked alike.

  9. I also had a beloved golliwog as a kid and think targeting a doll is crazy. These dolls are part of history, you shouldn't try to pretend they never existed.

    I find it more offensive that publishers choose to put blonde girls on the covers of books even if the protagonist looks nothing like that (this has been a popular topic on the Litopia podcast).

  10. Excellent comments guys. I'm so pleased I was able to get you to voice your opinions on this. It's frustrating when people are too scared to say what they truly think. :-) Wonderful!

  11. Another great post. I had no idea what a Golliwog was or is until now. I'm not a big fan of the whole PC movement. Nothing but censorship veiled as tolerance. Anyway, that's my two cents.

    Love in the Truth.

  12. I'd never heard the term until all this BBC stuff! It just sounds kinda funny to me, but if it hs racist connotations, I can understand the sensitivity around it. Still, I agree, political correctness is completely over the top these days!

  13. I had never heard of a gollywog. Was very interesting to read.

  14. I have come to hate, yes... hate, how people have become so sensitive. Granted, we don't need to use mean, spiteful words to describe someone different from what we deem normal (whatever normal is) but this sensitivity crap has got to stop.
    What really irritates me is their "Do as I say, not as I do" attitude towards it as well. Black Comedians can use every derogatory name ever used to describe themselves, but the second a white person uses it they're up in arms and screaming about slavery again. If I offend anyone with this, I am sorry, I do not want to offend but I certainly do think people have to start shutting up about certain things. White people (a VERY long time ago, mind you) were once slaves to blacks. But no one remembers that. Unless of course you do historical research. Even then, you don't mention it because you're picking a fight.
    Sorry, didn't mean to rant on your G post. Love it by the way. :D And Goo Goo Dolls! Yep, I love a wide variety of music.

  15. You know, I have never heard that word before, let alone known about its negative connotations. Weird. Interesting post.

  16. Thanks guys! Caledonia (my lass) - rant all you like. It's why I posted such a thing - to hear your thoughts! :)

  17. I read about Golliwogs and owned one in the 60's, but I know it is not acceptable to say it in today's society. I was called a white honky a few years back, but refrained from using the G word, for fear of sounding racist!


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

“I'd make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they'd all nod.” ~Charlotte Bunch

“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris