Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Banning "Golliwogs"

from the state's show is not going to reduce racism. It will contribute to it.
There has been a "backlash" - a complaint - from someone in the local Kaurna community about the presence of some of these dolls in the show. My belief, shared by a number of other people, is that it was a mistake to complain and a mistake to give that complaint any publicity. 
Before people start shouting me down let me explain something. My late friend R.... was a "full blood" indigenous woman. She was also a very intelligent, caring and empathetic woman. In many ways she was my "other-mother" and, if Rosie told me something, I listened. I listened even as a rebellious and angry teenager. Rosie made you listen even you didn't want to hear.
Rosie didn't just say things. She did things. One of the things she did was make her own children - a boy and girl - "golliwogs". She knitted them from a pattern in a woman's magazine because she thought they were "rather cute". She saw absolutely nothing "racist" about them at all.  Her daughter had other dolls, both dark and light skinned, but the golliwog was soft and cuddly and the toy she took to bed with her.
Before I wrote this I sent a message to her son, a youth worker, asking him if he thought their toys had been racist. 
This was his reply,
      "Go for it Cat. There's nothing racist about them - except in the minds of people like J...." ("J" being the person who initiated the complaint.)
There was some research done somewhere once - if I could find the reference I would quote it but it was pre-internet days and doesn't appear to be on line. The research involved racial behaviour in young children from various racial backgrounds. They were given an array of dolls and asked to choose one with which to play. There were dolls of more than one racial grouping, including "black" dolls.  The research showed that all the children preferenced the "white" dolls over "black" dolls. 
It is difficult, but not impossible, to find "black" dolls. It is actually easier to find Asian dolls or Mexican dolls. I had a look at the big "American Girl" dolls that seem to be so popular in the United States. There were some dark skinned dolls - but the features did not look right. "Miniland" does better - but they are baby dolls. More alarmingly the "Australian Girl" site has no dark skinned dolls - all the dolls are Anglo-Saxon in appearance. 
I think we need golliwogs - to have them as soft, cuddly, comfort toys that will encourage children to believe the same of people. Banning them sends the wrong message, a racist message. It is the opposite of what the complainant intends but it needs to be thought about.


jeanfromcornwall said...

I had gollys - including the one Mum made when she found a sewing pattern for them and made one for every child on her Christmas list. Another year it was teddies. I had a little knitted one, made by her best friend, and even a velvet one dating from her own childhood in the twenties. As a child the important thing to me was that they were the brothers in my doll family - all the others were girls, and I felt there shoud be proper representation of the other sex.
Am I racist? Who knows? I can still remember the first person of any colour that I saw. She was the wife of a cricketer whos tem were playing our local one, and they werefrom Ceylon. I don't remember seeing him, but what amazed me was her sari, and the little red dot on her forehead. This in the '50s when womens clothes were pretty boring and drab.

Jodiebodie said...

Considering the symbolism in Golliwogs - of minstrel shows where white skinned people performed in 'black face' to caricature American 'people of colour' from the days of African-American slavery practices - is, in 2018, known to be offensive to many people, including other dark skinned groups who have lived experience of racism, discrimination and caricature such as Australian Indigenous people, why would one purposefully endorse those discriminatory values by displaying and perpetuating such offensive caricatures? I'm sure the golliwog dolls have no racist overtones for their makers and we're made with innocent (perhaos naive) and good intentions but that does not change the fact that the toys represent more profound hurt to a significant number of people. Who better to identify and call out evidence of discrimination and social exclusion than those who have lived experienced of it whether it is racism, ageism, sexism or ableism. People who have never experienced such things may not be able to recognise or understand the impact but when it is pointed out to them, surely they must make a reconsiliatory efforts to amend the situation. If you inadvertently offend someone, the best manners are to apologise. Ignoring claims of discrimination out of hand is disrespectful to those segments of society. Actions speak louder than words and I support the removal of golliwogs from the show cabinets. There is no place for them in modern Australian society. They might carry nostalgia for some but we also know they represent trauma for others. Major public events like the Royal Adelaide Show that purport to be for everyone need to demonstrate social inclusion by their actions. To display items, knowing that they are profoundly offensive and hurtful, is inexcusable if we want a harmonious, respectful and cohesive society and influential organisation like the Royal Agricuktural Society
Has a duty of care to its visitors as well.

Jodiebodie said...

Apologies for spelling errors in the above comment caused by trying to tap it out on a tiny phone screen; e.g. reconciliatory and Agricultural.