Can Alf talk about the Black Death?
Probably not. At least, not in polite company.
However it’s labelled, it was real, a devastating pandemic that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 75 to 200 million people which peaked in Europe in the years 1346–53.
Just as it was wise to try to avoid encountering whatever plague it was that caused all those deaths, it is wise nowadays to give a wide berth to golliwogs. Indeed, it is best you not even discuss them.
Pak’n Save has just been apologising that one of its supermarkets made an “error of judgment” in selling the dolls, and has apologised to customers.
Some aggrieved plonker presumably posted a photo of a black “Happy Gollies” children’s toy, retailing for $21.99, and this inevitably attracted a storm of opprobrium on social networks Twitter and Reddit.
This alerted the Race Relations Commissioner, Dame Susan Devoy, who applauded Pak ‘n Save for pulling the offending toys from the shelves of one of its stores.
Devoy said it was good to see everyday New Zealanders letting the supermarket know what they thought.
“An important thing about growing up is that even though something we did as children may have been acceptable then, it doesn’t make it acceptable forever,” she said.
“Golliwogs aren’t harmless toys, they were born out of racism and represent an era that is best left in the past.”
A chastened Antoinette Laird, spokeswoman for the chain’s owner, Foodstuffs, said she understood the sale was an isolated incident at a Hamilton store.
That store had been immediately instructed to remove the product from its shelves, and others had been warned, she said.
“We believe in this instance the store has made an error of judgement purchasing such a product and putting it on sale,” said Laird.
“We in no way support the sale of any item that does not fit with our brand values.”
We are reminded that several other retailers have previously copped criticism for selling the toys.
Yep. They are to be avoided, like the plague.
Even if you happen to be black you can’t get away with being seen with a golliwog.
Our authority for this is the Daily Mirror in London which a year or so ago reported the BBC refused to interview a campaigner for screening on TV because he had a golliwog doll round his neck – even though the man was black.
Chaka Artwell would not remove it when asked by a reporter.
The BBC said some viewers might be offended.
But Mr Artwell said of the doll: “When I was growing up in this country this guy was popular.
“In 2015 I don’t want white liberal types telling me what I should be offended by.”
We are so bloody PC these days that we will tell you what you should be offended by.
Mr Artwell, who organised talks and debates to mark Black History Month in Oxford in October, had travelled to Oxford to be interviewed by BBC South Today reporter Tom Turrell about a campaign to save Temple Cowley Pools in the city.
He said: “Tom asked me to remove my friend and I said ‘why?’ “He told me it would distract from my story and I said I didn’t think it would because I am a passionate speaker.
A BBC spokesman said: “We asked him to remove the large doll because it would distract viewers in a discussion about a local swimming pool and some viewers may have found it offensive.
“When he refused to do so we used another contributor.”
The Daily Mail a while back reported that the golliwog will always be associated in Britain with Robertson’s Jam – the brand’s smiling mascot and a comforting reminder of childhood.
But times have changed and he is now persona non grata, a symbol of reviled racist stereotyping.
This transformation would have come as a shock to his 22-year-old creator, Florence Kate Upton, who struck upon the character that would make her name in 1895.
The article proceeded to explain how the author had created the golliwog
Dressed in red trousers with white shirt and a blue coat, he proved an instant hit with the British public, and Florence and her mother Bertha (who wrote the words that accompanied the pictures) proceeded to publish a whole series of Golliwogg adventures.
After the books had proved such a hit in Britain and then Europe, Australia and, to a lesser extent, the United States, toy companies released a flurry of ‘Golliwog’ dolls, toys and badges.
In 1910, John Robertson of jam manufacturing family James Robertson & Sons saw some children playing with a golliwog doll and decided it should be the company’s mascot.
Golly first appeared on the company’s labels that year and in the 1920s the company began producing Golliwog badges and enamel brooches which could be claimed by collecting tokens from jam jars.
Alas, Enid Blyton came along and portrayed golliwogs in her Noddy stories as naughty thieves who once pinched Noddy’s prized yellow car.
Then the the word ‘wog’ began to be used as a derogatory word for black people.
A study by academics at the Bolton Institute supported the view that ‘wog’ had a separate derivation and that ‘the golliwog, it seems, was not in origin a racist icon’.
By the 1960s, both the use of the term ‘golliwog’ and the dolls themselves were under increasing attack. Seen at best as racially insensitive and at worst as racist and vicious, golliwogs were gradually removed from public life.
In 1983, the Greater London Council banned Robertson’s products from its jurisdiction, and in 1988 the character was no longer use in TV advertising.
The Enid Blyton books’ negative use of the character was toned down and, after holding out for many years, even Robertson’s Jam was forced to jettison Golly in 2002, a decision that was obviously taken with the greatest reluctance.
And Down Under in our country, more than a century after the character was born, Gollywog – or however the word is used – can causing social mayhem in a way Florence Kate Upton could never have imagined.