Wednesday, 7 September 2011

On the Golliwog Debate

Today there has been much discussion of this story, where a neighbour is accused of racial harrassment for displaying a Golliwog doll in their window.

I was going to chip in my two pence worth, with my suggestion that the name Golliwog is the offensive part, because it deliberately includes the word Wog, which I had taken to be derived from Western Oriental Gentleman, and therefore referring to someone from the West Indies. It turns out I may be wrong. This article suggests that acronyms only date back to the First World War and that golliwog dates back much further. While this very good piece by Bill Cassellman gives a breakdown of even more of its history.

But, whether the name wog derives from golliwogg (which seems to be the popular concensus) or vice versa, I think the name remains offensive. As someone who grew up in the 1970s in England, I can confirm that the word wog was equally offensive - and as likely to be used casually on TV or in the street - as nigger or paki. And I have always thought the "golly" part of the name to be part of a racist stereotype, mimicking the "Darkie Minstrel" character whose clothes the Golliwog very clearly wears.

Would a child's toy be considered innocuous and inoffensive if it were called a Lordynigger doll, an Oyvayyid doll, or a Goodnessgraciousmepaki doll? I think not.

(This Wikipedia list of ethnic slurs shows that it's easy to accidentally racially slur someone if you're from another country. You'll avoid using munter and cheeky monkey after you've read this list.)

Thank heavens comic strips have steered clear of such stereotypes, eh?

Tin Tin in Africa

Little Nemo in Slumberland

1 comment:

Matthew Rees said...

The example that always comes to my mind is Rupert on Coon Island. Rupert first went there is 1946 but the story I first read is from the 1960 Annual, Rupert and the Diamond Leaf, where he returns and "meets a coon".

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