It Takes A Man to Suffer Ignorance and Smile…

Good morning to you all in my time zone, good day and good night to you lot going on further East.

So a few months ago we looked at various ways in which the federal government managed to introduce the prohibition of marijuana. More particularly how they made up wacky arguments about it encouraging miscegenation and putting ideas in the black man’s head that he can step on a white man’s shadow and consider himself to be as good as his equal. I doubt there could be that many people who would believe such a thing at this stage. Then again, we live in a world where ignorance reigns supreme and tends to outnumber intellect and common sense.

Fact is, we should really stop differentiating and categorising each other. We all are one.

In that post I used the racially insensitive image of a “wog” and a “dutch doll”, to illustrate a point.

H.G. Fields: Reefer Madness Induced Jungle Fever. "Wog n Dutch Dame"

In any event today’s post is neither about herb nor prohibition. Today we’re looking at that racially insensitive image of the Golliwog once again.

I mentioned in the quick post yesterday that I personally do not take much offense by the image, in fact I don’t take much offense to the term either. I was never refered to such in an insulting manner. I’ve heard it used within the realm of banter amongst family and friends, though not regularly. It was usually directed at my brother and myself for the untidy state in which we would keep our hair.

I’m not writing this post to suggest to anyone for a minute that the word is at all unequivally unoffensive. That would be a ridiculous assertion and probably seen as even insensitive.

I acknowledge it to be a derogatory term but having grown up in the West Indies during a different time I haven’t felt the insult the way it was intended unlike those of my similar heritage but an older generation in Britain.

Wog in The White Doll House - Stage III

Don’t let me be missunderstood though, I would take it quite narrow if it were aimed at me in an aggressive manner by someone devoid of pigmentation. I can relate, having had the word nigger slung at me before, and that sting did have some venom. Naturally, as anyone would I’m sure when met with ignorant, unnecessary and unprovoked hate.

Why has this term been regarded as offensive then?

“The golliwog,” concludes Pilgrim, “was created during a racist era. He was drawn as a caricature of a minstrel, itself a demeaning image of blacks. There is racial stereotyping of black people in Upton’s original books, and certainly later golliwogs often reflected negative beliefs about black people – thieves, miscreants, incompetents. Finally, there is little doubt that the words associated with golliwog – golli, wog, and golliwog itself – are often used as racial slurs.”

At least according to David Pilgrim (researcher of the toy) who is also of the impression that the name is a mispronunciation of the word dolly, in this article written by Jon Henley for The Guardian.

Let’s get one thing clear from the off: the term golliwog is offensive. Whether you use it public, in private, on air, or in the green room, no one in their right mind can not be aware that this is a derogatory term to describe black people.

But unless you have been spat at, kicked or had eggs thrown at you, all while being called that hateful term, it is unlikely you will ever understand why a small doll causes such a big fuss.”

– Hannah Pool, The Guardian, Comment:

The golliwog has been hijacked by racists as a symbolic insult. Those who refer to it as a harmless children’s toy should understand its connotations. It was used against me as a child and those saying it certainly weren’t smiling. This divisive incident will harm children, many of whom are already suffering racist bullying. The word has now been splashed throughout the media so children have seen the image and will pick up its negative meaning. This affair has resurrected the word and given it a new lease of life, rather than it being consigned to history.” – Floella Benjamin

There are certain people of a certain generation who’ve had experience of that name in the playground. I used to have the Robertson’s golliwog sticker put on my jacket when it was hanging in the school cloakroom and on my satchel and stuff like that, and the shortened word “wog”, which is the most offensive.” – Benjamin Zephaniah

H.G. Fields: A Wog in The Doll House, what next?

So where did the term originate?

I’ve brought mention of its origin in an older post from last year; that the idea behind it was conceived by Florence Kate Upton in her children’s literature which was inspired by minstrel rag doll she used to play with as a child growing up. With it’s all too familiar features black face, thick lips, wide eyes, wild dark hair

A Dread Wog is a Good Wog - H.G Fields @ Degree Show

“I picked him up from the table in my studio, and without intention of naming him, without the idea of a name passing through my head, I called him Golliwogg,” – Kate Florence Upton on the origin of the name.

This site here, has a wealth of information on the subject of the Golliwog and its history. The Strange Life of the Golliwog

There have been attempts by different groups to dissociate the negative connotations with which the word, the doll and its respective literature has been so long known for –

Golly! Blyton ‘is not guilty of race slurs’

“A new academic appraisal of the work of Enid Blyton claims that golliwogs may have been innocent victims of well-intentioned political correctness when they were banished from revised editions of the Noddy books more than 20 years ago.

The revisionist study, based on a close reading of the texts, argues that the characters were not the villains they were assumed to be by critics writing in the 60s and 70s.

Its author, David Rudd, also suggests more controversially that golliwogs were not simply a crude expression of any racism on Blyton’s part. Dr Rudd, a senior lecturer at Bolton Institute in Greater Manchester, argues that a golliwog appears as a total villain only in the notorious Here Comes Noddy Again, where a golly asks the hero with a bell on his hat to give him a lift into the dark dark wood – and then steals his car.

Elsewhere, goblins and monkeys emerge more consistently as villains than golliwogs and bears are regularly portrayed as more naughty.

Dr Rudd traces the pre-Blyton semantic and fictional history of the golliwog and concludes: “The golliwog, it seems, was not in origin a racist icon, whereas the offensive term ‘wog’ had a separate derivation.

“However, there is no doubt that the golly came to prominence in an age that was racist and that he was all too easily implicated in racist discourses, both in name and image.”

Although it could be argued that the golliwog was not originally intended as a representation of a black person, anti-racists fastened on to the character as a key symbol of racism and sought to ban it, which gave it a status and significance it did not originally have.

Once the golliwog was given a new negative meaning in the public mind, its days had to be numbered and the Noddy stories had to be revised.

Part of Dr Rudd’s study is based on what children – rather than disapproving adults – think about Enid Blyton. “All I can say is that, of the children who were not previously aware of the equation ‘golliwog equals ethnically black person’, none made it,” he writes.

When he showed two 14-year-old Asian boys Noddy stories in which golliwogs had been replaced by white goblins, they were outraged that a black character had been removed.

In other chapters, Dr Rudd deals with the construction of Blyton as a cultural icon and also with gender relations in the Famous Five and Malory Towers stories.

The writer and broadcaster Darcus Howe said he was relaxed about the new study but added: “This golliwog thing is always being resurrected as political correctness. When I was a child in Trinidad, my parents associated the golliwog with colonial pomp and banned it from the house. I continue to take the same position.

“English people never give up. Golliwogs have gone and should stay gone. They appeal to white English sentiment and will do so until the end of time.”

– Enid Blyton and the Mystery of Children’s Literature by David Rudd, Macmillan – Article by David Ward in The Guardian

Many people weren’t and still aren’t fond of the idea of it being thrown around and naively dismissed in such a blase manner.

When I was a kid and someone spat at me and said: “You fucking golliwog!”, there was no doubt that it was synonymous with the word wog and that is offensive. If you live in a world where it’s not offensive, and Carol Thatcher probably does, then you need to be educated. When casualised racism is allowed to flourish, you create a culture where more virulent strains of racism can thrive. It’s not whether someone intends to be racist, it’s whether we allow a culture of casual racism. I’m certain Carol Thatcher didn’t mean it as a racist remark, but it is.”

Oona King

When I read this little quote here, in some ways I feel guilty of something for attempting to triviallise it. So why do I persist in using the word and the image?
Fact of the matter is; the way in which I tend to use it be that of irony as it appears in my work, don’t allow this to confuse you with self derision.

H.G. Fields: You Should Have Listened..

Maybe if it were possible to forget or ignore race, then perhaps the word would lose all meaning and be nothing to those of us it might affect so negatively but media will never let us forget the order of things. If herb was legal and race issues didn’t exist, I’d be searching hard for something else to base my work on, however I don’t think I would be complaining either.

And now for my customary and regularly scheduled song. Which has nothing particularly to do with wog’s specifically, but it gave me the title of today’s post and I’m just generally a fan.

Irie folks,

H.G. Fields.

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