Why are some Australians still fighting for the right to produce, sell, or own the Golliwog doll if it has become such a controversial symbol?
“These dolls have got a very honourable past and I don’t think it’s fair to inflict any sick connotations of racism onto something that’s got nothing to do with racism… People need to get a grip, it’s a doll.”
– Jan Johnco, National Sales Manager at Elka, the Australian soft toy manufacturer
Although the doll has been gradually removed from shops in the U.S., Europe, and the U.K., it is still being sold in many shops all across Australia, mostly to older, nostalgic baby-boomers who are missing the toys that they grew up loving. It’s even showing up in hot air balloon form, and criticised for being banned from the Canberra festival last month.
For a large community around the world, however, the Golliwog is more than just a doll. So, what exactly is a Golliwog, later Golliwog (without last “g”), where does the word come from, and why is this cuddly toy so divisive?
The creator of the Golliwog doll, Florence Kate Upton, was born in 1873 in New York to British parents during a time in U.S. history when minstrel shows were still rising in popularity. Early minstrel shows in New York allowed white performers to paint themselves black and don primitive, exaggerated African American features, now known as Black Face. With augmented noses, lips painted red and other features protruding, dressing up as poor and representing a caricature of an African American, these shows dehumanized and have perpetuated a negative, racial stereotype of Black Americans.
In 1887, Upton moved back to England where she illustrated a children’s book, “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg.” The Golliwogg in her story was depicted with the same exaggerated features that were popular in the minstrel shows back in New York, and was described as “a horrid sight, the blackest gnome,” that made the other dolls “scatter in fright.”
A similar racist, fictional character and childhood tradition was also created for children’s books in The Netherlands. Zwarte Pete, or “Black Pete,” and was said to have been inspired by a slave from Egypt who was brought to the Netherlands during the slave trade. This character was also designed with an exaggerated and insulting appearance said to have been influenced by the “Blackface” minstrel shows in the U.S.
While Black Pete remained mostly a Dutch tradition, interest in the Golliwog doll began to grow outside of the U.K. The image soon made its way around the world in various forms of childrens toys, advertisements, perfumes, and even mascots. During the civil rights movement in the U.S., the backlash and criticism of the Golliwog spilled over back to the U.K., as the blackface doll symbolised racial insensitivity toward people of African descent and a mockery of Black people during and after slavery.
If all of that isn’t reason enough to justify removing the doll from shops to avoid passing along this overt form of racial parody and disregard to younger generations, the word itself should at least spark some discussion in the diverse community that makes up Australia today.
In the early 1900s when the Golliwogg doll became popular in Britain, so did the shortened version of the word, “wog,” an offensive racial slur that referred to people who were dark-skinned. Years later the term was carried over to Australia during the nation’s White Australia Policy and was also used as a racial slur. In Australia however, the word “wog” referred to those who immigrated from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean, especially large groups from Greece and Italy, and in some cases, anyone darker than the average White Australian. While some present day Mediterranean communities in Australia now wear this title almost with a sense of pride, the term in Britain still remains undeniably offensive and is considered on-par with the n-word in the U.S.
Some people also theorise that the term “golliwog” actually originated from the Working On Government Service (WOGS) laborers in 19th century Egypt who were supposedly referred to as “ghouls” by the British soldiers. The Egyptian laborers’ children played with black cloth dolls that they often gave to the soldiers who called them “ghuliwogs.” This theory, however widely believed and circulated, is still unproven.
The term “wog” may be thrown around playfully in some circles, and some may not be completely aware of its origin, but others continue to feel attacked by its use and consider it casual racism, and it is evident the term still carries a negative connotation. With the large number of Australians who have Mediterranean, Eastern European or Middle Eastern backgrounds, continuous support of Golliwogs by the White community adds fuel to the racial flame and only creates further division.
The First Nations People of Australia also find offence to the black doll with exaggerated features that mock a historically disadvantaged population. It is a reminder that years ago while White Australians, Americans, or Brits enjoyed and normalised their racist dolls, the affected minority populations such as Black or Indigenous were systematically oppressed, and in many cases still are.
Whether the racism is intentional or not, by keeping the dolls or other Golliwog images publicly visible in a shop or gallery, it is still offensive. What matters here is not the intent, but the effect it has on Black and Indigenous People of Colour. By collecting them or making them available simply because it’s a fond memory of the past does not make the racial offensiveness of them disappear. People are voicing their concern and disappointment, yet the dolls are still there.
As a Black and Indigenous Person of Colour, do you find offence in seeing the Golliwog in shop windows, at festivals, or in art events? Why or why not?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.
All Together Now is shocked but not surprised about the far-right terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch on 15 March 2019.
Our thoughts are with the victims of the attack and their loved ones. We stand in solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters across Australia and Aotearoa.
We have been condemning racist and Islamophobic rhetoric from our country’s leaders — and the media that feeds and amplifies it — since our organisation’s inception. Racism is both deeply engrained and ignored in Australia.
All Together Now has been working since 2012 to specifically undermine far-right extremism, white supremacy and white nationalism in Australia.
While in 2016 CAPE received funding from Multicultural NSW, previously CAPE was largely run on a volunteer basis by All Together Now.
CAPE is one of the projects funded under the Multicultural NSW COMPACT program, which aims to inspire and empower young people to stand united against extremist hate, fear, violence and division.
CAPE focuses on increasing community awareness about far-right extremism.
Under the COMPACT program, CAPE currently provides training to frontline workers in NSW, specifically youth workers and social workers who work with young people who are at risk of being recruited by far-right extremist groups, both online and offline.
The CAPE training aims to enhance the capacity of frontline workers to recognise the full spectrum of far-right extremism in Australia, identify the worrying signs and respond to young people at risk of recruitment.
Since mid-2016, we have also reached out to young people at risk themselves, employing evidence-based approaches aimed at enhancing their critical thinking skills about race and racism and their ability to resist weaponised narratives of the far-right, in particular online.
All Together Now will not be responding to further media enquiries about CAPE at this time because we want to centre and amplify the voices of victims and their families and Muslim communities everywhere, as well as to protect the safety and security of the staff and volunteers who work at All Together Now.
As a Latina from the U.S. who only recently moved to Australia, I don’t pretend to know everything about the struggle of First Nations People, but my experience does give me an unfortunate familiarity with systematic racial discrimination and injustice. Regardless of my cultural background, as a human being I believe that after years being tortured with massacres, shootings, beatings, theft of their children and land, poisonings, and deaths while in custody, the First Nations People of Australia deserve a chance at peace, to live their lives free of discrimination and racism, and to have their stories accurately heard and documented. Many organisations have been working to research and report accurate information on this history that has been kept out of Australia’s history books, such as The Guardian’s interactive map of “the systematic process of conflict and expansion,” but there is still much left to be done.
The United Nations’ legal definition of genocide reads:
“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part 1; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”Office of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide
The forced removal of First Nations children from their parents and placement into white homes and the large-scale massacres and other atrocities committed during and after the invasion of Australia are all blatant examples of genocide. It is important that the facts and stories are recorded and available so that racial discrimination, hate, and trauma does not continue to affect future generations, such as the PTSD and nightmares that children of victims of the Rwandan genocide are facing now 25 years later.
As my Master’s Degree in post-conflict peacebuilding has shown me, in many areas of the world that are dealing with post-conflict societal repair, truth telling is a complex and challenging concept and the processes and proposed outcomes may be overwhelming or seem out of reach. Many question whether society could handle hearing all of the brutal details of killings that occurred, wondering if it would feel like rubbing salt in open wounds, create further division, or cause more hurt for the community and the younger generations. Some also consider the idea that documenting these atrocities would officially admit to committing acts of racism and abhorrent human rights abuses by a nation that is now internationally considered to be safe and successful. People often don’t want to believe the worst, especially about the country they call home.
These concerns, however, are meager compared to the proposed benefits of an official truth-telling body, and demonstrated successes that they have had in other areas of the world such as South Africa and Timor-Leste. The First Nations communities could finally have their documented accounts recognized, a true and accurate description of what happened could be updated into school curriculum, a platform for healing of those affected could be opened, and those who are unaware of the details could then have the archives available. These recognitions and progress in human rights could ultimately contribute to an international example of reconciliation for Australia.
According to Reconciliation Australia’s 2018 report, an overwhelming 80% of Australia’s general population “believe it is important to undertake formal truth telling processes in relation to Australia’s shared history.” Considering the resources and international support that Australia has access to, there is no reason that a truth-telling body should not be established. Doing so has the potential to take a step toward combating the systematic racism that continues today, and finally releasing the tight grip that White Australia holds around First Nations communities and their history.
Let us know what you think in the comments. Is truth-telling an important step toward reconciliation and healing for Australia?
We are working on an interesting YouTube video lately! Would you like to be a part of it? Read on to know more.
Camille, our Intern from France, is creating a Youtube video highlighting the stories of those who have personally experienced racism. Here is a little glimpse of what you will get to see (alternatively you can click on the picture above). The goal is to spread awareness on how racism personally affects people and why it needs to be challenged. We believe that the sharing of stories helps us to understand each other and break down the barriers that divide us. What’s more, we will share some helpful links on how you can overcome racism in different walks of life. You can reach Camille at [email protected].
Our ALL TOGETHER NOW ANNUAL REPORT 2017-2018 is now available to view. Please click the highlighted link to download the pdf of the Annual Report of All Together Now, for 2017-18.
We are looking forward to another great year. We have many projects on the horizon for 2017-18, with volunteers creating a fresh and dynamic force behind the organisation’s projects, the launch of our new reporting racism clearing house, blog content and social media campaigns.
Thank you for your continued support.
From the Team at All Together Now.
Have you ever experienced or witnessed racism and wanted to make a complaint but didn’t know how? Our Reporting Racism Clearing House launched this week aims to fix that.
The new website is now live at reportingracism.alltogethernow.org.au
Perhaps you’ve witnessed a racist attack and felt powerless to know how to help. Or perhaps you have been a direct victim of a racist incident. We want to make it easier for targets to feel empowered and for justice to be served when such discriminatory behaviour happens. Our brand new anti racism website will offer key information on how to report a racist incident, whether you’re a target or a witness. It includes details on how to report racism in different contexts, including in advertising, on public transport, at a sporting event and more.
Helpful information includes:
The new website is now live at reportingracism.alltogethernow.org.au