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.
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].
New research conducted by All Together Now and University of Technology Sydney has found that 62 opinion based reports potentially breached at least one of the media Codes of Conduct due to racism.
The full research findings are available at alltogethernow.org.au/media-monitoring.
Priscilla Brice, the Managing Director of not-for-profit organisation All Together Now said, “Among the publications we tracked during this six-month study, negative portrayals of race were most frequently published on News Corp’s online newspapers Daily Telegraph, The Australian and Herald-Sun.”
The research conducted between January to July this year, found that Muslims were mentioned in more than half of the opinion pieces, and more than twice as many times as any other single group mentioned. Of these, 63% of reports about Muslims were framed negatively.
“Anecdotally, we know that negative portrayals of Muslims in the media is having adverse effects in communities, with Muslim families (and particularly women wearing hijab or other head coverings) being victimised. All Together Now’s research provides data to show that of the highest-rated news outlets, News Corp is the primary perpetrator. News Corp has a lot of work to do to improve their editorial policies to ensure their journalists don’t target people based on their race, nationality, religion or other cultural attributes.”
The study focused on opinion-based articles published by the four most-watched current affairs TV programs, and the four most-read newspapers nationally, as determined by ratings agencies.
Currently, under some media regulations, audiences have only thirty days in which to make a complaint. The research report recommends that this deadline be removed to allow audiences to make complaints about racist media content at any time, and for the definition of racism be broadened in the Codes of Conduct to include covert forms of racism.
It also recommends that news agencies support journalists to discuss race sensitively. They can do this by providing training, recruiting more journalists of colour, and ensuring that their editorial policies are racially aware.
The full research findings are available at alltogethernow.org.au/media-monitoring.
Ben* has lived across Australia for nearly a decade now. He has called Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne home, yet he has faced overt as well as subtle instances of racial discrimination and harassment across all three cities.
Sydney was in some ways, the most brutal where Ben felt a near-constant undercurrent of resentment. He believes that the rise of populist nationalism around the world certainly seemed to have a direct impact on the sentiments on the streets about “outsiders”, here in Australia as well. The harshest incidents of abuse Ben faced were in the wake of Trump rising to power and the terrorist attack in France. Something as seemingly simple as sporting facial hair turned him into an easy target for harassment. Ironically, while a beard on an Anglo Australian man is considered trendy, the same beard on Ben made him the subject of name calling and abuse.
Ben was commuting by bus to work one morning. He was listening to music on his headphones and reading a book. He noticed that a man who had been sitting up front moved to sit in the seat right in front of Ben when it became available. Soon, just before this man’s stop arrived, he turned to Ben and asked him if he was South American. When Ben said no, he snarled “get out this f****** country” and got off the bus. Nobody else on the bus said anything – either to comfort and support Ben or to the man.
Also read: Racism in Public Transport
Another time, when Ben was travelling by train, in a similar vein, another man, walked up to Ben, spat on his face and said, “Get out of this country, you terrorist!” Determined that he ought to do everything in his power to help prevent such incidents from happening, this time, Ben decided to lodge an official complaint. He went to the police station, requesting that the cops look at the CCTV footage from the train cameras and provided them with specific details around the time of the incident and which train he was on. The police, however, refused to register a complaint, and treated him with indifference. Ben struggled with a sense of shame after this incident, and grappled with the validity of his choice to be in Australia, for a while.
He continues to live and work in Australia, and hopes that someday, people of colour won’t have to work so hard to survive and thrive here.
You can help All Together Now by donating to us, in order to help us achieve our goal of an Australia free of Racism and Discrimination.
*name changed to protect privacy
Sandy and her husband, originally from Africa, had moved to Australia after living across different parts of the globe. One of Sandy’s first encounters with the constant undercurrent of racism in Australia was at a Sydney train station. As people queued at the ticket counter to pay their fares, Sandy observed the man servicing the ticketing desk being conversational and polite with the people who stood ahead of her in the queue. When it came her turn to purchase her ticket, she was taken by surprise when the man was downright rude, and went on to abuse her and her husband, saying, “You lot – we don’t need you here.”
Sandy had taken her five-year-old son, Sam, to the local public swimming pool for a dip. They happened to be the only people of colour at the pool. Another little boy at the pool kept swimming up to Sam, saying, “Don’t play here. You’re the colour of poo.” Sam ignored the harassment. Eventually, the boy dove underwater, and came up with a mouthful of water, and spat it in Sam’s face. Sam took this in his stride and talked about it with Sandy. He didn’t understand why the colour of his skin offended the other little boy so much. He said to his mum, “It’s the person I am on the inside that is important.”
Also read: Ben Anons personal encounter with racism
At a local park, while Sam played on the swings, a little girl kept coming up to him and picking on him. She kept asking him to get off, and play somewhere else. Sam ignored her taunts and continued to play. When she yelled, “You little brown boy, get off the swing!”, Sam ran to his mum in tears. Everybody else at the park looked away, and the girl wasn’t confronted by anyone – not even her parents. When Sandy asked Sam what had happened, he explained to her, “I’m a BIG brown boy, not a little brown boy – that’s what she called me!”
Sandy was once told by a man at a pub that she was “very ugly”. She has encountered such blatant racism very frequently. People have made monkey sounds at them, yelling, “Go back, you’re taking our jobs.” However, Sandy has also encountered a far more insidious version of racism frequently – everyday racism. When at a consultation with her GP, she was once asked why she had chosen to live on the north shore rather than in areas where there is a larger coloured population. The doctor was probably attempting to be sympathetic to the reality of Sandy being among a minority in the area. Sandy replied, saying, “I have found my home here. We chose to come to a place where the people are different from ourselves. How does where I live make a difference? Isn’t that the assimilation that everyone talks about? Where I choose to live simply suits my needs best.”
Sandy has often been told that she goes on about racism too much – that it is a chip on her shoulder. People have remarked that being a minority, she is overprotected as well. However, Sandy’s reality has been quite different. When Sandy started work in Sydney, she found that her boss was very passive aggressive. She would justify many of the patronising things she said to Sandy with, “In Australia, we do this.” Even though there were immigrants from other nations like England and Ireland, the only one who was educated in what her boss called Australian culture, was Sandy. She would publicly undermine Sandy, interrupt her in meetings and “correct” her pronunciation constantly. Sandy developed depression and found herself helpless and unsupported. The bullying continued and Sandy was eventually fired. Sandy’s boss had once dropped a veiled threat that her husband had belonged to a gang. Fearing for herself and her family’s safety, Sandy didn’t pursue any action against her boss.
Sandy is currently working with an ombudsman currently to address other episodes of racism that she has been subject to at work. As for her son, Sam, Sandy believes that the unfortunate reality is that he will continue to encounter racism in Australia. She quips that she has learnt much from Sam in the grace and unusual maturity with which he responds to children who have harassed him. Sandy continues to equip Sam to deal with racism by having open conversations about racism, and countering it with kindness and taking pride in who he is.
Here is how you can help us in fighting Racism in Australia. Donating to any of our causes will help educate a child, individual or family on how they can protect themselves from Racism.
Do you know that school is the main location for racism to occur among children?
As an educator you have the power to change it with the Kids Together Now app.
The most common form of racism in schools is students telling other students they don’t belong, manifesting through being called names / teased, being left out or being pushed or hit. Unfortunately, roughly one in five classroom teachers have never taken any professional learning in the area of multiculturalism, which hampered them to react in an appropriate manner.
Kids Together Now app has been created for you to use in the classroom. Education helps prevent racism by raising awareness of peoples’ actions and encouraging behavior change.
We know your time and resources are limited, that is why Kids Together Now has been created to fit the constraints of your job.
Kids Together Now is designed to teach students from Year 2 through to Year 4 how to identify and challenge non race-based and race-based exclusion over one school term. Students can play though one storyline each week in class over a period of 8 weeks. By providing a framework of scenarios, the app addresses prejudice and stereotypes during a critical period for children’s personal development.