Golliwog Banned: And Tv Presenter Carol Thatcher With Him

Posted at 20:59pm on 5th February 2009

As a little girl, I owned a much loved golliwog. I have no idea who gave it to me, nor what their motive was in doing so. I can only conclude that it was a toy of its era, and that the gift was intended to please and delight me. And so it did! As did the enamelled golliwog badge I received from a well-known marmalade manufacturer, who, for decades, offered them as a free gift in exchange for tokens collected from the label on the jar.

Years later, one of my parents’ favourite TV shows was The Black and White Minstrel Show. In it, people dressed up in golliwog-style, danced, and sang popular ballads and other music of the time. As I recall, it was a lively and entertaining programme.

DOES THIS MAKE ME RACIST?

Neither of these events caused me a moment’s disquiet. It simply never occurred to me to think of them in offensive terms. My father, who had served in the RAF during the war spent much time in Burma, where he and other officers were moved to give money to starving children until their action caused riots on the streets and they were asked to stop, by the authorities – at which point, they gathered the children up and took them out to eat. That impressed me! As did the affectionate way in which he spoke of his Batman. Despite an outrageous sense of humour, my father was one of the most inclusive men I have ever known. He spoke for effect, but his heart was big – and open to all.

When it became politically incorrect to use what are now deemed ‘racist’ terms, he explained to me that the term WOG (at least in his understanding) was never intended to be derogatory; that it stood for Wily Oriental Gentleman, and was merely a humorous and affection reference to the cunning and cleverness of people from the East. Quite how it was ever applied to those of African origin was never clear to me, though an internet search throws up the following explanation.

In the wake of Carol Thatcher’s remark about a well-known athlete, her current sacking from a prime-time TV show, and the ramifications this has had elsewhere, I write now, neither to defend nor to condemn the use of such words. But I do wonder where we are going with this?

STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK MY BONES

The moniker Paki, when used about a Pakistani (which, I understand, is a term Pakistanis use among themselves) has recently been deemed contemptible. How long before Oz or Kiwi follow suit? As a Scot (how could I be otherwise with a name like Menzies, pronounced Ming-iss!) I was well-used to hearing my father (jocularly!) referred to as Jock, as well as jokes about his ‘tightness’ when it came to spending. It was as much a cause of mirth to him as it was to me: a tease, which was an indication of intimacy and friendship. To this day, it doesn’t faze me one little bit to be known as a Brit Abroad; a Pommy Bastard or Limey in Australia; Le Sang Froid or Le Rostbif in France; or any number of other mildly derogatory names. But as I’ve written before, I was brought up in a generation who were taught that ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’ (See Is The F-word Foul?)

What does concern me is that the golliwog episode is considered sackable, whilst Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand’s escapade was not. What sort of nation condemns the ill-judged use of a word, whilst appearing to take a far less censorious attitude to the public and humiliating spectacle of an old man being told of his grand-daughter’s sexual exploits? Whilst I would never, knowingly, want to hurt anyone by the use of a name which to some is fun, to others is degrading, to me there is simply no comparison.

With such a shift in public thinking, are we becoming a nation of wimps where words are concerned? And does a public, and therefore predatory revelation of a private act, indicate that we are in danger of becoming debauched? Your comments would be appreciated.

Golliwog photo by Jane b good

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