Sojourner's Place

piccanninies, watermelon smiles, and golliwogs  

Posted by SjP in , , ,

A few days ago, my good blog friend from Bent Society, left the following comment:

We have a big news story in the UK regarding Carol Thatcher (daughter of ex-UK Prime Minister) and the peculiar phenomenon of the Golliwog - which often raises its head over here. We'd very much appreciate a US response to the debate. I'm not sure if this is peculiarly a UK and Australian thing...Be warned...some of the debate may make you angry - but its not generally of the Far Right White Supremacist.

If you are like me, and not as familiar with terms and customs of the UK, I asked myself "what the hell is a Golliwog and why are folks seemingly up in arms?" So, I did some checking and what I learned was truly disgusting.

What is a Golliwog? Until recently, these creatures were sold at the Royal Gift Shop are are considered by some as the #1 most racist toy ever made. You can read about the history of the Golliwog here. But here is a brief description:

The Golliwog (originally spelled Golliwogg) is the least known of the major anti Black caricatures in the United States. Golliwogs are grotesque creatures, with very dark, often jet black skin, large white-rimmed eyes, red or white clown lips, and wild, frizzy hair.

Apparently, the daughter of former UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, used the term golliwog to describe a male tennis player taking part in the Australian Open tournament in Melbourne. According to CNN and the British media, Carol Thatcher used the term back stage during the filming of The One Show last week. Dismissing her comments as a "joke", the BBC fired Thatcher stating that"any language of a racist nature wholly unacceptable" while urging her to issue an unconditional apology which she declined.

Boris Johnson - the Mayor of London - came to Thatcher's defense stating that instead of being fired she should have been taken to the side and told "Listen you'e got to watch what you say and you'e got to be sensitive". Sound advise coming from a man who was forced to apologize references to "piccanninies" and "watermelon smiles" during the mayoral election last year.

The debate is raging in the UK with similar outrage we've seen in the States over racial slurs and innuendos. And then you have the all too familiar "it was a joke" and "don't be so sensitive" refutes. You can read them here, here, and here. But, one post I read put a very different spin on this issue that will surely effect all athletes of African descent who will be converging upon London for the 2012 Olympics.

In a post entitled, Boris thinks casual racism about 2012 London Olympic athletes will be OK, provided you are 'sensitive' about it, by writes:

In August last year Johnson accepted the Olympic flag on behalf of London.

The Olympics might often be a focus for political dissent, but they also allow people of all states, creeds, faiths and colours to participate.

Sadly, yesterday, Boris Johnson came out to say that as far as he is concerned, Londoners will be perfectly entitled during 2012 in the workplace to compare any black-skinned athletes at the games to golliwogs, just as Carol Thatcher did to a tennis player, as long as afterwards they are taken to one side and told to be a bit more 'sensitive'.

I am urging all Sojourners, if you are so inclined, to our collective voice be heard across the waters in protest and solidarity with our sisters and brothers. You can do so by writing a post about these controversial and racist creatures or by leaving a comment at anyone of the UK blogs and electronic venues discussing this issue. We know there is strength in numbers and change can come even when the status quo tries to stop it.

H/T Bent Society for the 411! I'm sounding the alarm and am encouraged that the "Americans are coming!"

Obliged to you for hearing me,
and now old SjP ain't got nothin' more to say...
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This entry was posted at Saturday, February 14, 2009 and is filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the .

9 sojourners hollin' back

Track and Field and Basketball are two of the most popular sports in the Olympics.
How do Londoners expect athletes (in the age of Obama) to sit and take this mess?

February 14, 2009 at 2:44 AM

SJP - Many thanks. We are writing a book based upon Bent Society issues. So any comments on the Golliwog debate are very warmly welcomed. The UK needs to hear 500 angry voices on this issue... time for a wake up call please.


February 14, 2009 at 4:50 AM


You can see an international PR disaster looming ahead can't you...

I mean, anyone with a brain can see it. By default that excludes our brainless prime Minister and the gormless upper-class-twit-of-the year buffoon Boris Johnson (Mayor of London)

Many thanks for your comment on the BS blog (I posted a lengthy reply).

Today we set up a bog post specifically for what we hope will be The Great Saint Valentines Day Golliwog Massacre.

Here is the direct link to "The Last Bastions of Wogdom II":

All comments very warmly welcomed.


February 14, 2009 at 6:21 AM

The London Olympics should be the target. The snobs in British society must realize the relationship they have with the Americans. Our president can turn his nose up and them. White supremacy, if it still exists, only exists in the mind of a bigot. However, I don't see how a protest can change a bigot's heart. These kind must be bred out of existence.

February 14, 2009 at 2:14 PM

@ UBJohn, much obliged for stopping by and lending your voice on this over at Bent Society. This is one that we can try to bring a lot of focus to between now and 2012.

@ Bent, got your your back...

@ Eddie, glad you stopped by - please don't be a stranger! I agree that for us the London Olympics should be the target regarding this g-thing. And yes, unfortunately, bigots and bigotry are alive and well and operating in full view under the guise of tradtion and history. My opinion is that we need to shed light on them and keep it shining - like we do with roaches. They may not go away - but they'll have to seek other places and venues in which to hide.

The "protest" I speak of is one that puts the information out there in hopes that it will garner as much conversation and debate over here as is the case in the UK.

February 14, 2009 at 4:51 PM


I have read different accounts of racism as it is practiced in Europe. But this is not acceptable period.

WTF? is casual racism? I don't know what that means. Since I have never taken racism as a casual action. Boris may like to believe that he has it like that-but I believe that it ain't gonna play out that way.

So if it is going to be on-you know I am in.

February 15, 2009 at 9:41 AM

Unfortunately the golliwog phenomenon is not restricted to the UK:

February 16, 2009 at 7:23 AM

Peace Sojourner ^_^

Thankyou for posting about this. I've added my voice in solidarity here:

Shine on Sistar

February 16, 2009 at 2:55 PM

I am a black American female who recently moved to the UK to be with my white English husband.
I had never heard of a golliwog until I moved here. My husband is a sales rep, and on weekends I travel with him to Plymouth and Devon - where I have seen more than a few shops selling golliwog dolls. Every time I see them my heart sinks and I feel like the racism of the past is still being accepted and embraced. England is 92% white - why should they find offense in this doll? My husband thinks that I over react about finding offense in this doll. But he does not understand that racism is still alive in the world. The golliwog came about at a time when America and Europe viewed blacks and other dark-skinned people as inferior and ignorant; white people didn't think twice about putting on a "blackface" to entertain themselves. It is this reason that the golliwog should not be accepted in our modern society. People should be intelligent enough to know better! The golliwog is a symbol of a racist era, an era that still thrives in England today. If you see a golliwog for sale in a shop, you should have a word with the shop keeper and try to put an end to these horrible, demeaning dolls that should only have a place in a museum to show how racist our past was...we should not continue to embrace that racist past, but acknowledge how wrong the past was and move forward.

July 26, 2009 at 8:05 AM
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