Monday, 9 February 2009

Polliwogs, Scalliwags and Carol Thatcher

The latest PC furor to hit the press is that Carol Thatcher called a black tennis player a 'golliwog' in the green room of, yes, The One Show!
She refused to apologise properly, brushing the comment off as lighthearted banter and not racist.
This has sparked a whole debate. are golliwogs racist? A golliwog, in case you don't know, is a black rag doll with big red lips and wide eyes. The word is thought to be a combination of Golly and Polliwog (tadpole) with possible play on Scalliwag, so a mischievous, slimy black guy who says golly a lot. Greeeat. It's kind of like a cartoon of a minstrel (Oh. i've just worked out why those chocolates I used to like in the 80s were called Minstrels. And why they don't make them any more...riiiight.) anyway, it's Darkie iconography squared. If you can't get your head around this being offensive, imagine the white equivalent. it would have to be a vivid shade of pink, have lank colourless hair, blue watery eyes, and be called something comparing it to pink marine life and lame white slang. Neatoshrimp, perhaps? Now, imagine that this is the only racial representation of you in your childhood bookshelf as a child. And the book calls you 'a horrid sight'. And then 100 years later, when, as white people, we've fought for equality against huge odds, and now even have a white US president, and everything feels like it might finally be getting cool.... some talentless presenter who's the daughter of a right-wing ex prime minister from hell calls you that. Not cool, Thatcher, not cool.

The thing is, at a time when black people were being segregated, attacked and oppressed, still suffering the aftermath of slavery, A white American-English writer, Florence Kate Upton, wrote a story which taught that although black people might seem unfamiliar and frightening to her young, white, European audience, they were good people and worth making friends with. when the Golliwog first appears in Upton's book, he's presented as kind of scary and ugly only because he's unfamiliar, but later turns out to be a friendly and fun companion to the other toys. her depiction of a blackface minstrel doll having adventures with a pair of (white) wooden dutch dolls can be read as a pretty simplistic allegory of racial equality. It's just that she used an image that we, now, understand to be inherently racist. I'd like to think the Golliwog doll could be reclaimed as a positive Black toy, but it's difficult when the abbreviated form, wog, is an incredibly nasty racial slur for Black and Asian people in Britain. If you aren't from the UK and want to know how bad this is, look up David Oluwale- the inspiration for the play Nationality: Wog.
This is why Carol Thatcer calling ANYONE a Golliwog, even off air, is bad. While the original Golliwog was a naive and inherently racist portrayal of Blackness, but it was done with good intentions, and was right for its time. Over 100 years of not-too-morally-firm-from-white-people's-perspective history later, There is no WAY of not reading it as a slur. Unless the tennis player in question ACTUALLY looks like a jet black rag doll in a minstrel costume. if thaqt's the case, it was a fair comment and she's off the hook. let's see, shall we?

Nope, Carol's just a racist. I blame the parents.


  1. Oh my GOD. This is Thatcher the Milk Snatcher's daughter, right?

  2. Yep. she was in the green room of my televisual nemesis the one show and started holding forth about how this french tennis player was a 'golliwog frog'. Nice work, maggie, your son's selling arms and your daughter is so racist that when she is called on it, she doesn't see the problem with what she said. Apparently people in the green room objected but she carried on. The Jo Brand, a (white) comedian who was guesting on the show,walked out in disgust, then the presenter of the show made an official complaint and she was asked to apologise, instead of which she made excuses about 'banter', and was promptly sacked.
    Jo Brand is awesome anyway: one of the few actual feminist comedians on UK screens. You may not have seen her in America, what with her being fat and outspoken. I liked her before, but the way she (reportedly) challenged and then walked out on Thatcher Junior off-screen confirms my impression that she is a decent person as well as being funny on telly.