‘Stop sale of racist dolls’

June 19, 2010

A single mother from Melbourne’s northern suburbs has begun a campaign against the sale of racist dolls.

Helen Said was shocked to see golliwog dolls on display when she walked past a gift shop in Epping Plaza in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

Said told Green Left Weekly golliwog dolls had disappeared from sale for many years because they were widely regarded as racist. “It’s a shock to see them brought back”, she said. “I think they're racist'.”

Golliwog dolls first appeared in the 1800s. They were made to send up black people, particularly African American slaves.

“These dolls are used to parody and mock black people”, Said said. It is believed that the derogatory term “wog” is derived from the word “golliwog”, she explained.

Said said the racial stereotyping of toys on the Gumnut Toys website is very obvious. “There is an elegant white ballerina doll whereas the black doll is seen to be poorly dressed like slaves were dressed, with exaggerated facial features.”

Said’s family has experienced racism. Her family arrived in Britain as refugees from Egypt, only to find a society based on colour segregation. Flats to rent would have signs saying “no coloured people”.

The family then migrated to Australia, where they came across similar racist attitudes towards non-white migrants. “Racist toys just reinforce these ideas”, she said.

Said has been joined in the campaign by Victorian Socialist Alliance Senate candidate and Aboriginal activist Sharon Firebrace, African Think Tank spokesperson Berhan Ahmed, Greens candidate for Batman, Alex Bhathal and other local residents.

They are writing to the shop's manager outlining their opposition and requesting that the dolls be withdrawn from sale. *

Firebrace told GLW why she opposes the golliwog doll: “It’s about respecting all people regardless of their race”, she said. “The recent outrageous comments by former Richmond footballer Mal Brown show just how destructive racist stereotypes can be in Australian society.

“Aboriginal people have had a long history of experiencing racial violence. As a Socialist Alliance candidate I want to stand with the multicultural community of the northern suburbs in demanding a fair go.”

* You can write a letter of complaint to the golliwog wholesalers by filling in the on-line form here or phone: 0412 732 067
or write to: PO Box 342, Carina 4152, Australia.


I disagree that they are racist. They were a cruder soft toy pre dating modern materials and very much loved by their owners. They would have been representative of the times and different races do vary in their appearances. This is just another critiscism being levelled at white Australians who already are being strongly targetted for racism and discrimination by other races to humiliate and disempower them. The problem is not with the white people and its time you started being honest with yourselves.
Gumnut Toys are completely into the whole "celebrating diversity" thing. They have lots of dolls of all races. And their black dolls come in all manner of styles. The appearance of black people, and thus black dolls, is not a "stereotype". Black people have very dark skin, very curly afro hair, and big lips. Or, from the other viewpoint, white people have strangely very pale skin, straight hair, and thin lips. Golliwogs accurately portray black people (as much as a traditional rag doll can) without anything negative added. But the "black dolls" you suggest would look like a white person with a tan, which would not be appropriate. Gumnut Toys sell golliwogs in all different outfits. As for ballerinas, they make a separate ballerina outfit that can be used with any of their Les Chéries dolls, which include different races. Gumnut Toys aren't sticking up a “no coloured people” sign in their toy section BUT YOU ARE.
This subject is very strange. Austraila is suppose to be a civilised society..... If there is negative connatations and a clearly racist discourse then this should be enough for any rational human being to not want these dolls sold or anywhere near the decent mainstream.... let alone children!!
Went away overseas for a holiday. The first thing I saw arriving back at Melbourne airport was the gift shop selling the "golliwogs". Nice to know you're back in the British Empire hey? They removed the offensive things when Oprah Winfrey toured Australia. Wouldn't want to offend *important* black people, would we now. If racism was a distant memory then I could care less. But for a recent example, a friend's daughter at school in Melbourne was ostracised by the whole class, and had her 5th birthday party apparently boycotted, just cos she's black. Power to anyone who speaks out against this bullshit.
For me personally - no, I don't find the doll itself offensive. The minstrel shows that they are based on, however, are what's intolerably derogatory. But what are comedy shows from the 19th century to a child? I was just a young girl and as far as it went, my soft golliwog doll Lolly was a gift hand made by my grandma. Looking back now it can be seen as racially insensitive toward dark skinned people, but my grandma herself was dark skinned; her bloodline trailed back to Mali - moreover she lived in apartheid south africa. She should of anyone know the ugliness of racism and of bitterness, having to leave her own dreams in place of cleaning a white family's house - because she was black. Living as a mixed race woman now in the 21st century I have only experienced racism a handful of times, it is not always what is being shouted at by a neo-nazi that 'counts' as racism; It is actually everyday people who are just unfamiliar with different races but have assumptions anyway. With or without minstrel shows - as usual it is actually ignorance that is causing this problem. As for my golliwog Lolly, I absolutely loved her. With her soft pink lips and her dark woolly hair I thought she was the prettiest thing, so did my boer friends - why not normalize dolls with typically black features?
When I was a kid I had a homemade "golliwog" doll. Actually it was pretty unrecognisable compared to the bought versions, it looked a bit like this but even less recognisable: http://museumvictoria.com.au/collections/items/262220/golliwog-home-made-black-nylon-circa-1950s Having young relatives been given them (by older family members who need their heads read), I guess we shouldn't be stealing kiddies' favourite dollies. On one limited level - for kids - yes it is (mostly) just a doll. That doesn't mean that adults should not be held to account. The "golliwog" doll is intrinsically tied up with discriminatory and violent white supremacist and colonialist history. A lot of people were brutally hurt. The fact that modern vendors of the dolls don't know that (or pretend they don't know that) is no excuse. If you're in doubt, read this history: http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/golliwog The large number of people still alive who have suffered all the racist and patronising attitudes, violence, and all the rest associated with the history of this doll, means that there is no excuse for their being around. They should be stamped out. Dolls with black skin is one thing, racist caricatures are on the other hand racist caricatures. White people who object to being called a racist over these things (instead of simply apologising for causing offence) usually are racists.

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