27 November 2013…..Hove’s Hangleton Councillor, Dawn Barnett, is combative. No doubt about it. And not always for a good reason; but she is, equally, no mealy-mouthed politician insulting the public with safe and expedient stock phrases purloined from The Politicians Handbook (if there is one by that name). And it is her open, unguarded mouth that once again sees her hauled up in front of a Standards Panel (10am, Thursday, 28.11.13, Hove Town Hall).
Cllr Barnett defended Bert’s Homewares store selling replica, pre-war era, placemats with golliwog/story book characters on them; and the question of just how a golliwog is perceived and how it should be judged is a vexing one. Four complainants to the council say her defence of golliwogs is racist and she finds herself now charged with bringing the council into disrepute by defending them as much loved nostalgic toys.
One complaint is from the council’s own Black & Minority Ethnic Workers Forum. A second comes from Narinder Madhar, an Indian Sikh, a council tenant and member of the council tenant representatives’ own Scrutiny Panel, we learn from his complaint. His complaint runs to 15 pages (as published in the Agenda document for the meeting). These two complainants make very severe, hard line, objections to Cllr Barnett saying to The Argus that golliwogs are “nostalgic, not racist”. Indeed Narinder Madhar went to the police accusing her of committing a criminal offence over it and he demands her resignation. Throughout his often repetitive (for emphasis?) 15 pages of complaint he casually refers to Cllr Barnett in a de facto, descriptive way as “racist”. As though it is a given. It is a dangerous assertion which he will need to be able to evidence as he risks having invited trouble to his own door. There is a case to answer here should Cllr Barnett choose to pursue it.
Two others complained, providing half page position statements, demanding she be made to undergo Equalities and Diversity training. Dan Hermitage, in his complaint, says “She showed a complete lack of understanding of black history and their continuing fight for equality across the globe”. Tim Read in his says “This is not the first time Cllr Barnett has made racist comments about ethnic groups”. One hopes he can defend this statement or he is open to a charge of defamation.
How much is it costing BHCC to big up these complaints to the level of a Standards Panel? It matters when so much front-line council spending is being cut. To some observers, the reaction seems out of proportion and inflated, even abuse of position and power within the council. BHCC will have to give a cost figure for diversion of staff time and other expenses to this exercise at a time of staff redundancies and service cuts.
The agenda is 74 pages long. And you once could read it here through an established link until BHCC broke it. It can be emailed to anyone wanting it.
And so. To Golly himself now.
The internet has made it possible for us to learn a lot in a very short space of time, to reference where we may. Narinder Madhar referenced a Guardian article in his letter of complaint. IMHO the article fell far short of the standard the subject demands. Did he look any further? The Black & Minority Ethnic Workers Forum re-used the same few words that are routinely quoted from a verse in the book that introduced Golly to the world. Have any of them read it?
Florence K. Upton and her mother Bertha are credited with creation of the word golliwogg and the imagery. The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg, published in 1895, was written in verse by Bertha and illustrated by Florence. Florence Upton was born in the USA but the family returned to Britain when she was 14. The book was written in her early twenties, in England. This children’s book is available to us as a free-to-read e-book. View the offending words in their proper context and judge for yourself.
THE ADVENTURES OF TWO DUTCH DOLLS AND A GOLLIWOGG
This is where the golliwog’s story began. There are a number of speculations concerning the inspiration for the golliwog character and name. Wandering American and/or European minstrels. Black cloth dolls brought back to Britain by soldiers serving in Egypt which became very sought after. Egyptian labourers in Britain wearing arm bands with the letters WOGS on them (Working on Government Service). The story is about dolls. Just dolls. They escape one night and have an adventure. Along the way this happens….
Then all look round, as well they may
To see a horrid sight!
The blackest gnome
Stands there alone,
They scatter in their fright.
With kindly smile he nearer draws;
Begs them to feel no fear.
“What is your name?”
Cries Sarah Jane;
“The ‘Golliwogg’ my dear.”
There is only one small phrase from the entire text of “The Adventures of Two Dutch dolls and a Golliwogg” that ever sees the light of day when those who see him as racist are seeking ammunition to fire and it is in the bit of verse above.,,,,“a horrid sight, the blackest gnome”. Gnomes and fairies have of course long peopled children’s story books. So calling this ragdoll character a gnome was no big deal. And he was perceived as ugly by the dolls. Ugly exists in this world. And it is not always rejected and reviled after first startling. Conspicuous difference DOES startle and need to be got used to. Look how it works in radical new fashion as well as racial and cultural differences. And ugly comes in lots of sizes, shapes and races. In the next verse along from that above they link arms as The Golliwog joins them for the rest of the book’s adventures. An ugly child reading that might have taken encouragement from the fact that if an ugly gnome could so easily make friends and be accepted, perhaps the ugly child should not see appearance as a barrier either. And to understand that beauty is not just about conventional appearance.
‘About Cards’ is a wonderful online repository of vintage post cards going back over 100 years. And the golliwog entry from December 13, 2009 has to be seen to be believed. Anyone looking at the web page and STILL thinking Florence Upton was an evil racist needs to conjure with this image, attributed to her, but not from the famous book referenced above. From one of the later spin off books? Looks like a mixed marriage to me! With children! Albeit only dolls. Racist? Really?
THE ACADEMIC SOCIOLOGIST’S ACCOUNT
Dr. David Pilgrim, a Professor of Sociology at Ferris State University in Michigan, USA wrote a hugely informative article on golliwog history for the Jim Crow Museum (housed at the university) of racist memorabilia website. He is writing for a racist memorabilia website so of course he demonstrates that golliwogs are that as well as something to be included and not erased from the historic record. This museum seeks to use memorabilia they see as racist to teach tolerance and understanding. It has bias of a blatant kind, but is nevertheless also hugely valuable for providing a lot of background info to set beside other material out there. We learn that the Upton mother/daughter partnership produced some 13 Golly books in all over about 15 years due to the huge popularity of this first one. People loved the Gollywogg. People still do. But along the way a “g” was lost from his name and he was hijacked by people with nasty agendas.
But there was no copyright…and perhaps this is where the real rot set in, just as it did for the Hindu svasktika (used clockwise) and for the Buddhist svastika (used counterclockwise). The svastika is a religious symbol of peace and wellbeing. That is what it is. But Fascist Germany’s Adolf Hitler grabbed it for his little moment and it has been hijacked as a symbol so the true meaning is eclipsed and nobody is motivated to fix that it seems. The word ‘gay’ used to be about joyful happiness. Who now uses it easily as that, now it has been adopted for use to identify a sexual orientation? There is no question but that The Golliwogg was also hijacked and used by racists. But it, like the svastika and the word ‘gay’ surely must not be entirely deprived of original or benign meaning and use. It just isn’t right to do so. Justice for Golly, I say! He isnt a racist. He isn’t a banned substance. Not illegal. And it isn’t racist to love him.