Brian Monteith: Give me a traditional golliwog

Picture: Ian Rutherford
Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Let me own up. I admit it, I once owned a golliwog. And more, I loved it. True, I only had it for about a day, if that. I actually bought it as a present for my wee sister, Kirsty, but as soon as I gave it to her I wished it was mine.

I had a teddy, my Lego, my train set and my model aeroplanes, but I suddenly felt somehow deprived at not having my own golliwog. I secretly wished that someone would give me one but no-one did.

I had to console myself with collecting tokens from Robertson’s Jam so I could send away for a brooch of Golly, where he’s dressed as a policeman, which I wore on my school blazer as a matter of pride.

I recount this tale to give some honesty and context to what I am about to write, for there is a great deal of dangerous and ignorant nonsense talked about golliwogs, the chief of which is that they are racist dolls.

Firstly, though, I must deal with the falsehood that there is an association between the words “golliwog” and “wog”. It is at best a misunderstanding, but more often a conscious lie, for all that exists is a coincidence and it’s a shallow one. The words golliwog and wog have only become associated in recent times and thus the pure innocence, happiness and love of cherishing a golliwog has been sullied by the malevolent claim of racism and offensiveness that must be rejected.

The rag doll originated in the late 19th century, appearing first in a British children’s book, Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg, modelled undoubtedly on the old tradition of travelling black minstrels – note how it was called a Golliwogg, spelled with two Gs.

The generally pejorative use of the word wog (spelled with one G) cannot be traced any earlier than 1929, 35 years after the arrival of the rag doll, and its origin is obscure.

Some speculate it has to do with the British Empire employing Indian men, Working On Government Service, or with Westernised Oriental Gentleman. Whatever the etymology its undoubtedly euphemistic or patronising meaning has nothing to do with the rag doll, for its abbreviation is Golly, not wog. The unrelated nature is further supported by the pejorative use of wog referring to people of swarthy skin from Arabia and the Mediterranean – not African or American negroes.

It is because of this false word association and because the rag doll is black that some people complain about golliwogs as a racial slur. In Edinburgh, a parent visiting Wardie Primary to consider it as a school for her son complained to the police about the appearance of a golliwog on a beautiful mural at Wardie’s assembly hall as a racist representation. You might think she had seen photos of the Ku Klux Klan or teachers goose-stepping around the playground in Jackboots.

Now Ms Neizer-Rocha has every right to complain – and I respect that – but the school’s headteacher also has every right to say she is wholly wrong and I have every right to roll my eyes, curse my laptop and bemoan the absence of perspective and insight about her misplaced concerns.

My children have passed through their local primary but if they were attending Wardie I would be letting the headteacher know that I would be most upset and make more noise than a parent with no child yet at the school, over the cultural vandalism Ms Neizer-Rocha wishes to visit upon the mural.

The crowning glory of absurdity, however, goes to the officer in charge at Police State Scotland who thought the complaint worthy of police time as it constituted a “hate incident”.

But who is exactly hating who? Is it the artist that painted the mural in 1936 when a golliwog meant nothing other than a toy, like a teddy or porcelain doll, to be loved? Is the painter to be prosecuted, his grave disinterred, his urn smashed open?

Is the mural to be repainted with what, a teddy bear, a floppy rabbit? Shall we not then have wails of anguish from campaigners against cruelty to bears, animal welfare lovers and vegetarians? Of course that would be absurd too for bears and bunnies are loved, but no more daft than placing upon a black rag doll the assumption that is has been conceived in the mural as a figure of racial ridicule and hate. It is a symbol of childhood adoration.

Those photographs and films of KKK marches where they are burning crosses and lynching innocent black men – has anyone, has Ms Neizer-Rocha, has the police seen any evidence of a golliwog present in them? Are golliwogs used as an example of hate, do racists stick pins in them?

Only people that loved and respected people of all colours actually bought their children golliwogs – and kids that were fortunate to have a golliwog were less likely to grow up bigoted than those poor souls that lost out on this great British tradition.

This weekend I shall get my Golly brooch out and wear it in solidarity with the Wardie One. We need more golliwogs, not fewer. That’s it, I now want a golliwog for Christmas.