I Knit London Tweets

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Golly! Is this offensive....


This blogpost isn't meant to offend or upset anyone, but in the last few days a debate has been stirring over here at I Knit towers over our friend here (on the left). Recently we started to stock a range of patterns by Sandra Polley, who designs knitted teddy bears, toys and other accoutrements. Amongst them was a pattern for a golliwog. What's interesting is that we didn't question this or have any conversation about gollies, we just put the patterns in the rack. This week Sandra sent us a couple of samples, pictured. Teddy, who is mega cute, with his button arms has been sitting on the table being pawed over all week.....but golly has been in a drawer. And so the debate started.....
For what it's worth, I personally don't find gollies offensive. But then, why would I? I grew up in the North of England in the 1970s an 80s with a golly toy and I had the infamous Enid Blyton book, The Three Golliwogs, too, which I remember fondly and enjoyed reading. Of course, I am not so naive as to not realise that these days gollies have all but disappeared from children's toy boxes, and I realise the connotations and reasons why this is so...but is this just over-sensitive political correctness, or is it blatant racism, or is it simply too much for our 21st century sensibilities?
I am genuinely intrigued at the response from the few people I've spoken to about this in the shop, so please, feel free to comment.....
Here's a couple of links to some articles on the subject for those who, like me, didn't know the background and the history of this much-maligned figure:
I think there's some interesting points in all three articles, and please note that the article by David Pilgrim does contain some images and words that some may find offensive.
Craig

16 comments:

Mrs T said...

If you think that's offensive knitted toy, you may want to look at this.

Not for the faint-hearted, you have been warned!!!

And if you can get the patterns, let me know so I can knit them as presents for my sicker friends!

BeadBag said...

I grew up with Robertsons Jam's Gollies and loved collecting them. I dont feel this toy is offensive, but unfortunately we all feel so sensitive about offending anyone, that it probably will provoke mixed comments. Perhaps I would be offended if I was black. If there was a sterotypical "Jewish" doll - maybe I would be offended by this - so it is a very difficult question to debate.

Ginger Lucy said...

I don't know - I grew up with the Enid Blyton gollies, the jam gollies, and a lovely handknitted one that my great grandma made me. Thought nothing of it at the time really - they were just funny characters and my child's brain would never in a million years have connected them to a black person.

I don't agree with pretending Blyton never used the characters - her books were a product of her times. But I can see where the offence lies, obviously, and I don't think I'd be comfortable seeing gollies for sale nowadays. So no, I don't think you should sell them in your shop, but it's a tough call.

fiona said...

Well I don't have a problem with a Golliwog - in fact if he had been out on display when I came in on Saturday I probably would have commended you then and there for doing so....
Great range by the way!! we will come back again (probably many times)

sarah said...

I grew up viewing golliwogs as toys, not signifying anything at all. It seems to me these things offend people who choose to see them in the light of history, rather than the light of day. I'd love to knit one for a child, if I knew a child. Perhaps I'd make it purple or lime green... colour shouldn't matter.

Shannon said...

I'm from the US and last spring I was in a shop that had a whole shelf of Golliwogs and was gobsmacked. I'd never heard of them and they just looked like the very racist items that were once sold (and now collected) in the US. I took a picture of it because I couldn't believe what I was seeing and when I showed my coworkers (I live and work here in the UK) they were very non-chalant about it so I was surprised.

I'm still not familiar with the character and surprised that something like that was created so late in the 20th century. Do a google image search for "Black americana" if you're not familiar with what I'm referring to.

Sarah said...

I guess I look upon them as cultural artifacts now. I wouldn't give one to a child these days. My Nana knitted me one when I was little but my Dad's always been scared of them (traumatic childhood memory? I'm not sure) so it was put away in a cupboard I think. I don't think Mum (she was a Sociology student at the time) was too into the idea anyway.

Anonymous said...

Golliwogs are 'offensive' because they represent a stereotype or characture. I think we have to recall history and what this stereotype actually meant, it meant not treating someone who was black as human.

It meant killing them, lynching them, and forcing them into slavery. You might feel that these attitudes have gone, well they haven't.

Apartheid ceased in South Africa less than 20 years ago, one of the beliefs behind apartheid ( and still a view held by some Afrikaans in South Africa) is that people who are not white are less than human, in fact Black South African were ( and are) considered to be animals.

It is important to remember that charactures, be they toys or cartoons have been used throughout history to dehumanise and ultimatley segregate and even mass murder sectors of humanity for percieved diffference, take a look at Anti-semitism and the Holocaust.

The Golliwog isn't a toy, or a face on a jam jar, it represents a time and attitude, when millions of human beings were treated appalling for the colour of their skin.

I think as a society if we leave attitudes behind we should also lose those symbols that represent that attitude behind too.

I wonder how you would feel if someone displayed a cartoon saying it was ok to beat your wife because women are chattel? Or all gay men are peadophiles?

Sorry to sound so strong, I have never been compelled to even add a comment to a blog before, but there you go..

hence anonymous, as i dont have a blog thingy

woolly stuff said...

When I saw this image, I was aware of my immediate physical reaction - sharp intake of breath, tight stomach, sinking heart. I find the "gollywog" upsetting and offensive. But, I'm from NYC, and in the US, you could only read it as racist.

Of course, any object has cultural values attached to it. Here in the UK, it may mean something else - related, but different - to how I see it as an American.

So, I imagine you have to ask yourself who your clientele are - are they mostly like you? Or is there a good chance that people from all over will come in, and can you predict their response? Do you want to take the chance that you might cause them pain?

Knit Nurse said...

It's offensive to me, mostly because its characteristics are exaggerated to make it grotesque, in the same way as a doll with enormous breasts might be.

bbaking said...

I have recently started going through some old books that my Grandma gave me to read to me baby son. One Enid Blyton story book featured a story called "The Golliwog that Smoked". Now I just want to throw it out and think I will do the same with any other stories that a similar. I think if something makes you just feel un comfortable it is a sign of dodgy ground.
I personally DO find it offensive, the fact that we have to ask "is it offensive?" at all shows me that it is, or could be to someone.

Anonymous said...

i grew up with gollies as just a cuddly toy.but to say there should be no gollies is the same as saying all barbies should be taken off the market as being too offensive to real women who are being damaged by not being able to look like barbie. Maybe we all should only give our children faceless colourless amish style dolls as to not offend God or religious groups. when my child was young she had a black doll and a white doll,both were equally loved.i think common sense should prevail.If you find gollies offensive dont buy one,if they bring you joy buy one, personally i find people and their attitudes, not to mention their behavior far more offensive than a doll,black, white or any other colour.

Anonymous said...

I am currently looking for a knitting pattern for a golly. My Uncle bought a knitted Golly for my daughter when she was first born, and Golly has been a constant and loved companion until he was lost in Cyprus. I myself had a Golly when I was a child who was also loved. I understand the comparison made with Gollys and the connection with offensive caricature of black people, but if you research the beginnings of the Golly you will find the character was not offensive, but just a doll, who had a good nature.
We live in a PC world now, where eveerything is demonised, a child does not comprehend racism as adults do, but feel the companionship and love of the toys that are special to them. By owning a Golly, a child does not grow into a racist. I lived in the caribbean where gGolly type rag dolls were openly sold, these rag dolls had black faces and dreadlocks, and as far as I am aware there was no offence in these items. I think the whole issue on the Golly has been blown out of propotion. If the matter of offence is with certain toys then the whole PC brigade should look at a whole host of current toys availible to day that I find offensive, such as dolls that sexualize young girls, to me these are more offensive then any Golly. We need to look at what childhood is about, and remember at its core is the innocence, that is the love of a child to her toys and the comfort they give the child.
So if anyone does have any patterns for Gollys I would be pleased to hear from them, as my daughter is still upset with her loss.

DebbyMcK said...

http://cgi.ebay.co.uk/VINTAGE-TOY-GOLLY-GOLLIWOG-HUMPTY-BALL-KNITTING-PATTERN_W0QQitemZ380076391887QQcmdZViewItem?hash=item380076391887&_trkparms=72%3A1298%7C39%3A1%7C66%3A2%7C65%3A12%7C240%3A1318&_trksid=p3286.c0.m14 here is a pattern for Golliwogs - ppl are too sensitive and get a grip!! Welcome to the new world where ppl are afraid to say anything to anyone in case they offend - stand up for yourself and be free to do what you want!!

Anonymous said...

well ive just read trough a few of your comments i have just knitted a golly and i will stand hanging if i was to see anything like him walking down the street there is no resemblence whats so ever and its time we all stopped this rubbish as its was and always will be just a knitted stuffed toy

Anonymous said...

I grew up with a golly and it was my favourite toy. He is somewhere in the loft now but only because I outgrew him as a toy. I don't think it is offensive. If knitting and selling Golly's are offensive just because of their colour - then really society may as well say knitting and selling 'white' toys are offensive. Unfortunately this is the way society has become. Your not even allowed to sing baa baa black sheep anymore - because that is classed as racist. I think we live in very sad times - and I think it will just get worse!