Saturday, 7 February 2009

Oh golly...

Golliwogs maybe started as children's dolls, but there's no denying that 'golliwog' is - and has been for a long time - a deeply racist slur. I bet Carol Thatcher would not have used it had there been a black person present in the green room. It's right she has been dropped by the BBC (Jonathan Ross was allowed back because he has some kind of talent, Carol Thatcher is however utterly replaceable).

I even worried about using the word in my book - my (white) character refers to an old man in the hospital cafe - it's early eighties:

One of his eyes was sewn shut and he had golliwog badges on his lapels.

I left it in because in the seventies, you collected marmalade jar labels and sent off for a golliwog badge, and wore it on your school blazer. (Yes, I was a mixed race child innocently wearing a golliwog badge on her blazer.) And referring to the doll as golliwog was one thing, referring to a person as golliwog another.

However, in 2009 the word is clearly wrong, it feels wrong, in any context. Language changes as people evolve, but obviously Thatcher hasn't caught up. My brother and I used to go to the swing park and say the worst swear words we could think of - with glee and just for the hell of it. We were nine and ten. Maybe Carol and Prince Charles and Prince Harry could get together at the swings and have a racist word fest?


Chimera said...

Thank you for the lovely comment you left on my blog! And what a pleasure to find your work too! I have a lot to catch up on but ENTIRELY agree about the bloody Thatcher remark. Silly woman, how strangely out of touch she must be.
Have VERY slow internet connectiion from here in Lusaka but will find a cyber cafe to read more of your blog!
Tanvir (Chimera)

iLL Man said...

It's a weird one this. From what I can tell, her comments were ill-judged and jarring, but not meant with any malice. Then again, it's been implied by others that this wasn't the case. Much head scratching later, I come to the conclusion that the world has become a brutally hyper-sensitive place while I was on the nod (for the past thirty three years)

People are what they are, they say and do dumb things. Most of the time there's no intent in it, it's people forgetting themselves and talking off the tops of their heads. If you're in the media, you have to be savvy enough to know what is and isn't the right thing to say, and it's often a bit of a tightrope. Clarkson is a case in point. A guy who has spent most of his career just about on the right side of the line, but suddenly he loses his bearings and puts his foot in it. The same applies to Jonathan Ross. I sometimes wish we could all just stop being so fucking uptight about what people say. Yes, folk say things that offend, but they always will. Mostly it's ignorance, sometimes it's arrogance, though it can mainly be covered by the notion of general human stupidity. I contend that stupidity is a part of the human condition and it's the one thing that, clever sods that we are, few of us will ever quite overcome in our lifetimes.

We all say, think and do ridiculous things. Being in the spotlight means you have to be aware of every word you say, no matter where you are.

The walls do indeed have ears...........

nmj said...

Hey Tanvir, I am having connection problems too, I prob wouldn't mind if I were somewhere as exciting as Lusaka! Hope you having good trip.

Hey Ill Man, I agree in some ways about the 'brutal hypersenstitivity' of the world, but I feel strongly that whether Thatcher was being malicious or not, it is just not on to use this word the way she did. To call a non-white tennis player 'golliwog' is undeniably racist - and I think she should have been disciplined/dropped. (I repeat if Jonathan Ross had said it, I'm sure he would have been brought back by BBC cos they need him.)

Clarkson is just an arse, he is so full of himself. Still, I think he can be funny, though the Gordon Brown remark was thoroughly tasteless (as was the previous lorry driver/prostitute quip).

And I did warm to Thatcher - like a lot of people - when she was in the Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here show a couple of years back. I am disappointed that she thinks it's okay to call black people golliwog as a bit of fun.

I'm unsure, but maybe you need to have been on the receiving end of racism to appreciate how hurtful and damaging such a term can be?

I quite like this op-ed.

nmj said...

I'm unsure, but maybe you need to have been on the receiving end of racism to appreciate how hurtful and damaging such a term can be?

When I said this what I meant was that the Boris Johnsons and the Melanie Philips of this world are missing the point. You may honestly - though it makes me incredulous - think it possible to use 'golliwog' and not be intending malice, but it would be simply impossible to be be called 'golliwog' and not hear malice...

I have yet to read of any non-white person not finding the term anything but horribly offensive.