Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Oh Golly

I was quite disturbed yesterday when I was shopping to find "Golliwog" moneyboxes on sale in a Spar shop.

I guess some people see them as harmless and have fond memories of them in childhood. I don't see them that way at all. They're apparently caricatures of a caricature, the Black minstrels, and are products of a very racist time.

Can they be sanitised?

And moreover, should they be?

To satisfy people who remember them fondly? Isn't that a bit of weak reason: I like it therefore it's OK? "I remember something with happy nostalgia, therefore it makes it alright, because I'm not a racist. Some of my best friends are..." But hang on a second, why should something racially insensitive that harks back to an even more divided society become acceptable now? Are we in a perfect world where everyone gets along and no-one suffers discrimination and prejudice, and I just didn't get that memo?

A symbol is not isolated, it represents something: that's the whole point, the very definition, of a symbol.

You can try to divorce the two and try to mainstream them, but at base the Playboy bunny logo represents Playboy, for example, and the "Gollies" represent some very unfortunate racial stereotyping. The very shifting of emphasis in merchandising to the first two syllables of their name is deliberate in order to distance them from one racial epithet. This shows awareness of the issues, but in no way changes anything: these are not just toys or images, they are toys with ugly connections and that their names can be used as racist terms just makes it blatant.

Whether the person looking at them necessarily sees the connection doesn't mean it isn't there. The little girl who just sees bunnies, and the adult who just goes on a nostalgia trip for their childhood, don't take away from the essential fact of what those things represent.

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