Golly Blog.

IMG_9531I am in Lerwick, Shetland across from  Queens Hotel, next to The Spiders Web and I’m  passing a shop called The Magpies Nest and this is not a Harry Potter story.  Centre stage  and proudly displayed  in the window of The Magpies Nest are  Gollywogs..  They are in Time Magazines top ten most dubious dolls.   Gollywogs!  So I enter. A grey lady from behind the counter rises like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.  She splays  her arms and in a Brando whisper she says   “I’m no racist. These are my childhood. Would you like to buy one?”    She says there are rarely complaints.

But it’s a loose definition of “rarely”.  I hear  complaints have been reported in the National newspaper and national radio.  There have  been petitions to remove the Gollywogs. In fact there are more complaints about her stock than any other in Lerwick.  “They sell very well to the Americans” she tells me. It’s a harsh comment.   “The Americans”  come from The liners who visit the port and keep the shops cash flow bouyant.

The gollywog  is a product and symbol of a  time when white peopIMG_9613le believed (really believed) they were superior and black people inferior.  Is it racist to know this fact and still sell this doll.

I am in Shetland for The Wordplay Festival and I’m having a  a great time amongst great people, wonderful food, breathtaking scenery, deep conversations on literature…. I had an hours chat,   just myself and David Knopfler of Dire straits yesterday.  The Shetland people are of great standing and greatly let down by the willful racism of one citizen who  gets a weird kick out of selling them. She sees herself as a rebel.  But this is cowardice. (Yes I know I used the word “great” too many times)

Just before I leave The Nest I see a framed  picture of Mohamed Ali.  I know the picture well.  “What’s my name” he shouted as it was taken  “what’s my name”.  I felt sorry for the shop owner.  Racism ultimately devours the racist and bitterness rots the vessel that carries it.  On  Shetland Island at the furthest tip of “Great Britain”  she sells Gollywogs to tourists who buy what they think is Shetland but what is actually the bitterness  of an angry lost old Shetland lady tucked into a magpies nest.  Her favourite  product proudly displays a flag and a tag that reads  Made In England.  (further information on this story happened on September 13th)


81 thoughts on “Golly Blog.

  1. Lemn that picture, of you embracing the dolls, it’s actually quite shocking to look at, the juxtaposition of human face and crude doll faces leering out really catches you off guard, it’s brilliant.

    • Rhia thanks. I did the whole thing to protect myself from what I was feeling. The shopkeeper had no idea what I was feeling. I wanted the pictures to show that. Juxtaposition is the perfect word

  2. Sheila robertson on September 6, 2013 at 12:05 pm said:

    I find this article very interesting as you were in the Spiders web knitwear shop just before you went into this shop and you said you wanted to buy a golly, you then went into the Magpies Nest and said you liked the Gollys!.. you chatted away with the lady, had her take a picture with them and then you took selfies, she would not have called her them her children, she is a Shetlander, she does not call her own children that… you did not even tell her you found them offensive, so how can you blog about her being racist when you can go in and tell her you liked them and not complain about them, if you yourself did not complain? You also bought one!

    • Lemn Sissay on September 7, 2013 at 10:31 am replied

      I was in Spiders Web. I was by Queens Hotel. I was in Lerwick. I also went into Magpies Nest and I did not pretend to dislike the dolls. I was toying with the idea of buying all of them but she would just buy more so I decided on talking and then I bought one. I bought the cricketer gollywog. I decided not to put this in the article. I bought it because I was going to do something with it. I’ll do a blog requesting suggestions.
      I did have relations with the lady in the shop. We had conversational relations and I did take selfies (photographs of myself with the dolls) and she took some of me and her dolls too. It was all very cosy. And yes I did not tell her that I found them offensive. But then I don’t tell the proprietors of Burger King that I find them offensive and occassionally I’ll actually have a burger. No I find here a better way to are the complexity of opinion.
      Do you really think she would mind calling them “her children”. You as me how I can “go in and tell her you liked them and not complain about them, if you yourself did not complain”. To answer this have you ever found yourself getting out of an uncomfortable position by being super nice rather than super confrontational. My alternative response to your “How Could I question” is There’s more than one way to skin a cat. In writing the latter seems a little harsh but not as harsh as the window display and the deliberateness of the proprietors actions.

      I conflated the children comment. I meant “childhood”. I have amended the article now. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Ahem. I apologise for having to move your comments to here. It was for merely technical reasons. But I havent changed a word of your comment and only the word chidlren becomes childhood in the blog. Thanks Sheila.

      • You are a professional writer.. you misquoted her, you are protaying her as a character, you compared an old lady to Kurtz in Apocolypse now, basically a raving lunatic, you do not even know her, you spoke to her for about 20 minutes,what curtesy did you give her to give her, she had no idea what you thought as you pointed out as you did not tell her, she had no chance to give you her reaction, you were offended by a stereotype, but what does that make you when you went in and did what you did?

        You were not honest with her, you did not tell her you found them offensive, why support her cause by buying one? You have just promoted the buying and selling of gollys?

        I do not find your actions convincing I find you a grandstander, if you do not want to confront people who you find offensive that is your choice, but then you write a blog about them and slam them, maybe you need to think about letting people speak for themselves!

        I find it ironic that you have made a career about speaking on behalf of the oppressed, have you forgotten this shopkeeper was a person too?

        If you want change, instead of making people hate the shopkeeper you should have told the shopkeeper how you felt instead of buying one.

        Why did you wait until you wait until you were off Shetland until you blogged about this?

          • Here, here. It begs the question “who’s actually being ‘racist’ here?”. Before you mouth off about things and in particular ‘people’ you know nothing of it would pay to do your homework. Do you actually know anything about the history of the ‘Golliwogg’ dolls? It would take too long to explain it all here but please, I beg you, before you spout any more of your diatribe, research your subject eg. The history of Dolls and the origin of the name ‘Golliwogg’. Florence K. Upton created the character Golliwogg. Enid Blyton then used a similar character in several of her stories but corrupted it. She made her ‘Golliwog’ characters rude, stupid and trustworthy. Many authors seeking popularity thereafter followed suit. Poor Florence Upton was quoted as despairingly exclaiming “I am frightened when I read the fearsome etymology some deep, dark minds can see in his mind”. As with Mrs Leask, she saw ‘Golliwog’ for what he was and loved him for what he was. It is not dolls who incite prejudice, it is, unfortunately, ignorant people making inflammatory comments in order to meet their own agenda. I you were truly deeply offended you would have made your feelings known, you would not have created the pantomine you performed and you would definately NOT have bought one.

            Dolls from earliest times have been used in rituals, have been deemed to have spiritual and magical properties. The Akuaba used by the Ashanti people, with it’s large disc shaped head and dark colourings are used in fertility rituals and passed from mother to daughter. In Europe the were used in folk magic and witchcraft. Perhaps you, our esteemed poet guest would like to see Mrs Leask burned at the stake.

            Ridiculous accusation huh?

            PS. I’d love to know what the Dire Straits dude actually thought of you 🙂

        • Absolutely correct in your description of Lemn’s duplicitous actions. The woman was obviously unaware of how these dolls are viewed now. A cowardly way to deal with an elderly person. We have a saying in Scotland to sum him up, total Numpty…but then again there is something ,more sinister in what he has done. Taking advantage of a vulnerable person to further his own agenda…poor show mister

          • John McLeish, the shopkeeper had been the centre of discussion several times.
            She was not unaware of the negative effects of the dolls.

  3. Bernadette Hawkes on September 7, 2013 at 8:18 am said:

    Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend and the topic of golliwog’s came up. We used to work together providing Race Equality training. I kid you not in every workshop I heard the plaintive cry which was ‘ I can’t be racist because I had a golliwog and I really loved it’.
    I looked up the origin of golliwog which I had forgotten – here it is –
    “grotesque blackface doll,” 1895, coined by Eng. children’s book author and illustrator Florence K. Upton (1873-1922), perhaps from golly + polliwog.

  4. Golliwogs make me feel uncomfortable , the name and the actual doll .If I go into a shop that sells them I will not buy from that shop .
    If the shop owner was aware that these dolls cause offence then why sell them ? Thats the bit I dont get , what disturbs me is the “I m not racist “attitude of some people who are happy to tell racist jokes , make racist comments – but dont even realise they are doing it .
    Yes I have been in situations were I ve kept my mouth shut and been super nice and afterwards thought I wish I d said something different , sometimes it feels a fine line between being rude and stating how you really feel .
    I now interupt if I feel a racist joke or comment is on the way by saying if this is going to offend me I dont want to hear

    • The owner is fully aware of all the issues regarding selling these goods. She is making a political statement. Poor thing. It is very crude and transparent to pretend that she is not aware of what she is doing. Poor thing. She is a polluting island ,landlocked in a loch on a beautiful island.

      • I encourage anyone who wants to make a real change for a better world to speak up when they perceive something to be wrong. I believe in using your money to back up what you believe. I also think that the best way to educate and enlighten others begins with being willing to understand the other persons point of view. Promoting stereotypes reduces us all to being less than we could otherwise be.
        I find this article to be essentially disingenuous. Like the author, I also find the dolls to be distasteful a a racial characters, but unlike him I have voiced my objection to the shopkeeper. Upon listening to her I have altered some of my opinions about such dolls because overall I she did not come across as as a raciest to me. Unlike the author I still would never purchase such an item because I would not want to add to the demand for such items.
        I question the integrity of the writer. I find it incredible that someone of his profession could not speak honestly. “I did not pretend to dislike the dolls”. Is a far cry from pretending to like and actually purchasing one. I also suspect that the words he placed in the shopkeeper’s mouth were misquoted. I have yet to hear this shopkeeper or any other native Shetlander employ the terms “child”, “children” or “childhood”.
        I do not find anything wrong with the author’s objection to a perceived stereotype, but I do not feel that his reaction ought to be praised. To my mind, rather than being honest and direct, he has not only continued to subsidize the sale of such dolls, he has also presented us with an additional stereotype. Instead of trying to educate her in person, he has demonized her in this article. If he objected to the lack of human dignity he perceived she encountering a doll, he ought to have known better than to use a real person as a puppet to voice what he could not say himself.

        • I encourage others to make truthful honest considered responses to The Gollywogs in The Magpies Nest. The subject deserves it. But when
          you were surrounded by gollywogs in her shop at what point did did you conclude that “she did not come across as a racist”.

          Actions speak louder than words which is why my words spoke loud about her actions. My words speak for themselves as do yours.

          • Are you arguing that the dolls make the shopkeeper racist by default and that she ought not to be allowed to speak on her own behalf? I believe you have yet to address my other issues. For my own part, I do not consider myself a racist and neither did the Black student association in my former university when they extend an honorary membership to me for speaking out against campus racism.

            • Nobody is accusing you of being anything Sheila. The facts remain clear: The gollywogs are offensive symbols of racism. this is not complicated. I am trying to help you, help the shopkeeper by sharing with you how it offended and threatened me.

              • 1- I am not Sheila
                2- I still do not understand why a national poet did not voice his own objections honestly and directly (as opposed as through his readers)
                3- I am opposed to prejudice; which to me is simply pre-judging someone without letting them speak for themselves.

                Be careful you do not become what you say you despise.

                • I understand that you don’t understand and I accept that it is difficult for you to understand. I think I’ve been very clear.

                  • The only thing you’ve been clear about is showing how gutless and cowardly you were for not addressing the issue there and then and choosing to type your vitriol form the comfort of your computer

            • The Scottish Daily record today. Headline “GOLLYWOGS BEING SOLD IN OXFAM”. The full link is here http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/oxfam-slammed-anti-racist-group-selling-2262913

              “Jatin Haria, executive director of the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, said he was “very surprised to see Oxfam of all people selling golliwog dolls”.

              He added: “The debate about whether the golliwog is a racist stereotype that domesticates prejudice, or simply a child’s nursery character, has been raging since the 1950s.

              “But there is no dispute over their origins – created by Florence Kate Upton in 1895 who described her invented character as ‘a horrid sight, the blackest gnome’.

              “She clothed her golliwogs in the same apparel as the black-faced minstrels then prevalent in Europe and North America, with thick lips, unruly black hair and paws instead of hands and feet.

              “And ever since then, they have been used as an offensive racist caricature of black people.

              “It is reported that in the 1960s, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders wore a Robertson’s golly brooch for each Arab they had killed.

              “After the war, ‘wog’ became a general slur against all brown-skinned people in the UK.”
              – See more at: http://blog.lemnsissay.com/2013/09/06/golly-blog-2/#comment-19733

  5. I think Lemn’s picture (Selfie) says it all, brilliantly. And as for chatting with the shop owner and then dealing with the issue through his blog, no contradiction in that, he’s been open and honest, about his responses, The hurt is apparent in that picture, as is the violence the dolls stem from, they are not cute, funny or cuddly they are stark and scarey, always have been and remain so.
    By coincidence there was recently a discussion of Golliwogs on Radio 4’s excellent ‘Thinking Aloud’ hosted by Laurie Taylor, it was on about ten days ago I think, could be more, there were two academics one of whom had done a great deal of research into the history of Golliwogs, it caught my ear as I was ignorant of the how they had been used in literature, I just knew they were no longer considered acceptable and had been taken off the labels of those jam pots you used to see them on years ago, (was it Robinson’s?). She explained that the stories were almost all biased against the golliwog characters, very obviously so, using them as the fool, the ruffian etc.
    Stories such as Noddy innocently enjoying a drive and getting set upon violently by Golliwogs, and needing to be rescued by some other character, (this story was later amended and other characters took the place of the golliwogs) and another where two characters are climbing a tree to pick fruit and the other beats the golliwog out of the tree who falls landing on his face, breaking his nose, this is used in the story to explain why African peoples and their ancestors have the noses they do! What utter cack! It’s absurd! Adults concocted these stories for kids! It makes you feel sick. There’s nothing innocent in this ignorance, it is sinister & depressing, the dolls are the products of disturbed minds/attitudes that objectify, mock & debase people of African descent, they are not innocent folkloric artifacts, they reek of racism in a very cowardly and sinister way.

  6. The daily records headline “GOLLYWOGS BEING SOLD IN OXFAM”. The full link is here http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/oxfam-slammed-anti-racist-group-selling-2262913

    “Jatin Haria, executive director of the Coalition for Racial Equality and Rights, said he was “very surprised to see Oxfam of all people selling golliwog dolls”.

    He added: “The debate about whether the golliwog is a racist stereotype that domesticates prejudice, or simply a child’s nursery character, has been raging since the 1950s.

    “But there is no dispute over their origins – created by Florence Kate Upton in 1895 who described her invented character as ‘a horrid sight, the blackest gnome’.

    “She clothed her golliwogs in the same apparel as the black-faced minstrels then prevalent in Europe and North America, with thick lips, unruly black hair and paws instead of hands and feet.

    “And ever since then, they have been used as an offensive racist caricature of black people.

    “It is reported that in the 1960s, the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders wore a Robertson’s golly brooch for each Arab they had killed.

    “After the war, ‘wog’ became a general slur against all brown-skinned people in the UK.”

  7. True story..

    My black girlfriend and I saw one of these dolls at a car boot sale. She picked it up, laughed and said ‘Ooh, remember these?’. I told her I did and that I remembered the garage called ‘Gollywogs’ just outside of Birmingham city centre complete with the large ‘Gollywog’ image on the advertising on the front.

    We both made a throwaway comment to the lady selling the doll along the lines of ‘not very PC now though’ and then we all had a discussion about how it never even entered our heads, at the time they were commonplace, that they were anything other than just a doll, and then we wandered off and continued on with our lives.

    But now apparently we were all racist without even knowing it. Oh for shame.

    I am looking forward to your outrage on behalf of the Native American people when you come across the Lone Ranger and Tonto doll set.

    Do you know something…I was just about to write ‘FFS lighten up’ and then I caught myself and thought ‘oh, that could be misconstrued as racist’.

    How the HELL did we get to this point where we have to mind our every word and phrase when conversing with someone of a different colour in case they take offense.

    Ridiculous waste of time and effort on everyone’s part!

    • Your comment ‘I was just about to write ‘FFS lighten up’ and then I caught myself and thought ‘oh, that could be misconstrued as racist’ enlightens me and tells me about you. You sound quite angry. Maybe you could ask your “black girlfriend” to read this blog and respond… but then you may not be together. I guess what you’re saying is that the gollywogs should stay in the window of the shop adn should continue to be sold to the customers from the liners that feed the Lerwick economy. That is what we are discussing here.

      • The point he seemed to be making is that virtually all aspects of the global economy (and human society) are exploitative, so why focus on this particular elderly lady? He mentions the destruction and ridicule of Native American culture, but think about the shoddy, dehumanizing conditions that the people who make our clothes and consumer goods endure today. (So far as I’m considered, that’s equivalent to modern slavery, despite the workers often choosing to do that, but choosing from a selection of universally bad options.) Should we boycott all of that too? Possibly, but I don’t see much movement in that direction. I don’t know of a single country that isn’t built upon injustice and oppression and ideology. The point is that humans are fundamentally pretty crappy creatures, every single one of us, despite our more sublime moments, whatever the colour of our skin, we all routinely treat our fellow humans like crap (even if we don’t do it to their faces, if we outsource that job to others), we’re all myopic and unthinking, and I don’t see that ever changing. I can understand your reaction, since you’ve no doubt experienced the kind of racism that I never have, but I’m afraid you do come across a little sanctimonious. If this old lady is the embodiment of evil, then it’s only the sort of evil that each and every one of us possesses, as much as we might like things to be otherwise.

  8. Well, that’s disappointing. I had hoped that you would’ve responded with something resembling an argument rather than attempting some amateurish psychological profiling ( You sound quite angry. Maybe you could ask your “black girlfriend” to read this blog and respond… but then you may not be together.) ..embarrassing really.

    Yes, I absolutely think that the dolls should be sold not only in that shop but worldwide. Then undoubtedly there will be black shop assistants selling black customers ‘Gollywog’ dolls. Then of course, it would not be racist. It would just be a person selling another person a doll which has an interesting cultural history, which could be given as a gift to another black person as an ‘ironic’ gift. Then the shop door opens and I walk in and say ‘Ooh, I’ll have one of those ….I remember..car boot sale etc’..and instantly, because of my colour…there’s a racist in the shop.

    So that beggars the question…who’s racist now?

    You accused an elderly lady, on a public blog, who is resident on a small idea community and who could easily be identified, of being a racist when the first thing she said when you entered the shop was ‘ I’m not a racist, they’re from my childhood’. You’ve called her ‘a racist’, ‘bitter’, ‘grey’, ‘ weird ‘ and an ‘ angry lost old Shetland lady’…this from a lady that lets you gather up her merchandise and take a ridiculous ‘selfie’ picture which really captured the pain and anguish you were feeling. I bet you didn’t have the courage of your convictions to say all that to her face did you?

    You say, ‘Racism ultimately devours the racist and bitterness rots the vessel that carries it’ and that my words ‘enlightened’ you about me? Well, I think it’s obvious from your own words that ‘bitterness’ is rotting you from within.

    I agree with you on one point though..there was definitely one racist in that shop.

  9. The coward wretch whose hand and heart Can bear to torture aught below, Is ever first to quail and start From the slightest pain or equal foe.

    Bertrand Russell

  10. Pingback: Shop owner considers closing after criticism for selling golliwog dolls | ShetlandTimes.co.uk

  11. Its people like you that causes wars throughout the world, “Racist” my arse you don’t even know the lady and I guess she never even give it a thought and not a “racist” bone in her body. If anyone is been “RACIST” its you, we do not need folk like you here portraying Shetland and its folk and been “Racist”. Because of people like you our children cannot sing Ba Ba Black sheep what the hell is wrong with folk.
    Am I a “Racist” for saying I have a black car or banks beign in the black..
    Go get a life….

  12. I am quite confused about this blog, are you accusing the lady in the shop of being racist or are you trying to say the dolls she sells offend you. As a proud shetlander I am quite offended by the way you have treated one of my own. To sit behind your computer and type this drivel accusing a lovely lady about being racist when she clearly isn’t is very cowardly indeed. The language you use to describe this lady and her shop could be seen as offensive and I hope that you regret writing it. The poor woman is thinking to shut up shop all because of this blog.

  13. Shame on you!
    I no longer live on Shetland but have known this woman for years and she is a lovely upright ‘lady’ who would not harm anyone never mind any boy’s feelings.
    You have exploited the people of Shetland with your comments and theatrical performance and you may have the support of a few, but you have lost the respect of many.
    It’s people like you who cause the type of upset and pc-ness in this country and if any one was guilty of racism in this case it was yourself.
    Away and hang your head in shame, the cheap publicity you have earned yourself says something about your character.
    Do the people of Shetland a favour and stay on the mainland as they will be ready if you decide to visit next time and you may not receive the welcome you had the last time you visited the lovely Islands!!

  14. I am a Shetlander, and as Voltaire said “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”
    However, I’m deeply saddened by the furore which you have created, and the way in which you have picked on an individual to malign. The great irony here, in my opinion, is that in attempting to criticise the selling of an outdated caricature you have unfairly turned the person who sells them into a caricature herself . -“A grey lady from behind the counter rises like Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. She splays her arms and in a Brando whisper she says “I’m no racist. These are my childhood. Would you like to buy one?””-.
    In this case I do agree that the dolls in question are the outdated relics of a time best forgotten, but I can’t condone this witch hunt which you seem to want so badly. Why not name and shame the company and all companies which manufacture these dolls, for surely without them no one could sell them?
    I’ll sign off now with two quotes from Ghandi, far more eloquent than I am.
    “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
    “It has always been a mystery to me how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings”

  15. If you really want to make more controversy how about leaving the defenceless Shetland lady alone and pick on someone who will give you a run for your money (and mouth):
    Let’s see what impression your MBE can make on them…As Chancellor Palpatine once said:”And you, we shall watch (the rest of) your career with great interest”.

    • Wow. Watching the rest of whose xcareer? Mine? OMFG. Are you serious? You’d sound allot more sinister if you weren’t talking about watching a professional poet. Haha.

        • and I quote…Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE)
          This is awarded for a significant achievement or outstanding service to the community. An MBE is also awarded for local ‘hands-on’ service which stands out as an example to other people.
          For once you actually got it right, you certainly are no professional, nor is this the type of example we should expect from someone holding an MBE..bullying
          Remember an MBE can be revoked under certain circumstances and that would certainly make the news, so make sure when you insult someone that they have no connections!
          Yes people are now watching you, but not for the reasons that perhaps you would like.
          Remember the Idiom..”People who live in glass houses (shouldn’t throw stones).”
          I suggest that you should apologise to Mrs Leask for your actions and insinuations.
          Oh nearly forgot to ask on a literary or perhaps profane front OMFG that YOU used…what does the G stand for, is it Golliwog?

          • MBE actually stands for Mancunian Black Ethnic. Good to know I’m on your must watch list. I like people to watch me. In the bath. You’ll find my gig list on the website or on the blog. Please buy tickets and or come to any of my events. Your comments are logged here Ian. Oh I see what you did there with the G in OMFG. Bit of Wordplay. Yawn. Are we done here?

    • That’s actually very funny Derick but I must stop you there. I may use PC Plod and maybe Windy Mill would step in. Nobody touches Noddy. I won’t tolerate Homophobia from anyone. Bill and Ben the flower pot men have now outgrown their pots and they won’t stand for it either. Carry on.

  16. There we must differ. Noddy is a sanctimonious, airbrushed, vacant cipher of nothinghess. Detested da peerie git da first time I saw him. Is it da vacant grin? Da stupit hat? Da irritating car? Pointless adventures? No idea. Vile onywey. Doun wi Noddy!

    • I jsut realised that you were originally commenting on Rhia’s point about the Gollywogs jumping Noddy. N I get it. Sorry I saw your comment on Noddy in isolation. Now i understand.

  17. Damn fine work there – playing nice and luring a clueless old woman into a false sense of security then POW! denouncing her on the internet as an evil racist who needs to be taken down.
    You know, quite a lot of people wouldn’t have been able to go through with that. They would have balked at pretending to be open and friendly with her rather than just respectfully explaining why the dolls shouldn’t be on sale. But, thank Heavens, you overcame your basic dense of decency to score some points from the Social Justice Brigade.
    Truly, future generations will have to build a monument unto your glory.

  18. “She says there are rarely complaints.” So she was already aware that there were people who found the dolls offensive and decided to continue selling them anyway. If someone has already stated their position like this, then I can completely understand why you wouldn’t put yourself into the vulnerable position of challenging those opinions. She may not have known how personally offensive you found them, but does that really matter? Would her response have been any different than it was (or wasn’t!) to the other complaints?

    • Possibly. Whose to say she wouldn’t have responded well if the matter was raised?
      The assumption that bringing up a race issue with a White person is a waste of time, is deeply misguided and assumes the offender won’t care for the offended party’s opinions.

      • Are we going back to the stone age here. And just out of interest ae the back of your knuckles scarred. Some of your comments are so backward I don’t know whether I should read them with a mirror.

  19. Great post. The photo at the was a real shock. I can understand, I think, why you didn’t confront her. I can imagine the headlines “Angry black man scares little old lady” etc. I don’t buy from shops with these dolls. I never say anything though. Maybe I will start. Thank you.

  20. I am currently embarking on a dissertation which analyses the African American cartoon The Boondocks and through my reading have encountered a multitude of cultural artefacts that were beloved to me as a child which were deeply racist in their representation of black people. Tom and Jerry, a cartoon I still get great enjoyment out of cannot simply have its racism ignored. I think it interesting that they changed the black housemaid for an irish one thinking it would be better, clearly not understanding what is so pernicious about stereotypes. I enjoy Tom and Jerry for the cat and mouse, and now see the housemaid for what it is, I don’t see any separation in a golliwog, it is just racist image in a portable form. It is always a pain to find out something you admired has a dark past, I am a young white british male who happens to have a huge passion for blues and jazz, but I must accept that there is an historical narrative of appropriation that has often benefited white appropriators over black creators. I’m sure you have heard of the phrase “white fruits, black roots.” I remain uneasy about the relationship between the two. But that ‘burden’ is no comparison to the one that those artists had to face. I don’t think the golliwog can be considered in the same vein. It isn’t a misunderstanding, it isn’t a cultural appropriation (which whilst problematic can have genuine admiration at its core), it is a nefarious, pernicious, and ugly reminder of the way that white people reduced black people (and others) to nothing more than caricatures. I am often tempted to argue these people down but then I can fall back on the fact I am an American Studies student who has tended to focus on racial politics and African American culture. I cannot say racism has affected me; I can (I hope) comprehend why you would not want to get into an historical argument with someone about the connotations of the doll. People arguing that you berated/”bullied” this lady are either unaware of how blogs work or are unaware of the amazing power of wifi, yes that’s right folks , it even reaches the shetlands. The whole shutting the shop thing seems like sensationalist hyperbole. I once saw a shop in Portsmouth selling the golliwog and it just made me never want to step foot in the shop, regardless of what the proprietor knew about their history, it’s not a good look. Most importantly Lemn, wasn’t that Cpt. Willard rising from the water on his way to kill Kurtz?

  21. Why are gollywogs racist? There are lots of white-skinned dolls, why are black-skinned dolls racist? I suppose if I studied the history of gollywogs and the etymology of the word, maybe I’d find out why they are racist (if they are), but like most people, I have never studied this. To tell the truth, I’m kind of busy with other stuff. So to me, they are just black dolls. In conclusion, I’m bloody glad I’m not an old lady who has a few in her shop and gets jumped by someone like Lemm Sisay who proceeds to talk to her politely to her face but then, as soon as he’s out of sight, then blogs to the world about what a terrible racist she is. Tell me Lemm, apart from whispering (clearly people who speak quietly are psychopathic), did this lady behave badly to you in any way? Did she treat you, a real black man, with any disrespect? Did she give any indication whatsoever that she was a racist? Or was the only evidence the fact that she sold these dolls? Did it ever cross your mind that she was entirely unaware of the deep offence these dolls gave you? Especially as, you know, you didn’t mention it to her, but on the contrary spoke in a friendly way to her. Really dude, you owe her a BIG apology… if you’re man enough.

    • I agree Neil, however as a person of mixed race I find what this man has done is nothing other than bullying and intimidating and quite frankly he doesn’t have the guts to apologise nor probably the intellect to understand fully what he has done.
      Perhaps a ‘chip on the shoulder’ from the child hood is the real reason and when cornered or bruised by comments he produces the behaviour of a teenager still at school as you will see from the comments.
      No good will come out of this for him as we will see.

      • Maybe the shopkeeper sells them because she likes them and people buy them. Perhaps he recognised at the time that she did not have racist intentions and that was why he said nothing.

  22. Pingback: Lemn Sissay and the Gollies « Miranda's Island

  23. You would have had a good point well made as they say had you just identified the fact of the golliwogs being sold and left it at that. Instead, you have compared a little old lady to a film character who is a genocidal lunatic. If that was done for comic effect it was in poor taste, to say the least, rather like selling an offensive … well you get what I mean.

    Still, you are right that people should not sell offensive items in a modern, enlightened society. Next time you visit vibrant, multicultural London, be sure to check out some of the Sri Lankan shops that sell highly offensive, racist material about Tamils (or Singhalese, depending on which faction the proprietor is from); the incredibly offensive extremist literature sold by some Muslim shops; or attend one of the African churches, one of whose congregation (a parent at my children’s school) ranted and raved about the horror (the horror! as your proprietor would have added) of his child visiting the Neasden temple.

    I hope you agree that all forms of racism and tribalism are detestable, and that the little old lady was one of the most mild examples (which does not excuse her, but does make one wonder about priorities).

  24. Lemn,

    It’s only a few months ago that two Australian radio show hosts were having a bit of a laugh when they called the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was staying and had a conversation with an obviously confused nurse. It was a bit of a laugh and made good radio. The nurse believed she was talking to the Queen, as had been hoped, and the prank spread round the media like wildfire. The only problem was that the nurse in question became embroiled in a circus of self doubt, shame and betrayal that she committed suicide. What started out as a good piece of fun on the airwaves tuned out as a tragedy for the family of the nurse who didn’t share the same carefree values and felt dishonoured.

    Perhaps she should have just ‘lightened up a bit’, taken life less seriously and been more aware of changing values of society. Perhaps the radio show hosts should have thought through how the prank could land the person at the other end of the phone in deep trouble. Either way she died.

    I am mentioning this only to point out how in a situation like this it is the person who is the subject of a piece which gains momentum through repetition in the media who is the one who lacks power. The person who publishes the story, be it the main stream media or a blog which feeds into it, holds the privileged position and should, in my opinion at least, be mindful of the consequences for the other person.

    The lady in your ‘Golly Blog’ article has been adversely affected by the fallout from the attention you directed towards her so I am a bit disappointed that you don’t appear to openly acknowledge this or make it clear that no insult was intended by her. Instead we have she is opened up for criticism as a racist for selling items which were deemed more culturally acceptable only a few years ago. Silly her, eh?

    Having grown up watching the Black and White Minstrels on BBC, I laughed at the idiocy of Alf Garnet, enjoyed Robinson’s jam, and rather liked the naughty gollywog who got up to mischief as opposed to dull Noddy & earnest Big Ears. Silly me as well I suppose?

    I better go now – off to start a campaign to have Shylock written out of The Merchant of Venice or taken off the National Curriculum.

  25. Grow up and get a life. Your race card has all but worn out and is really threadbare due to overuse. In reality these days who cares what colour you are? If you go to Benidorm et. al. than you will see plenty of BNP and EDL whities trying their best to turn brown!! The real threat is from islam which is a religious cult and has nothing to do with race. Now if it had a burkha on and you couldn’t see the curly hair would you have raised any objection? The attempt to impose foreign culture and religion in the UK and the failure to integrate are the major problems these days not the colour of your skin.

  26. He can try and be as clever as he likes. He’s nothing more than a black racist cunt – just like Diane Abbott. They forever put the ball in evil ol’ whitey’s court in regards to racism in an effort to deflect attention from their own. While our racism is racial hatred, theirs is ‘moral indignation’.

    P.S. And if I’m a racist for calling you a black racist cunt then it’ll be another knee-jerk reaction to a white person, who in your eyes is racist by default. I merely pointed out a truth – i.e. you’re black, your racist, and you’re a cunt. What’s racist about that?
    Yeah, the great big defender of equality – but I bet he can’t cite one occasion when he’s ever taken another black person to task over anti-white racism. Just admit that you’re only interested in looking after your own, and do so by blaming evil ol’ whitey every time. Some might be taken in by your wittering, but you’re nothing but a poorly disguised racist. Sorry, but being black isn’t much of a disguise except to those gullible enough to fall for it. I’d have more respect for you if you came out and told the truth – i.e. ‘I couldn’t give a shit about white people and am here to support my own’. I know it, you know it.

    • Nobody called you a racist. Nobody tried to be clever. What is clear here is that you have put yourself online to shout at me. The words you used to describe me are thus. You say I am a “black racist cunt”. You are entitled to your opinion. Did Margaret Thatcher hurt you this much?

      Diane Abbott is one of the greatest living politicians of our lives. There are few greater achievements in life than to make the world a better place. She has done this. Thanks Mike. Thanks for providing me with the opportunity to share this with her online. I am sure she may see this you see.

      David Blunkett is blind. His picture hangs in Portculis House next to hers. They say we are colour blind. We are not. David is not, you are not and I am not. I see things in colour as does David as do you as do I and as does Diane Abbott. And we all see that we are all equal. Isn’t that beautiful.

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