Rosemary McLeod: Golliwogs sad victims

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I remember the traumatic day my pyromaniac mother threw my golliwog on to the bonfire. Little did I know as I sobbed - my koala was throw in, too - that it would be construed as a symbolic political gesture many years later, and she'd emerge as a heroic figure in the war on racism.

She'd later have a Nigerian lover who was fond of murmuring "Burn, baby burn", a radical catch-phrase among black Americans at the time that I suspect she saw as an approving compliment on her ardour.

As for my much-loved, long-legged golliwog, it would have offended our Race Relations Commissioner, who disapproves of jolly-looking golliwog wrapping paper on sale at a chain store here.

Previously this country made international headlines for having golliwogs for sale at Auckland Airport. I'm not sure why this would feature as news in a world racked with poverty, famines, revolutions, persecutions, floods, droughts and child sex abuse, a world in which the European Union is tottering and pensioners die and are left to rot in their council flats, undiscovered for months. But there it is.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

I have a number of golliwogs in my vintage textile crafts collection. Maybe I never got over that bonfire when I was a tot: my mother loved nothing better than setting fire to things she no longer wanted - or better still, that other people did want, but she thought they didn't need.

The memory of those one-woman inquisitions and burnings at the stake probably turned me into a collector - and made me dubious about religion.

One of the oddest manifestations of golliwog paranoia was the banning of Enid Blyton's ever-popular, inane storybooks for children from the world's public libraries.

"Naughty golliwogs" were a regular feature in her stories for little kids, and this was construed - by sensitive pink-skinned people - as an insidious attack on the character of all dark-skinned people. There was also the matter of Noddy and his pal Big Ears sharing a bed, which goes to show what dirty minds some people have - they were always fully dressed - and how eagerly people seek out the delicious pleasure of being offended.

It is true that the woman who invented the golliwog toy in the 19th century gave it a bad character reference, but for all that it was a popular soft toy for at least half a century, as ubiquitous as the teddy bear, and nowhere among my vintage patterns for golliwogs is there any inference that he's a nasty piece of work.

What's more, I've seen many dark-skinned people in my time but none have remotely resembled a golliwog, any more than Barbie resembles any woman I know.

I was so fond of my golly that I wanted a black walkie-talkie doll to play with instead of my anaemic Wendy, named by my mother, who felt I couldn't be trusted to name my own toys.

What appealed to me - and still does - was how dramatic colours look against dark skin, and how much more fun those dolls would be to dress.

Another favourite toy of last century was the topsy-turvy doll, effectively two dolls in one: one is dark-skinned, but turned upside-down it reverses to a pale-skinned doll. You could play with either, depending on your mood, but I always thought the dark-skinned one looks best.

Does this make me a politically correct collector? Or should topsy-turvy dolls, too, be in trouble as possible symbols of racism, depending on which way up you prefer?

Only Jeff Green, a prominent figure in Tainui, saves me from believing the world has gone quite mad on this subject.

"There are more important things in life and around the world to get concerned about than whether someone calls someone else a 'golliwog' or is wrapping presents in Golliwog [wrapping] paper," he says.

Common sense, long overdue.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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