When I was a very small child, I had a gollywog. You know, one of those black soft toys you take to bed. I loved it, probably because it was soft and fluffy and colourful. Needless to say, I never saw it as a statement of anything at all, and its black face and its hair – which was sort of flat cut strips of cut-felt as I recall – conjured up exactly nobody, let alone a stereotype of an American with a black skin. Hardly surprising, when the years were the 1940s and I was a farm kid without the benefit of TV, who never saw movies of any kind or, let alone black Americans. Nor did I equate it with indigenous Australians.
When I first came to Malaysia, older and wiser, I was shocked to see a toothpaste named Darkie, with a picture of a Black&White minstrel as its logo. I refused to buy it. Most Malaysians saw absolutely nothing racist in it at all.
Racism was not the gollywog or the toothpaste, it was – and is – the reality of how some people treat and regard others. Just as discrimination is more than a change in vocabulary and the futility of wondering whether we should change “manhole” to…er…”personhole”?
That said, I would never buy a gollywog – if they were still available – for a child now. My decision would be on the sole grounds that people find them offensive to those of their cultural grouping. That is enough for me. They are the ones who have suffered, not me, and therefore they have the say, as is right. I have always been a little suspicious of political correctness as a means to addressing societal ills, but if it helps even in small ways, why not.
Sometimes, though, you do wonder just where it will all end. This, via Jennifer Fallon’s blog, as published in the Age. Read the whole article here.
In a revised version of the nursery rhyme that aired recently on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s children’s channel CBeebies, the tale – which first appeared in print in 1810 – no longer ends with “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men/Couldn’t put Humpty together again”. Now, a crack squadron of His Majesty’s finest hard-boiled military personnel has found the recipe to “make Humpty happy again”. How eggsellent.
Soon, no doubt, we’ll be hearing that the three little pigs have invited the big bad wolf to take a quarter share in their organic farming co-op; that a guilt-riddled Jack has atoned for his giant-killing by establishing a golden-goose-funded orphanage for the oversized; and that Hansel and Gretel have gone into the bakery business with a kindly old lady in the remnant old-growth forest of Tasmania.
I am still wondering just what was considered inappropriate about the demise of …um…an egg that was stupid enough to sit on a wall?