Bad golliwog, nasty golliwog

I don’t normally give flying **** about racism, and with my own mixed background may (or may not, in the eyes of some) be qualified to comment on it, but having drawn an adverse comment when I suggested that the spokesperson  for the Romany, Gipsy and Irish Traveller Network should be replaced by someone who could do a better job, the subject has continued to hovered on the border of my radar.

Today I read that an Englander has exported their brand of racial righteousness north of the border to the quiet little Scottish holiday town of Rothesay, and Victoria Bird, from Dulwich, south London, contacted the town’s local paper, The Buteman,  to express her concern after she saw a ‘golliwog’ for sale at Bute Tools in Montague Street during a visit to family living on Bute.

Ms Bird gave the world the benefit of her opinion as follows: “I was shocked, dismayed and frankly outraged that a giant golliwog was in the window at Bute Tools, I can’t believe that such an offensive toy would be sold, and I would be embarrassed to bring my many foreign friends to Bute in case they might be offended. Clearly Bute is not a diverse multi-racial area, but that does not negate the tacit acceptance of such an offensive toy. I suggest that Bute Tools remove the toy from sale.

Where exactly would Ms Bird like to start/finish her campagn of hiding away, and ridding the world of historic facts that point to the past, be they positive, negative, comfortable, or embarrassing?

I recall taking an Iraqi friend sightseeing around Scotland a few years ago, while he was over on business for a few days (he and his family had been driven out years ago, losing all they had). At the time, Iraq was featured heavily in the news, and there were numerous tales about torture and how the country was living in past, and barbaric etc etc. A fairly standard script, justified or not, that’s yet another debate. On this particular day, we landed in Inveraray, and decided to stop for a meal, and to have a look around the various point of interest. One of these is the village’s jail, which is now a tourist feature. Inside, you are treated to close-up and detail history of “justice”, and how it was meted out: one of their examples being “Before the days of prisons, for petty theft you could have been branded with a hot iron, had your ear nailed to a post or been publicly whipped“, very civilsed.

One of the largest displays in the museum is based on torture in this country in “The Good Old Days”, and this was very uncomfortable to walk around in the company of my guest, given the sort of media coverage his home country was being given at the time. While his history was being portrayed on TV as barbaric, we were waking around exhibits which detailed the application of torture in this country, in the name of justice: thumbscrews, actually used on fingers, hands, toes, and feet – tightened by the jailer until the bones were broken and crushed; the boot, comprising wooden splints applied to the legs, with a wedge driven between them using a sledgehammer, not until it hurt, but until the victim’s legs and leg joints were smashed and crushed. Given the facilities of the time, and absence of treatment, these punishments were little more than long, slow, lingering death sentences.

So, I came out of the exhibition ebarrassed, shocked, and dismayed at what had been done in my own county in the past, especially as that same country was currently pointing at another and accusing it of barbarism. But, and this is the important thing, I didn’t decide that these emotions meant that the fact of what I had seen and thought meant it should be censored, wiped away, hidden, suppressed, or otherwise erased. Rather that it should be seen to be seen, so that others can learn from it, and hopefully understand what was wrong with it.

And, I think the same is true of the humble golliwog – it remains a symbol of something significant from the past, and should be used as such.

Now, if the shopkeeper is be shown to be a racist, selling golliwogs with the intent of being racist, and taking part in other activities to promote racism,that’s another matter altogether, but I doubt that’s likely to be the case in Rothesay.

I could easily have added a pic to go with this, but choose not to, because I’m free to do so – if golliwog pics were outlawed in the way Ms Bird would undoubtedly like, then I would have included a pic, in defiance of censorship, rather than upsetting someone.

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