Oh golly

Addendum to Reason 4. Golliwogs are really racist. I don’t know why this is even open for debate. But it illustrates that one of the problems with racism is that “good people” can be racist too.

That’s the insidious nature of the beast. Good people can be racist. [Link broken, see screenshot below. Note also that the adoption agency director continues to sell golliwogs on her site in 2012.]. Good works don’t prevent you from being racist. Nor do they buy you any excuses (with me, at least). But many people will argue that someone “can’t be racist” on the basis of a nice personality, good deeds performed, etc.:

This woman really has done amazing things for 1000’s of kids–I think we need to give her the benefit of the doubt.

From these public forums. It’s a discussion about a person who runs an international adoption agency who also sells golliwogs. Another poster wrote the following:

I don’t have to ask her what her reasons are. Because I know what her reasons are NOT (to promote racist propaganda). She’s spent 30 years of her life finding homes for orphaned children. She’s deeply committed to all children of all colors.

Psychologist Beverly Daniel Tatum has written about what happens when white people try to downplay the experiences of racism by people of color. Basically, the person of color will feel unheard. And it will make that person less likely to speak about the issue in the future for fear of getting the same response. Worse yet, that person may well internalize the racism.

Many people don’t consciously have the desire to “promote racist propaganda.” But racism is largely unconscious or subconscious. That’s one of the reasons it’s so hard to fight.

In her own defense, the adoption agency director wrote as follows:

I first became aware of gollies when traveling in New Zealand in 1995. A Gollie Centenial celebration was going on and there was a lot of interest and discussion. As a collector of both children’s books and dolls I hunted for copies of the original Florence Upton books which were written about a nursery character from about 1890 to 1910. I found the books interesting for several reasons, they depict the thinking of the time regarding sexual stereotypes and include many incorrect assumptions about geography and science that I find of historic interest. The characters were fun loving and adventurous, the gollie and the Dutch dolls, which I also collect. It was not till some time later that I learned that through their over 100 years of history the gollies had been presented in very negative way by other authors. From a historic perspective they bring one who takes the time to study them, a different view on the development of current attitudes.

We cannot change history, it is what it is, and following the history of changing attitudes through dolls is part of what doll collecting is about. Some would say that the booming tourist industry involving going to Ghana to view the castles or forts which were used in the slave trade is morbid, or racist, but again, it is history, like it or not.

However, selling recently-produced golliwog items is perpetuating racism. Selling golliwog rubber stamps, coffee mugs, pins, etc. is racist too. I’m pretty sure it’s not about the “historic perspective” when you create new items with racist images for sale. It’s about profiting off racism.

Additionally, people often talk about “changing attitudes” when they talk about racism. What they really mean is change in the perception of white people. You see, there were all these words for African Americans and Asian Americans and Latinos and First Nations people that we didn’t like, but white people kept using. And there were racist stereotypes and racist depictions that were harmful to us, but white people liked them and made them popular. For example, it’s not that using Indians as mascots suddenly fell to the “PC police.” Rather, it’s that Indians and other thinking people were finally able to make their voices heard.

Sometimes, however, people just aren’t listening.

Another poster writes as follows:

However,is it really possible for people about to adopt children who have gone thru the trans-racial parenting etc that we have done can still see this as a positive thing for children to see?

Unfortunately, having been a transracial adoptive parent isn’t any vaccination against racism either. Neither is having a black friend. And claiming you have black friends or family members who don’t see racism in something doesn’t mean anything. Unless you believe that every black person thinks alike:

I think I would have issue with these Dolls if I didn’t have an African American friend who was in her 80’s a few years ago who showed me her doll collection.

(From the adoption agency director): We have had interesting discussions about gollies with our grown children, Black and other, who are now in their thirties, forties and fifties. We have talked about the dolls historic perspective. I am very sensitive to their feelings, I am after all, first and foremost a MOM, and I haven’t picked up on any negativity from them.

In any event, I prefer to personally hear from African Americans rather than hearing ventriloquy from white people.

The agency director concludes as follows:

Our kids were raised to see and celebrate differences, but not to pass judgment on or question the motives of others.

I pass judgment on people all the time, and I think most other people do too. I question the motives of others all the time, and I question my own motives. You see, because sometimes things are not just a matter of opinion. Sometimes they are just wrong.

Finally, in the “pants on fire” department:

The postings about our golliwogs website and the content on it made me take a closer look at our websites. I have a number of different websites associated with my collectable dolls the posts made me realize that the content with information about our family and the need for ethnic dolls was on the golliwog site, which was an inappropriate place for that content and information — and it was even more inappropriate because the webmaster had paired that content with flashing photos of gollies. As I mentioned, I do not believe gollies to be appropriate toy dolls for children, and agree that it is offensive to suggest — which I did not intend, but appeared that way because of the website content. That page is being removed from the web though it may continue to show up for a few hours, if you “refresh,” I believe you would find that it has disappeared. The piece about the need for ethnic dolls was written long ago for a different web site and because there are now many more sources of ethnic dolls it was decided to delete that content during a recent web site restructuring. Unfortunately the web master moved it to the golliwog site rather than eliminating it entirely. Big mistake.

Emphasis added.

“Recently”? Just for the record, here’s a screen shot of golliwogs.com from the year 2000.


As for people who say that this should not be a factor in selecting an adoption agency, I ask, “Why not?”

NB: I did not title this post “Why I hate adoptive parents” because some thoughtful people (some of whom I assume are probably white adoptive parents) posted on the thread linked above. So I have to grudgingly give them their due. Ow! Ow! ;-D

Edited to add link. Adoption Advocates International.


One thought on “Oh golly

  1. A very good post. Keep on informing us of continued injusistices, please.

    With people saying the past cannot be changed, I think it can be by denouncing racism in all its forms present and past, perhaps even destroying all structures present and past, but I’ll leave that to the people it affects the most. The past can be changed because the present can be changed; the present becomes the past quite quickly, as a matter of fact, in a matter of seconds. If we can eradicate racism now, we can say that there was no racism “at a point or era in time”. The other trick would be to keep that point or era of non-racism on a continued basis and not treat racism as a prank or a joke.

    It’s a prank or a joke only if both parties agree that it was a prank or a joke or even funny. Pranks and jokes are not one-sided, it take two to tango in that sense. Insensitivity or racism is not funny and it’s not even a joke.

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