Who’s causing the offence here?


The golliwog doll for sale, inside Findlay’s Drycleaners in Pukekohe

Answering this question correctly will not win you a free Whale Meat Company pack but you can pat yourself on the back for choosing not to take offence.

The maker of these gorgeous little handmade dolls can take a bow because the skill required to make them is a dying art and the time taken indicates they are made for love rather than money.

Their skin colours range between pink, beige, brown and black but it?s the little black boy that drew the attention of someone who found him offensive. Quote.

Jaxin Hall, who lives in Waiuku, said he went into Findlay’s Drycleaners on King St, Pukekohe, on Thursday and saw a golliwog doll was for sale, alongside some other crocheted dolls.

Hall said he had lived in the United States for 11 years and recently returned to New Zealand, happy “to be free of all the racist things happening in the States”.

“To see something like this [in New Zealand] – it’s like ‘come on, we are so much better than this’.” End of quote.

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Let?s look at this another way. If you were in the store to buy a handmade black doll for a child with black skin, but there wasn’t one available, could you legitimately take offence? On the basis of the availability of plenty of other skin colours I think you could. If you chose to.

So, let?s see why Hall made the complaint. Quote.

Hall said he approached a female staff member about the doll on Thursday morning who was “rude and dismissive” and mentioned that she made M?ori dolls too.

“I wasn’t trying to be confrontational or rude, I wanted to give her context about what it means,” Hall said.

“I told her that the whole crochet doll thing is cool. I told her that I thought it was rad that she made All Blacks dolls and included some M?ori players. I said if you had made a toy of an African-American person or sports star – that’s fine. This is a stereotypical, offensive [doll].

McLennan said he wasn’t racist.

“I’ve actually got a dark partner. One of the owners of the business is a darker person.”

Hall said the golliwog doll image and stereotype was ignorant, “at the very least.” End of quote.

Someone, somewhere told Hall the golliwog doll is stereotypical and offensive to African Americans. He chose to believe them and now chooses to be offended on their behalf along with defending his right to offend others with a different belief or no belief at all. I find Hall’s bullying offensive as did the doll maker who works at the dry cleaners and was upset by his comments.

A common explanation of the golliwog is that it is based on minstrels. It would undoubtedly have caused offence back in 1910 but would it still do that today? Yes, providing people have been taught to be offended because they certainly weren’t around to know that 100 years ago. Quote.

The dolls’ original creator, Florence Kate Upton, based the design on a black minstrel doll she played with in her childhood home in New York. 

Minstrelsy was an American form of entertainment developed in the early 19th century which featured comic skits, music and dancing to mock people of African descent.

Minstrel shows were largely performed by white Americans in blackface makeup.? End of quote.

Hall was offended because he believes this story to be true.  But a different explanation of the golliwog?s origins is related by the owner of a Waiheke craft shop still selling them. Quote.

“They started off as talismans in England. They were based off chimney sweeps and chimney sweeps were actually white people.”

Kat admitted some African-American visitors still have “a bit of a look on their faces” after she gives her version of the dolls’ origins.

However, she said there were “more important things for people to get offended about”.

African-American tourists didn’t understand that the toys were an “English thing”, she said.? End of quote.

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Hall agrees that the issue is not a biggie. But because he is supported by the Human Rights Commission the trouble making and offending will continue well past the point of reason. Quote.

A spokesperson for the New Zealand Human Rights Commission said golliwogs and blackface were offensive as they perpetuated the sort of stereotypes which often underpinned racism.

“People must take the time to understand the history and origins of these offensive icons, particularly if they wish to make money from selling them.

Changing attitudes within the community can cause practices that were once considered acceptable to become regarded as inappropriate and offensive. Golliwogs fall in this category as they reinforce negative and insulting stereotypes. They have no place in our community,” the spokesperson said.? End of quote.

It all comes down to what we choose to believe when we are some distance away from the time or people who could quite rightly be offended.

Some people choose to believe something just so they can feel good about sticking up for the disadvantaged. Others just love an opportunity to stick anything to someone else.

But most of us put our energies into issues with bigger consequences than a 100 year old doll with inconclusive origins. You can discount the Human Rights Commission because it is paid to avoid dispute and their response is predictable.

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