I flagged the item in question and in doing so was asked to provide a reason for the flag. I simply cut and pasted the section of their “Dos & Don’ts” that prohibited items like anti-black golliwog image, and submitted the form. Out of curiosity, I entered the word “golliwog” on Etsy’s search engine, and up sprang over 100 golliwog items. Some were vintage, some new, some were sewing patterns and some were flat out made-to-order per the consumers specifications. I flagged as many as I could before carrying on with the rest of my day. Later I decided to check to see if the golliwog items had been taken down. They weren’t, so I composed an email to Etsy, which resulted in back and forth correspondence, to no avail. That’s when I decided to create and generate an online petition via Change.org, which went viral and was picked up by several online media platforms, which prompted more interest and more signatures.
It may or may not make a difference in whether Etsy decides to actually comply with the standards they themselves set, but at the very least, the actions I’ve taken to get this wrong righted, have helped me glean a better understanding of where we stand as a community, when it comes to race. It’s helped me understand that my experience as a person of color is valid and my views are worth expressing. This journey has increase awareness about new ideas, issues and concepts in my life; but most of all it has exposed me to A LOT of new and amazing people and has forced me to view people I already know, in a different light (good and bad). To those who have come into my life and expanded my community, I thank you. To those who have always been there to support me in my efforts, I also thank you.
The positive experiences notwithstanding, this increased awareness has also exposed me to some really willfully ignorant and obtuse people who seek to challenge what I’m doing, perhaps because they are bored and use trolling as a way to kill time or are threatened by what I’m saying due to their own bigotry and need to silence those of us who challenge issues of race and racism. I’ve culled several of the most common and inflammatory questions or statements I’ve received, and have decided to use this platform to respond to them.
“How are these items (golliwogs) racist?”
How are golliwogs racist? Really? Well, let’s examine that question since we both know it’s a loaded one. I’ll call this one faux naiveté, because more than likely you have already decided in your head that golliwog dolls aren’t racist, and since the history speaks for itself, the onus of doing the research to prove why they aren’t racist lies with you, not me. I’m not sure how you’ve decided to come to the conclusion that the history of minstrelsy isn’t racist, but it is. So why antagonize the creator of this petition when the historical information is easily accessible via a simple Google search? You can challenge me all you want, but at the end of the day, facts are facts and it’s not your place to dictate, to a black person, how s/he should respond to something that racially offensive. I’ve already outlined the origin and history of the golliwog caricature and why it’s offensive. I am not your black history teacher and I am not here to prove racism to the willfully ignorant. And FYI, researching this information does not include user run forums where everyone’s reminiscing about their favorite golly doll from their childhood or whining about political correctness and/or freedom of speech. Being politically incorrect doesn’t insulate people from being held accountable for destructive and racist behavior. Telling me, “I know a black person and…” doesn’t fly either. Who cares? If you want to refute my stance on the matter, do so citing factual information that supports your argument that golliwogs AREN’T racist if you want me to engage you. If you can’t do that then kick rocks.
“This is political correctness gone MAD!!!!”
This is not a valid argument. Arguments against political correctness shouldn’t factor into discussions about race or racism, as far as I’m concerned. And it’s a common derailment used to try to silence marginalized people from engaging in open and honest discourse about how racial insensitivity affects them. If you are interacting with a full-grown black man and then you refer to him as “boy” you are not being politically incorrect or direct, you are just being a racist a**hole.
We used to lock people with mental handicaps away from the world where they were often abused and neglected. This was not just a horrible way to treat a human being, but it also served to further marginalize an already underrepresented segment of our population. We did that as a society because we didn’t view the mentally handicapped as “fully human.” As time passed, we realized the error of our ways and enacted laws to ensure that that population was treated with dignity and respect. We didn’t do this because we thought we needed to be more “politically correct,” we did it because we learned to change the lens through which we view the mentally handicapped and we agreed that it would reflect poorly on society if we were complicit in continuing to treat these people like animals in a kennel. Ergo, my request to have MY people treated with respect and dignity by not wanting Etsy to perpetuate a stigmatizing caricature of us is not asking for political correctness. I have the right to challenge anything—images included—that threatens my humanity.
“I don’t find these things (golliwog dolls) racist.”
That’s okay. You don’t have to because guess what? YOU don’t get to tell ME, a black person, what is or isn’t offensive or harmful to me and mine. As I said in my first response, I’ve already outlined why golliwog dolls are, in fact, racist. If you don’t find golliwogs racist it’s because you see it through the lens of white imperialism/Euro-colonialism or might possibly be a Kool-Aid drinker if you just refuse to acknowledge the history behind the caricature. That’s called willful ignorance and THAT is racism’s best friend. Congratulations racist!
“But I love them! How can they be a symbol of hate?! Oh noooooooes!”
More faux naiveté, but sure, I’ll play along. I’m sorry that coming to terms with the racism that this “toy” represents would present a conundrum for you. You now have to decide whether or not you can continue to own/make these items without being considered a racist. I know it’s tough. If I had to choose between a toy I had when I was a child and disparaging a whole race of people I don’t know what I’d do either. NOT! Grow the eff up and stop! Your nostalgic children’s toy is not more important than PEOPLE.
“Well, in the UK/Australia/Canada we don’t view these dolls as racist or offensive. Lighten up, jeeze!”
Firstly, you’re entitled to your opinion, and more importantly, I don’t care. I understand that being so geographically removed from where this caricature originated allows you to view the golliwog through a different lens than I do. For someone from a different country to come in and challenge a long-existing paradigm is upsetting to you because it forces you to re-examine and hopefully confront age old tropes that you reinforce within your microcosm that may be harmful to others even if you don’t intend them to be. I get it. I just don’t care. Let’s not pretend that my petition is the first time you’ve heard that golliwogs are racist. This is an ongoing debate in many countries, so let’s save the “Well, I never!” fake surprise bulls**t. If you live in a first or even second world country then you most likely have access to a computer, library, or community college where, and I’ll say it again, you can find your own information; such as, where the golliwog caricature originates from, why there’s pushback about the dolls still being sold, why people are dismayed when they are seen displayed in a gift shop window just outside of Buckingham Palace. And while you continue to feign ignorance, have you taken the time to ask an Afro-European how s/he feels about the images? If the doll is nothing more than a toy, then why is “golliwog” used as a racial epithet to insult Afro-European celebrities and athletes in your country? You have access to information, so location is a sad and sorry excuse, not to consider why the image still offends people. It’s not just an issue Black-Americans raise. At the end of the day, it’s your choice to be informed or not. I’m not here to change you. I’m here to change Etsy, and hold them accountable for not adhering to the terms of service they’ve outlined to sellers.
Alright, so I’ve really only gotten this reaction once so if it seems rather specific, it is. If there are any other black/partially black golliwog crafters/owners out there who are reading this, my response is for you too (Do click the link above if you’re interested in seeing what this person wrote to me). I feel sorry for you and relegate you to the “Kool-Aid Drinker” stadium of seats, and that’s genuinely how I feel. I feel sad that your parent(s) failed to give you the context required to understand the meaning of this doll, when they gave it to you as a child. I’m sorry that, apparently, your parent(s) failed to give you the education about the part of your heritage it would have behooved you to know about. Even if your lineage has nothing to do with the US slave trade or the Jim Crow South, these experiences, traumas, trials and tribulations are still a part of YOUR black history, and colonialism was a historical reality for Blacks in Europe. I’m sorry that you’re so unaware, but you are now an adult. You can find this information and educate yourself about the history of minstrelsy and other anti-black caricatures, and how that imagery was used to denigrate “us,” … if you so choose, that is. In your day to day life you may interact with many people of other races, who aren’t black. Buy reproducing these golliwog caricatures for white consumption and for anything other than providing teachable moments, you’re perpetuating racist tropes about black people and enabling those of your friends who espouse the “Hey, I’ve got a black friend and she makes the damn things, so whatevs!” , to be racially insensitive. Again, that’s your choice, it’s irresponsible, but I’m not here to change you, I’m here to change Etsy.
Side Note 1: FYI, Golliwogs and Mammies are two different caricatures, don’t try and tell me how they were portrayed historically. You clearly don’t know your history or you would have known THAT.
Side Note 2: You might want to tell your white friend(s) to stop calling black people “coloured.” That might fly over where you are, but if they say it over here they might get knocked the f**k out.
Side Note 3: As far as “Intellectual Property” concerns go, admittedly, I didn’t do any research on the chain of custody with regard to pictures of racist items I find on Etsy and featured on my Etsy: Selling Hate Facebook page. I wasn’t completely clear about whether Etsy owns the images once they’re posted on their site, or if the seller retained the rights to the intellectual property. Either way I don’t care, it still doesn’t negate their offensive nature and the fact Etsy didn’t uphold their policies on selling racially offensive items.
If you have that much of an issue with me challenging racist images on a site that claims to eschew items that promote hate and with the information/images being generated, you may also want to contact the writers of the 8 or so articles that featured my petition and who used the photos they found on Etsy , as well. Google ‘Etsy Racist’ and they should pop up in the results. Good luck. I imagine they could care less too.
“I am/know a black person and I/they collect these items as a reminder of how black people were treated.”
And? My petition targets recently made non-vintage golliwog items, as well as other non-vintage racist wares or patterns being sold, to enable people to create, manufacture, and profit from these items. Golliwogs are anti-black and, once again, fall under the terms of Etsy’s “Prohibited ” list. I’m not sure how many times I need to emphasize this. If you’re a collector using the images to use in a productive/educational way, then you’re probably not buying newly made golliwog items. If you didn’t know that before, try reading the petition. If you know that now and you are still using this argument to oppose my stance then you are simple.
This one is my favorite so I saved it for last- “There are bigger, more pressing issues regarding race. Why don’t you spend your time and energy on a bigger issue?”
Well, I only have this to say about that; Instead of telling me what “part” I need to be playing in the fight against racial inequality, what are YOU doing to help tackle those “bigger issues”? Perhaps you have a hierarchy of “race issues” that you’ve deemed to be relevant or inconsequential, and feel the one I’ve chosen to raise awareness about is a low priority, but it’s not your place to dictate what’s important *to me* and others. Who do you think you are? No, really… Who are you? Are you a community rights leader that making waves and a social impact in the black community? Do you have a PhD in African studies? You must, since you seem to believe you know what’s worth fighting for. You strike me as someone who just wants to be contrary, while not working to increase awareness.
Holding a corporate entity accountable for their actions is relevant. Watching “Black in America” with Soledad O’Brien” doesn’t count as taking an active part in raising awareness about issues in the black community. Taking time out of your day to tell me that I’m wasting time on an issue that is not impactful or significant enough *to you* is an effort in futility. When you have something to bring to the table or offer me some other alternative then let’s engage one another.
So, there ya go. If you see a reaction you’ve had to my petition on here and were afraid to voice it to me or if you did voice it to me and I just didn’t bother with you, these are the responses I felt were worth addressing.
If you have a question or comment about why I think Etsy is handling this whole golliwog situation the wrong way, I am willing to discuss that. I am not, however, willing to further discuss or address any of the aforementioned questions or comments because, as I’ve illustrated here, I don’t have time for foolishness. If you still don’t think the golliwog is racist, then I’ll say it once more… That’s your opinion, and I don’t have to agree with it. I’m not here for you. I’m here to hold Etsy accountable for being complicit in promoting hate, when their Terms of Service dictates it isn’t allowed.
Here are some helpful links to help you on your research/journey, so you don’t have to persist that I teach you what’s easily accessible:
- Excerpts from the book Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights, by Robin Bernstein, 2011
- The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia This is a great place to learn about this and other black caricatures from the Jim Crow era.
- Here’s an article from 2009 about when Carol Thatcher got sacked for calling a pro tennis player a golliwog.
- In 2008 somebody at the airport called Naomi Campbell a ‘golliwog’ and she flipped out on some people.
- Really?! Come on Sweden! Sort yourself out!
- The Blackface Stereotype
Edited by Tiff J