Sunday, October 25, 2009

Let's be politically correct, right?

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?
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10 comments:

kesalemma said...

The only place I have seen golliwogs recently was the shop at the Koori Heritage Trust in Melbourne - made and sold by aboriginal people.

My golliwog was my favourite toy for years. I was born in the late 70's. Neither I or my parents saw it as a racist object. After all, I had white dolls with similar features too.

Sometimes, I wonder if we're taking this all too far.

Joanna said...

Well, you know the poor little kiddies, can't handle such a difficult concept as death! Their delicate little feelings might be hurt if there's a sad ending to the story.

*heavy sarcasm*

Hendo said...

Hehe, I hadn't thought about it like that Joanna, I'd read it more as 'poor little kiddies shouldn't have any cause to doubt the competence of our invincible armed forces'.

I agree Glenda, I don't think the P.C. erasing of gendered or racial language is an effective way to deal with things, on its own. If the underlying issues aren't dealt with, it could possibly have the opposite effect, enforcing the perception of homogeneous culture and denying everyone the language to challenge it.

I can see why the golliwog would be offensive, and as you say that's fair enough. But I don't see it as being any more helpful for kids, white or black, to only play with white dolls. What does that teach them?

glenda larke said...

Emma, that's interesting. Once again, it's all in the eye of the beholder - the makers of these dolls see the colour as something to celebrate, and good on them. PoC in the USA see gollywogs as an unpleasant stereotype, and I don't blame them. Me, growing up in Australia, saw mine as a cuddly toy.

Lol Joanna... funny thing is that very young kids (of nursery rhyme age) are usually incredibly blase about death, as long as the death doesn't have an impact on their family life.

Hendo - my half 'n' half kids had all-white dolls. Why? Because here in Malaysia in the 70s there was no other kind. Or at least none I ever saw.

Deb said...

As I commented on Jennifer's blog...we wouldn't want kids to have to live in the real world now, would we? I haven't read the article, but heard it on the news. According to the radio newsreader, Miss Muffett is also no longer afraid of the spider, they are now friends.
My mum knits dolls - all types. Animals, fairytale characters...and golliwogs. The gollys sell very well - she knits to order. I am sure they are just as well loved by the children who receive them as the other different coloured dollys she knits. Having said that, I wouldn't buy one for a child for fear of offending someone.

Hendo said...

I don't know about you Glenda, but I think that's a little bit sad. But admittedly, in my eurocentric mindset I was thinking of white kids growing up in a white family, in a white town and playing with white dolls, and how that would affect what they think is normal. Your kids, growing up in Malaysia with a Malaysian dad, would probably have grown up with a different idea of normal, right?

Glenda Larke said...

I think my kids had nothing that would be called "normal" by most...they grew up accepting of just about anything and anybody. They never knew where they'd be next week, or who Dad or Mum would bring home next. Almost every week, there was someone of a different ethnic background joining us for dinner, and our family friends went all the way from white to black, culturally Western, to all varieties of Asian.

As teenagers, when their dad worked for the UN, things got even more diverse.

They both loved their blond Barbies at one time or another, but there was "normal" for them when it came to colour. The few times they faced discrimination or comment because of their own appearance, I think their reaction was mainly one of astonishment that anyone could be so daft.

Next time I see them, I'll ask if they ever felt the lack of PoC dolls!

Hendo said...

Heh, I think the world would be a better place if that was normal for more of us.

My guess is your girls never even noticed their doll's colour. I suspect it would be a similar thing to kids who grow up surrounded by different languages, they can move between them effortless, often without even realising it.

Yusuf Martin said...

I am wondering just what you might be thinking about the recent Coca Cola advert on Malaysian TV. It smacks to me of the type of racist advert that proliferated in the 1950s, in the West.

Or an I being over sensitive.

Ps this advert follows on from another, a football advert, which seems to think all Africans are idiots and objects of fun.

Glenda Larke said...

Yusuf, I don't watch TV, so I can't comment!