‘The controversial toy from our childhood making a comeback’

Feb 23, 2020
Julie has found a once controversial but much-loved toy from her childhood is making a comeback. Source: Getty Images

Golly! Everything old is new again. Classic. Well, I am particularly talking about golliwogs. Yes, golliwogs are back, and becoming very popular these days.

When we were children, they were our much-loved stuffed little friends. As youngsters, we were given golliwogs.

Golly was a fictional little black character, an image created by an American author, Florence Kate Upton, in the late 19th century. Toymakers turned him into a black cloth doll, with white-rimmed eyes, big red clown lips and frizzy hair. The golliwog was dressed in red trousers. These dolls were even acceptable as toys for young boys, especially in Australia and England.

According to modern theories, playing with golliwogs taught us something about racist stereotypes, along with tales of ‘black mammy’, picaninnies, and black minstrels. Indeed, as a six-year-old, my mother took by the hand and led me into a haberdashery. I had to walk up to the counter and buy two balls of black wool, one red and one yellow. Thus, I could knit my first craft project, a character in a Little Golden Book, named Little Black Sambo. I had to make a golliwog. So I did.

Years later, golliwogs became controversial and politically incorrect, regarded as anti-black in sentiment. The term in the name, ‘wog’, was seen as insulting, but it actually referred to the expression of ‘Working On Government Service’. This applied to Egyptian workers, employed by the British Army. Their children played with black cloth dolls, which ended up taken to England, as a novel toy.

Here we are in the 21st century, golliwogs are new again! They are now known as Golly Dolls. Some people buy them as a nostalgic trip, or to teach children that not all dolls have to have white skin. Golliwogs sell well in New Guinea, Fiji and New Caledonia. There these children’s dolls can reflect their identity, a response to white ‘supremacism’.

A friend of mine has souvenirs of her own childhood, her golliwogs. Currently, she is adding to her collection of these old-fashioned treasures. With her great-grandchildren now visiting her, it is a highlight of their special times with the family matriarch. Everyone has to sit down and have a tea-party, with the appropriate tea set crockery, with all the golliwogs, or Golly Dolls. This lady is creating another generation of happy memories. Good for her!

Yes, golliwogs, or golly dolls, are beautiful these days. They can be both fun, and a non-racist statement. It is true, everything old is new again.

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Did you have a golliwog growing up? Would you buy one for a grandchild?

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