Letters to the Museum

Regarding Robertson's Golliwogg

Today I was browsing the internet and came across several sites relating to the Robertson's Golliwogg, including this site.

It is sad to see a site where reference is made to the golliwogg as a racist symbol. I can assure you, that growing up with golliwogg pins in Ireland in the 50's, 60's and early 70's, I never once heard anything racial or demeaning said about people of colour because of them. If it wasn't a race issue back then, why did it become a race issue in later years?

Irish imigrant to the United States were refused jobs because they were Irish and also had to endure, even to this day, uncomplimentary Irish jokes. Instead of using it as an excuse for everything that was wrong with their lives, they held their heads high, backs straight and forged ahead. I have not seen any reference to this form of discrimination or bigotry in any of your American museums. In fact, I doubt if Irish imigrants really gave a damn what people think of them. I grew up in Ireland in troubled times and have had personal experience with discrimination, but I would never allow it to cloud my life or future.

Sadly, it seems people of colour in the United States do not seem to be able to move forward with their lives. They seem more content to live in the past and dwell on the past atrocities of white America and believe me, I for one, believe there were many. What a waste of time and effort!

I currently live in Canada and I am proud to call myself a Canadian, having attained Canadian citizenship more than 30 years ago. I am proud of my Irish heritage, but do not deem it necessary to call myself Irish-Canadian. The same cannot be said of Americans of colour. Instead of being proud Americans, no they must be referred to as African-Americans, although most have never set foot on African soil. Where are the priorities? Where are the role models? Where are the leaders?

A persons skin colour, country of birth or religion have absolutely no bearing on how I see them. However, I do have zero tolerance for self-induced stupidity, paranoia and self-pity as a replacement for self-worth and personal pride.

And to think a little golliwog pin could have that much power. What am I missing???

Yours sincerely

M.P.
Ontario, Canada

-- April 14, 2008

Response from John Thorp

The Golliwog was well established in British colonial history (to put down people of color being colonized) by the time Robertson's started using their version, and you encountered it in the 50's, 60's, and early 70's. That is was not considered racist in your circle is not surprising if your circle was made up entirely of white people. Until the Civil Rights Movement in the United States white people blithely consumed these kinds of images without giving a single thought to their origins or effects on themselves.

We do have anti-Irish items in our collection but do not have them on display. Like the Irish, African Americans went about achieving their own goals despite the Jim Crow system of segregation and second class citizenship that made this achievement much more difficult for them than the Irish immigrants who quickly came to be considered white because they could blend in.

Our collection is not about real African Americans, but about the white imagination that portrayed them in a multitude of demeaning ways (only one of which was the Golliwog) both in the past and still today. Your generalization that people of colour in the United States do not seem able to move forward with their lives is not based on fact. Because you do not know of African Americans priorities, role models and leaders, does not mean that they do not exist.

During and after slavery many white people labored mightily to force upon African Americans a sense of "self-induced stupidity, paranoia and self-pity as a replacement for self-worth and personal pride." It didn't work as an objective reading of the history of African-Americans reveals.

John P. Thorp, Ph.D.
Director, Jim Crow Museum


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