The Wog Debate and the U.S. Navy
First off let me say that I admire your work very much and
would love to come up to Ferris some day soon to see it in
person. This is a story that needs to be told, and I hope
someday the Smithsonian adopts similar standards to tell the
whole (often ugly) truth of American history. Though some of
us try to deny it, race continues to be one of, if not the
largest issue defining society in the United States.
On to the subject of my email. You may know this already, but
I read through your essay on the golliwog, and found no
references to it. Maybe it has changed, but as recently as
1998 (when I separated) the U.S. Navy used the term "wog" for
seamen who had not yet crossed the equator. There is a big to-
do aboard ships crossing the equator and "wogs" are degraded
and treated awfully for the day, after which they are given the
title "shellback". My understanding was that the term that was
used formerly was "pollywog", but that there was a directive to
not use it because it was racist, hence, "wog". It is not out
of the realm of possibility that the person who told me that
was mistaken, or that the word evolved over the years from
something closer to "golliwog".
This tradition was no doubt handed down from the British Navy,
and I was just wondering if you have any more knowledge about
it. When I learned about the term "wog" long after getting out
of the service, I immediately was suspicious that it, and the
Navy tradition were related, but I have no direct evidence.
If you know about this, please include that information on your
web page about the Golliwog caricature.
Thanks in advance, and again, I can't thank you enough for your
David J. Myers
-- Jan. 3, 2008