So a little while ago I was in a group of people talking, I can’t remember how this came up, but a (white) woman started talking about how her mother made and sold golliwogs as toys for children. Perhaps sensing my incredulity she said “no no its OK Golliwogs are OK again.” Implying, I think, that golliwogs are no longer considered racist, perhaps due to the hipster revival of vintage toys.
Here is the thing. Golliwogs are not OK again. They are not ironic. They are not edgy. They are not now, in some twisted way ‘cool’. They are (as they always have been) racist. Why are they racist you might ask? They are racist because golliwogs are a caricature of people of colour, specifically people of African descent, because they are a caricature they portray people of color as less than human. Something that is deeply problematic because it has been done systematically to people of colour over and over again throughout history. The sub-human status of people of colour was used to justify slavery and colonization. Two of the greatest tragedies (amongst many) the world has ever seen, so you can see why there is a lot of baggage here.
A golliwog is not the same thing as a black or brown cabbage patch doll. A golliwog comes from a racist context and cannot be divorced from it. Racism hurts people, and yes dehumanising caricatures are racist and therefore hurt people – both on an individual and structural/societal level. As a person with race privilege you cannot arbitrarily claim that racist things are ‘OK again.’ Marginalised people reclaiming things that have been used as tools of their oppression in order to turn them into something positive is definitely not the same as racist things being ‘OK again’. I know it might be hard to navigate, but intention is not magical, I am sure your mother does not mean to be racist but the sad fact of the matter is yes, she is committing a racist act and no it is not OK.
If you are unsure what a golliwog is please see here