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Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood pressured by public to remove racist display of golliwog dolls

BySafia Munro

May 14, 2017

Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, the oldest children’s museum in Britain, is facing criticism for exhibiting golliwog dolls.

The dolls, which have been on display since the 1950s, have recently raised accusations from members of the public for propagating racist caricatures of black people. 

In an attempt to quell the controversy, a notice has been put up beside the display that reads “We recognise that some visitors may feel the golliwogs on display in the museum represent negative racial stereotypes.”

In a press release, the museum have stated its position on the matter declaring, “We do not uphold such stereotypes and do not wish to cause offence but believe that it is right to display these toys because they were such a significant part of British childhood from the 1890s to the 1950s.”

Nicola Hay, the Scottish campaign manager for Show Racism the Red Card, told Edinburgh Evening News that “simply placing a sign up stating that some people may find the display offensive is not good enough.”

Continuing, Hay argued that if the museum continues to include golly dolls in its display the doll should be “accompanied with an education segment, or an interaction educational journey, so that young people could understand the history of racism in Scotland.”

First produced in 1895 by Florence Kate Upton, the golliwog, a doll characterised by black skin and minstrel paraphernalia, was a popular children’s toy in Britain and Australia into the 1970s.

In recent years, golly dolls are no longer viewed as harmless toys.  Instead they are often seen as a relic of Britain’s recent history of racism.

Nevertheless, the dolls are regaining popularity, with a thriving business for online collectors and brand new dolls being produced in China.

Last September, the dolls made headlines after an incident in which the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned an advert in a gift-shop for an Enid Blyton tea towel featuring a golliwog design. 

According to the ASA the actions were taken as that many people would see the golliwog figure as representative of “negative racial stereotypes.”

A spokesperson added in a statement, “[The dolls’] prominent inclusion in a press advert was likely to cause serious or widespread offense.”

Viv Endecott, the woman responsible for the display defended her actions, telling The Daily Telegraph that golliwogs are a “part of English culture.”

Continuing, Endecott added, “You cannot ban bits of history you don’t like, history is part of our country. I sell thousands upon thousands of golliwogs in the shop every year.”

The 2000s have marked a significant change in attitudes towards golliwogs.

The famous children’s toyshop Hamley’s banned the dolls in 2009 shortly after an event in which Carol Thatcher referred to a black tennis player as a golliwog.

Similarly, in 2011, Bill Etheridge, a prospective Conservative councillor was thrown out of the Conservative party after posing with golliwogs on Facebook.

Edinburgh’s Museum of Childhood, which annually attracts more than 250,000 visitors, is said to be preparing to close for refurbishment.

Edinburgh City Council, which owns the exhibition, was unable to confirm whether or not the golliwog exhibition will still be in place when the museum reopens.

Image: David McKelvey

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