golliwogThe Carol Thatcher incident appears to be very similar to the Prince Harry debacle written about here a few weeks ago, one where a public figure uses a derogatory and socially unacceptable term to describe or refer to someone of a different ethnic minority. For Prince Harry it was ‘Paki’: Carol Thatcher ‘golliwog’. For those who are unaware of the story, here is a precised version from the Guardian website:

Carol Thatcher faces being banned from the BBC after she referred to a tennis player as a “golliwog”.

Thatcher, the daughter of former prime minister Lady Thatcher, made the remark in a private conversation in the green room of The One Show after the broadcast of the BBC1 programme on Thursday night.

According to insiders, Thatcher – who won ITV1 reality series I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! in 2005 – was chatting with The One Show host Adrian Chiles and guest Jo Brand about the Australian Open when she described an unnamed player as a “golliwog”.

Show insiders said Chiles was “outraged” by the comment and he and Brand challenged Thatcher about it.

The pair also complained to show executives – as did production staff who later heard about the incident – and it is understood that Thatcher was approached the following day by the show’s executive producer.

Thatcher’s spokeswoman had not responded to a request for comment before publication, but was quoted in The Times today as saying the word was an “off-the-cuff remark made in jest” and that she had apologised to the show’s producer.

“…the BBC feels it is not acceptable under any circumstances to call someone a golliwog,” the source said….”The BBC considers any language of a racist nature wholly unacceptable. We have raised the issue with the individual concerned and are discussing it as a matter of urgency.”

And this is the point: describing a black person as a ‘golliwog’ is racist irrespective of the way in which it was intended. A good explanation of why this is so is offered by Sam Leith:

Golliwogs are caricatural representatives of black people, short black men with dark skin and dreads will resemble golliwogs more than, say, reedy white men with ginger hair. Because Jessica Rabbit is a caricatural female form, women with hourglass figures and long hair resemble Jessica Rabbit more than others.

Since golliwogs allude to an entire history of minstrelsy, patronage and subordination, though, comparing a real person to one carries an entirely different charge than comparing a voluptuous woman to Jessica Rabbit.

Thatcher must have realised this when the comment was made. A quick visit to the BNP website – where for just £2.00 you can purchase an ‘England Golly’ pin badge – would help Thatcher and anyone else to understand this. And if nothing else, as Leith goes on to add:

with that surname, honestly, you would be best advised to give even the faintest hint of little-Englander racism a wide berth

What is worrying though is the way in which celebrities and other public figures are supported when their racist outbursts become an issue. Whilst Harry suggested that the victim of his name-calling didn’t apparently mind it, Thatcher’s supporters have argued that it was a ‘private’ remark: one that took place in the ‘privacy’ of a publicly-funded BBC ‘green room’ in front of 12 people, including Adrian Chiles, Jo Brand and a senior charity worker from Comic Relief. Neither argument stands up to scrutiny.

None though reek of desperation as much as when former football manager and television pundit Ron Atkinson wheeled out a variety of former black football players to publicly declare that he couldn’t be a racist as he used to have black players in his teams. Whether that is true or not, I’m sure that they would have felt different had they been on the receiving end of Atkinson’s comments about Marcel Desailly:

He is what is known in some schools as a fucking lazy, thick nigger

Whether sincere or otherwise, at least Atkinson and Harry apologised for their crass rhetoric. Thatcher however has preferred not to. As BBC1 controller Jay Hunt explained on Radio 4 this morning, Thatcher instead believes that she has done nothing wrong:

we have given Carol ample opportunity to give a fulsome apology and she has chosen not to do so. She maintains that her comment was made in jest

Instead, it is alleged that Thatcher has somewhat arrogantly asked – through her representatives – for an apology from the BBC for the fact that her comments were ‘leaked’ to the media. From perpetrator to victim in one swift move.

As was noted in the post about the comments made by Prince Harry, MP Keith Vaz stated that:

We cannot use language of this kind, even in jest…He is not an understudy for Bernard Manning.

Maybe Thatcher is aspiring to something similar. For Harry’s Manning, maybe Jim Davidson is Thatcher’s. God forbid who will be Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown’s understudy. Whoever he or she might be, the desperate attempts to justify and explain the socially unacceptable outbursts by public figures has to end. Society must stop pandering to their arrogance and bigotry. If we don’t then how long before we’re being told that ‘sambo’, ‘nig-nog’, ‘chalkie’, ‘honky’, ‘darkie’ et al are also quite acceptable if used by the great and the good rather than the great unwashed.

Creative Commons License Everything on this site by Chris Allen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 UK: England & Wales License. www.chris-allen.co.uk

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6 thoughts on “Carol Thatcher & the return of the ‘Golliwog’ (‘sambo’, ‘nig-nog’, ‘darkie’ et al)

  1. If it is offensive to call someone a golliwog, why isn’t it equally offensive to refer to someone who is good at figures a nerd or an anorak? The bias ammongst the politically correct is remarkable. Best to avoid such terms.

  2. As an old lady I have saved an old cotton reel called n*****r brown to show any grandchildren as evidence of changing social history. As there was a gollie in Chequers when Carol was growing up she might think of the gollie with a lot of love and affection like I do. When mother called me her little picanninny when I was little she said it with love. Older people don’t think in nasty racial terms. Limey, whitey, pom. Do not cast the 1st stone.

  3. I find this debate very interesting…

    I’m clearly on the wrong side of general public opinion, but as a Black Briton, I don’t actually find the term offensive.

    I understood a ‘golliwog’ to be a children’s toy from the late 19th century, resurrected in Enid Blyton’s writing.

    As such, I see no difference between referring to me as a golliwog and suggesting that a blue-eyed blonde girl looks like a ‘Barbie-doll’, so why is the former more offensive?

  4. i’m black and was beaten up by people who called my gollywog while being beaten in the face and yes it is offensive. listen to the last word and try and think why it’s offensive “wog” . idiot people think that saying that is ok. i do not refer to people using racial slurs because i was brought up better than that and because it’s wrong and nasty behaviour.

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