What’s in a name?


Carol Thatcher has, amid much publicity, been ‘removed’ from ‘The One Show’ after making an racist comment in the show’s Green Room – namely she referred to a black tennis player as being a ‘golliwog’. Note to non-British readers – it is offensive here, probably pretty much falls below the radar elsewhere but any defence is wholly disingenuous because you really don’t need to be very ‘tuned in’ to realise it would cause offence.

She is drawing a lot of sympathy from the ‘political correctness gone mad’ brigade. Saying ‘I had a Golliwog when I was young and I loved it’. Sorry, no defence. Why do you think they were discontinued? Why do you think we don’t see Golliwogs on the shelves of toy-stores anymore (except, apparently, on the Queen’s Sandringham estate.. hmm) ? Right – because they were a purely racially based caricature that actually offends people and feeds into oppressions in our society.

Thatcher was, apparently, offered the opportunity to apologise and didn’t. She claimed she was joking. She was in the Green Room of a popular TV show – this was not, as is claimed, ‘in private’ and the other guests and presenters on the show, apparently, pulled her up on the comment and were offended by it.

Now Thatcher’s agent is demanding an apology from the BBC – I’m not entirely sure if this is due to the leaking or the initial treatment. And ‘thousands have complained’ about the treatment of Thatcher.  Note: She wants an apology from the BBC but is not prepared to apologise herself.

As for me, I think she completely brought it on herself. She has shown no awareness of the ability of words to offend. She was in a room full of ‘white people’ so felt she could make disparaging remarks with no ‘difficulties’.

The question (to which there will never be an answer) is – would she have made the same comment if one of the presenters/guests/crew in the room with her had been black?

Comparisons are made with remarks that Jonathan Ross (another TV presenter) made. Two differences. Firstly, they were completely inappropriate but they were not stereotyping/offending an entire race/class/gender. Yes, they were unpleasant to the person involved. I’m not entirely comfortable with Ross but there is a difference with the language he used (vulgar, gross, inappropriate) and what Thatcher said (racially stereotyping).

He also made a complete apology immediately.

I am no great Ross apologist though – I don’t think he was unjustly treated.

The other comparison is the language used by Prince Harry – and you know, I say ‘sack him’ too.

11 thoughts on “What’s in a name?

  1. I cannot believe how arrogant and self involved that woman has to be, to not understand why people are so offended by her language! And yes, sack Harry too, the bloke epitomises all that is wrong with trust fund kiddies.

    Lola x

  2. I had a golliwog when I was a child and he was an adored toy; he was made for me by my mother and was perfect in every detail. I did not see it as a caricature of a black person, just as a toy that was soft and easy to cuddle and to play with. I even have the pattern from which he was made all these years later. As a very small child I loved Robertson’s lemon marmalade on my toast but because of the golliwog on Robertson’s jars at that time, and the fact that I couldn’t say golliwog, I always referred to it as gog jam, and gog ham it remained in my family forever.
    My mother was Senior Night Sister at a medical establishment in our part of London and one of the nurses who worked on nights with her was from Jamaica and her daughter’s favourite toy was also a golliwog.
    While not condoning Carol Thatcher’s use of the term, I think that it is the political-correctness gone mad brigade who are responsible for the disappearance of what was a very much loved toy from many peoples childhood and it never occurred to any of us that such a toy was in any way discriminatory. Discrimination is something that adults do, not children unless they are taught that discrimination is acceptable by those adults.

  3. Madsadgirl – I agree that it is an adult’s perception that makes discrimination rather than a child’s view but society does change and what is acceptable to one generation is not to another just because all of our perceptions change.
    Regardless of the toy itself that ‘gollywog’ refers to, it is hard not to think that someone who is politically aware would know that the term is now viewed as offensive.

    Lola – Exactly – It is just a complete lack of awareness of any possible offence as much as anything.

  4. People who rail against political correctness have never been at the receiving end of racism or ableism or heterosexism or any other “ism” that is perpetuated through language and jokes. It’s painful and enraging and it often creates an internalized self-hatred. Why would you not want to think a little bit about the effects your speech has on others before you open your mouth?

    I think many white people resent being constrained in their speech. They feel entitled to speak as they choose. A close family member once said to me angrily, “And now it’s illegal to even be racist!”

    I don’t want to dismiss the problem as “a complete lack of awareness of any possible offence.” That gets her off the hook. Who is responsible for dismantling racism? Isn’t it us – white people who as a group have created and perpetuated it?

    “I didn’t know.” is not an excuse. Make it your business to know. No adult in the U.K. or North America is unaware that racism exists. I don’t let you off the hook. Learn from this and change.

  5. We had a similar incident with a radio personality last year. He referred to an all-black woman’s basket ball team as…..brace yourselves….”Nappy headed hoes”

    That went over real well.

    He lost his job, but he’s working again. I’m sure your Thatcher will land on her feet–which is repulsive.

  6. As an 8-year-old child in remote rural Ireland I had a golliwog doll and didn’t know it was considered offensive.

    I always asked for a new one every Christmas. Eventually my mum explained that actually, these dolls were caricatures of black people (which I hadn’t realised, they looked nothing like the black people on TV) and she wasn’t buying me any more of them.

    It’s ok for an 8-year old to not realise that’s offensive.

    Not for an adult, on national television. If you want to go on TV and be paid for it, don’t make racist comments.

  7. Oh, you can still buy them in stores. I was in a shop in Australia and saw a box of them on a shelf. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

    I agree that people have to be responsible for their words, and if they do offend, they should at least spend some time learning WHY it offends, not defending their actions as “they way it has been”.

  8. Silvia – thanks for that. I find it hard to disagree.
    Reas – I suspect you will be right about her landing on her feet as (of course) the Daily Mail is out in force explaining her poor treatment by the BBC
    DeeDee – Exactly – Children do not give toys values and in a different period of history it was not seen as offensive but now, today, there isn’t really a defence – especially not someone who claims to be ‘media aware’.
    antiSWer – Yes, she seems particularly oblivious to any possible offence. I suspect most of the ‘PC gone mad’ defenders are white.

  9. Ray – I don’t have much time for Clarkson – He did apologise and retract (for the one-eyed and the scottish part) I believe.

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