Etsy Profits from Golliwogs and Other Racist Nostalgia

Looking for your very own handmade Grandpa Golliwog doorstop? Or perhaps you’ve been looking for a “cute” handmade Mammy doll or Baby Girl Golly? Well according to an online petition that’s being circulated by a woman named Raquel Mack, virtual artisan marketplace, Etsy provides a whole slew of racist nostalgia for purchase on its website despite recent revisions to their policies, which were implemented in January 2011, prohibiting the sale of items that promote and glorify hate and that demeans people based on race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, disability, and/or sexual orientation.  
“In May of 2012 the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP attempted to reach out to Etsy only to receive this response”'[…] our members come from all walks of life, and may hold differing opinions of the legitimate collectability of certain types of historical items.’ Read the petition’s statement. 
“Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of this issue is that that one would be hard pressed to find racist items of any other demographic on Etsy, which begs the question, Why is it okay to sell items that dehumanize and denigrate those that fall into the category of ‘black people’; and would there be the same lack of response were these items offensive toward the LGBTQ community, or Asian community, or any demography that is “more likely” to be shopping or selling on Etsy? Etsy receives $0.20 for every item listed on their site by merchants and they collect a 3.5% fee on the sale of every item, racist or not. Since Etsy has failed to address this issue it may be safe to assume that they have no scruples about profiting from the very items they prohibit.” The petition continues. 

Once again, we have the issue of  re-appropriation of anti-Black artifacts being used for enjoyment, sh!ts, and giggles without regard for their historically offensive contexts and the social impact they still have on Black people. Golliwog is Europe’s rendition of the Sambo or Pickaninny caricatures of yore here in the United States. Depicted as an often mischievous character with dark black skin, bugged-eyes, red lips, and shock of unruly hair, Golliwog rose to popularity in 19th century Europe as a character in a series of children’s books based around “The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg” illustrated by Florence Kate Upton, who was born to British parents and inspired by a minstrel doll she played with as a child in New York. Upton later moved back to England with her mother (after her father's death), and used the doll as a model for her Golliwog illustrations. Her mother Bertha Upton penned the verse for the book and it was published in London, where it was widely embraced.

Florence Upton recalled of the doll, “Seated upon a flowerpot in the garden, his kindly face was a target for rubber balls... the game being to knock him over backwards. It pains me now to think of those little rag legs flying ignominiously over his head, yet that was a long time ago, and before he had become a personality. We knew he was ugly!"
In the book, Golliwog was described by as "a horrid sight, the blackest gnome." 

Following the Uptons’ success with the Golliwog character, un-trademarked, it would later be mass produced as a doll by toy manufacturers, used as a symbol for Robertson's jams until 2001, and recreated as a character device by other children’s books authors. The dolls are still sold in toy shops around the UK and Brits insist that the doll is a symbol of cheer, love and happiness however, Black Britons would be loath to agree with that assessment, especially since the word “wog” is used as a racially insensitive slur in England (Germany, Australia, and Greece) to describe Black or darker-skinned people. In 2009, Carol Thatcher (daughter of former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher) was axed from a BBC show after referring to an unnamed Black tennis player as a golliwog. 

Sellers are peddling these items via Etsy and many of them are apparently handmade to order, as opposed to being (old) collectible artifacts from the past… “Made in Black Felt with Jet Black ‘Rasta’ style wool hair and cord dungarees […] I also have other Golly Door Stops listed, some with more "traditional" hair styles. Note this is meant to be used as a doorstop and not intended to play with.” Read one seller’s description of her “Golly” creation. 

That Etsy allows these wares to remain on the site, despite what they’ve outlined in their policies is  just wrong and goes against their promise to reconsider racially and culturally insensitive items on the site -- “If you are selling items that violate the new policies, we ask that you take them down. If you have questions about a particular item in your shop, you can contact us at. […] we also want to recognize that tolerance and respect have to be part of the norms of our community. We feel that the kinds of items we are now prohibiting violated that spirit.” Many of the items being sold on the site, seem to (predictably) ship from the UK and Australia.

You can sign the petition to “Tell Etsy to Stop Profiting from Prohibited Items” here.

No comments