The golliwog and the blackamoor brooch

By a perverse coincidence the Robertson’s Jam golliwog badge (fellow Brits remember them?) that I bought on Ebay last month arrived last Friday, just as Princess Michael of Kent was being hauled across the coals in the media for having worn a blackamoor brooch to an event at which she knew at least one mixed race guest would be present.

“Apparently wearing slavery-inspired brooches is the ultimate royal holiday tradition,” chirped an outraged Twitter user.

Princess Michael was quick to apologize of course, but though I see that she had to so in order to appease the masses-with-whom-it-is-impossible-to-reason, I can’t help feeling it was not strictly necessary, and regretting that her magnificent brooch will now – as she put it – “be retired”.

As a Jew I believe I am extra careful to avoid any hint of racial prejudice. However, in both these cases I suggest that obsessive political correctness has overcome what should have been simple appreciation for things of fun and beauty.

The golliwog

I have only affection for golliwogs, and remember them as a childhood companion in Noddy books, on Robertson’s marmalade jars, and as plush toy I envied some of my friends for owning.

I purchased the golliwog badge to add to my framed display of childhood enamel badges from the seventies.

The modern writing out of Noddy’s friend the golliwog, and the absence of stuffed golliwogs for children to play with, saddens me.

Some years back I bumped into a modern stuffed golliwog on Ebay, and bought it for my grandkids to play with when they visit. We are very strong on anti-racial sentiment of any kind and there is not the slightest risk that my grandchildren will be racists as a result of playing with Mr Golliwog. In fact it’s nice to have a male toy to balance out Looby Loo and her girlfriends. (No Barbies in our home, but that’s another Toy Story.)

The Blackamoor brooch

The brooch that caused the uproar

While it does seem incredible that the princess didn’t realize the knee-jerk reactions her brooch would produce (yes we know her estranged father was a high-ranking SS officer), I greatly appreciate it as a magnificent work of art – and am actually glad to have seen it as a result of this kerfuffle.

The claim (I am almost tempted to say “from leftist, ivory-tower academia”) that blackamoor art insults dark-skinned people by portraying them in servile and colonial roles – to my mind shows a sad lack of appreciation for this fascinating art form, and is not borne out by examination of many superb examples. In the superb selection below, the artists were clearly admiring the wonderful effect of gold and jewels set against ebony skin, and far from being servile they are dressed as princes and rajas.

These colors compliment a dark complexion as black oftem compliments a fair one. Should we deny differences in skin color, and dress everyone in black as though their skin was white?

Four magnificent blackamoor rajas

And even those brooches and statuettes whose emphasis is more colonial and servile, simply reflect historical fact and turn it into a thing of beauty. Even they need not be censored out of our lives. It is education that is the crucial element here; not censorship.

As a Jew of swarthy complexion who has had the epithets “Yid” and “Nigger” both hurled at him on occasion, I am exquisitely sensitive to racial slurs. Yet I feel strongly that the current political correctness surrounding blackamoor art – and yes golliwogs too – is largely shrill, irrational and misplaced.

Well then, am I wrong? Insensitive? Missing something? Any and all politely expressed comments will be read with interest.

About the Author
Jonathan Cohen is a Londoner who has lived for the past 35 years in Southern Israel. While working for many years in high-tech, and acting in community theater as a hobby, he has also been involved in a variety of educational projects, both secular and religious. He is author of the Feldheim "Sephardi Haggadah", sometime Visiting Rabbi of Bevis Marks Synagogue in London, and runs several active websites and Facebook groups on the music and traditions of the Western Sephardi tradition.
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