The golliwog and the Blackamoor brooch

golliwog badge(Or: Princess Michael of Kent and me)

By a perverse coincidence the Robertson’s Jam golliwog badge (fellow Brits remember them?) that I bought on Ebay last month arrived on Friday, just as Princess Michael of Kent was getting 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,’ said one outraged Twitter user.

princess-michael-of-kent-blackamoor-brooch

The brooch that caused the uproar

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

For the golliwog: I have only affection, and purchased it to add to my framed display of childhood badges from the seventies. The modern writing out of Noddy’s golliwog, and absence of stuffed toy golliwogs for children to play with saddens me. I was delighted to find a modern stuffed golliwog on Ebay to some years back, 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 a toy golliwog. It’s actually nice to have a male toy to balance out Looby Loo and her friends. (No Barbie in our home, but that’s another Toy Story.)

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

 

The claim (I am 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 genre. In many of the brooches shown here, the designers were clearly admiring the wonderful effect of gold and jewels against ebony skin, and far from being servile most are dressed as princes and rajas.

And even those brooches and statuettes whose emphasis is more colonial, simply reflect historical fact and turn it into something beautiful. Even they need not be censored out of our lives.

As a Jew of dark complexion who has had the epithets “Yid” and “Nigger” both hurled at him, I consider myself exquisitely sensitive to racism. Yet the current political correctness surrounding Blackamoor art – and yes golliwogs too – I find largely shrill, irrational and sad.

Well, am I wrong? Insensitive? Missing something? All politely expressed comments will be gratefully received and given full consideration!

 

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