Note: we are republishing this story amid an ongoing national conversation about racial justice in America.
Chris Ryley, owner of the White Hart in Grays, Essex, and his wife, Benice, were outraged after the local council stated that it would be launching an investigation after a customer complained that the 15 golliwogs behind the bar constituted a “racially aggravated crime.”
59-year-old Chris recounted the details of the call:
"The head of licensing at the council phoned to tell me a complaint had been made and said the same person had also gone to the police. He asked me 'would I consider taking them down?’ I was shocked – I told the council I would think about it but I cannot see how I have committed an offence so they are here to stay.
Since we have had them up behind the bar in the past three years, there have only ever been two complaints. One was from a Canadian lady who said 'those would not be allowed back in my country' and another was from an English woman who insisted they were racist, despite no-one else in the pub agreeing with her, including a black man who was drinking in here at the time.
It's all about political correctness isn't it? Children can't play conkers anymore or have snowball fights in case they are hurt."
Golliwog dolls are popularly believed to be based on a character created by Florence Kate Upton in the 19th century, a blackface minstrel – a white person with their face painted black, with exaggerated frizzy hair, and bright pink lipstick.
However, others, like Chris and Benice, believe that the origin of the word “golliwog” was the W.O.G.S – Working on Government Service – labels that were printed on the armbands of the Egyptian laborers working for British soldiers in the 19th Century. The British troops referred to the workers as “ghouls” – Arabic word for a desert ghost.
The Egyptian children played with black dolls, which they gave or sold to the British soldiers.
The dolls were called “Ghuliwogs,” which was then changed to “Golliwogg.”
The couple is nervously waiting to see if the council will revoke their license, but they have refused to back down.
"The council has enough things to be getting on with, rather than worrying about this. The golliwogs are staying up. No-one has said anything to us and my message would be 'go somewhere else to drink if you don't like it – nobody is forcing you to come here.' If the customers start complaining, that would change my mind but it is our customers who brought most of them here for us as presents,” Chris said.
He continued: "My phone has been full of messages of support from customers saying 'save the golliwogs.' I've been telling the customers about the complaint and their reaction has been 'are you having a laugh?' They are all in favor of us keeping them. The council will be opening a big can of worms if they were to take action against our license for this.”
“I will stand my ground. We will stand our ground,” he concluded.
Sources: Daily Star