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What are golliwogs and why are they considered racist?

A pub in Essex has become the centre of a 'political correctness' row after police seized a collection of the dolls

An indépendant toyshop selling lots of old fashioned toys including Gollywogs, golly wogs, toy shop, teddy bears,
Golliwogs are considered an offensive caricature of black people, but people still insist on defending their right to display them. (Alamy)

A husband and wife have defied police by vowing to keep their collection of antique golliwog dolls on display at their pub after officers raided the premises.

Benice Ryley, 61, and her husband Chris, 65, were visited by police after someone made an anonymous complaint about the pair committing a "hate crime" by displaying the golliwogs - seizing a number of dolls from the White Hart pub in Grays, Essex.

Since then, Ryley claims customers have been singing "save the gollies", demanding the return of the dolls, which are widely considered to be racist caricatures of black people.

Ms Ryley has called the incident "political correctness gone out of control", declaring that she is putting the remaining dolls from her collection on display.

Home secretary Suella Braverman reportedly considered the seizure a waste of police resources, which has left some people deeply disturbed.

Read more: Pub landlords won’t back down over ‘racist’ golliwogs seized by police

Lawyer and political activist Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu accused Braverman of trying to "normalise racism", and suggested she should be prosecuted for doing so.

Scottish political activist Aamer Anwar said the home secretary is "turning back the clock to the 1970’s, acting as a cheerleader for the far-right" by tolerating an "ugly, nasty racist trope".

Here, Yahoo News explains the history of the character and why it is considered so offensive today.

What is the origin of golliwogs?

An illustration from The Golliwogg's Polar Adventure by Florence Upton. (Photo by © Historical Picture Archive/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
An illustration from The Golliwogg's Polar Adventure by Florence Upton. (Getty Images)

The character started life as a character created by American-born English cartoonist Florence Kate Upton, who first featured the illustrations in her 1895 book, The Adventures of the Two Dutch Dolls.

Its main characters were two Dutch dolls, Peg and Sarah Jane, and a golliwogg (as it was originally spelt), who they encounter while on the loose in a toy shop.

They describe the doll as the "blackest gnome" and a "horrid sight". It was depicted as being ugly, with Upton drawing it with big eyes, red lips and paws instead of hands and feet.

Upton based the character on a black minstrel doll she'd played with "roughly" as a child while living in New York, using him as a target for rubber balls, according to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.

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ENGLAND - AUGUST 07:  Photographs of boys and girls were used by advertisers to promote a wide range of products - this photograph was sold to ICI Limited. The �golliwog� toy seen here is no longer acceptable in British society. Photographic Advertising Limited, founded in 1926, created multi-purpose stock images with the potential for selling a range of products. Whilst enjoying its greatest success during the 1930s, it continued in business until 1977. Their trademark, the staged studio photograph resembling a film still, was its selling point and, later, its downfall. Sophisticated, adaptable and generic, this kind of image gradually fell out of favour as clients increasingly demanded targeted advertising campaigns with specific photographs.  (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Golly dolls soon became a popular children's toy in Britain. (Getty Images)

The book became incredibly popular in Britain, with Upton and her mother Bertha going on to create 12 more books featuring the doll, although they didn't trademark the character.

It became a popular children's toy and was also featured in the books of Enid Blyton, who often depicted them as rude and mischievous. As the doll crept into the public imagination it was used for much more hateful purposes.

Why are golliwogs considered racist?

circa 1930:  Film director Richard Wallace (1894 - 1954) directing Charles Mack and George Moran (1882 - 1949), of the vaudeville comedy minstrel team 'Moran and Mack', in the film 'Two Black Crows in the A E F'.  (Photo by Bredell/Margaret Chute/Getty Images)
The gollywog character is based on black minstrels, which are themselves racist and mocking depictions of black people. (Getty Images)

Even if Upton intended her character to be playful, it is still considered to be a harmful stereotype that is demeaning to black people.

The character was based on minstrels - which depicted black people as lazy, happy-go-lucky, dim witted and inferior to white people - and was later used to depict black people as thieves and miscreants, therefore there is little doubt of the link between the dolls and a common racial slur.

Can you still buy golliwogs?

It is still possible to buy golly dolls and memorabilia in the UK, with some British websites dedicated to selling them.

While eBay has in the past banned people from selling such items due to its policy against "hateful or discriminatory" items, a quick look at the auction site this morning showed some were listed.

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Despite Essex Police's seizure at the White Hart pub, the dolls are not illegal to own or display, despite their offensiveness, which is why the incident has sharply divided opinion.

However, some shops have faced heavy backlash for selling the dolls, including an interior design shop in Bristol - a city with a historic connection to the slave trade - which was slammed as "absolutely shameful".

How much are gollys worth?

The price of a doll will depend largely on how old it is.

In 1908 Steiff became the first company to mass produce and distribute the dolls, which today sell for around £8,000 to £12,000, making them the most expensive of their kind, but ones produced in the later 20th century will be less.