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B.C. British shop refusing to pull 'offensive' doll following complaint

Last Updated Feb 27, 2019 at 12:39 pm PDT

A Golliwog doll sold at a shop in Langley. (Source: Taylor Walker)

The toys were inspired by blackface performers with exaggerated red lips and white eyes and messy hair

The store owner says he will not take the doll off store shelves

SURREY (NEWS 1130) – A Surrey woman is angry a British import shop in Langley is refusing to stop selling a doll many say is racist, offensive, and should be pulled from store shelves.

Taylor Walker and her boyfriend were initially confused when they found Golliwog dolls and keychains hanging in Black Pudding Imports in Langley on Sunday. Based on the 1895 children’s book entitled The Adventures of Two Dutch Dolls and a Golliwogg, by American-born cartoonist Florence Kate Upton, the black creatures were inspired by blackface performers with exaggerated red lips and white eyes along with messy hair.

“I found it pretty offensive to see this doll that’s pretty much blackface,” Walker, who identifies as mixed African-American said.

She said after researching the dolls she contacted the company over Facebook that evening to say while she enjoyed the store, she found it offensive Golliwog merchandise was being sold there. The company responded saying the character is a chimney sweep and brings back fond memories for many customers.

“It’s really not an issue. Over the years we’ve had maybe four or five people say something,” Black Pudding Imports owner Greg Bowles said. “We even have black customers and nobody said nothing.”

When Walker asked the company to stop selling the products and that if they didn’t she would take her complaint to social media, Bowles blocked her from messaging him through the company Facebook page.

Bowles said he may have considered pulling the product “if it was the majority of the customers saying something.”

“If it was a big issue or outcry, it would be different, but with us it’s basically just people have a good memory of it.” he said. “These Gollies are all over Canada in stores. All over Ontario. Probably dozens of stores in Canada have them,” he said.

Several shops including Mary’s British Home in Langley, The British Shop in Surrey and Steveston’s Best of British in Richmond all said they carry some form of Golliwog merchandise.

RELATED: Retailers, fashion brands struggle with racial insensitivity

Walker grew up in the United States, but also spent time living in London where the dolls are a staple.

“I had this ideology that racism wasn’t as bad [in Canada] as it was in America, but this incident was a bit of a wake up call for me that there is ignorance no matter where you are in the world,” she said.

The character inspired the British term ‘wog’ a derogatory slur for people of African descent.

Criticism of the Golliwog character and toys began as far back at the 1970s, however a 2018 poll of 1,660 Britons by YouGov found 63 per cent of people did not think it is racist to sell or display a Golliwog doll. A further 17 per cent were unsure.

RELATED: Prada announces diversity council after blackface outrage

British companies such as jam manufacturer James Robertson & Sons and Black Jack chew manufacturer Cadbury Trebor Bassett used to use Golliwogs as mascots but eventually dropped the creature from their advertising. In Australia, Arnott’s Golliwog chocolate biscuit was renamed the Scalliwag.

A recently as this year, three prize-winning handmade Golliwog dolls were removed from Australia’s Royal Adelaide Show in September after complaints from the Indigenous community group Deadly Yarning from South Australian Aboriginal Communities.

Fashion designing company Gucci also pulled a controversial sweater after it was compared to blackface and Golliwog.

The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Michigan called Golliwog the “least known of the major anti-black caricatures in the United States.”