Open Letter Regarding the Sale of Historically Racist Items

“Please read, understand and appreciate the letter in its entirety before commenting.”

On the 20th January 2021, a deeply problematic money box was posted onto ‘Buy, Sell, Exchange Your Stuff. Isle of Man’. This particular money box was advertised as a “Jolly Boy” money box. The money box depicted a Black male figurine. The item quickly picked up interest on the Facebook group, and a hoard of comments flooded in underneath the pictures, some of which were deeply offensive and ignorant.

We have noted that there have been multiple posts on similar pages like this in the past -people selling racist figurines and antiques. And each time, there seems to be a common trend of many people being unable or refusing to see the issue with items of this nature being sold. Moreover, people who have pointed out the distinctly abhorrent history of the figurines have been routinely mocked and ridiculed out of ignorance. In light of this, we have decided to take the time to educate on why these figurines are so offensive and why it isn’t acceptable to promote them.

First of all, we want to address one of the root problems with these humanoid figurines.

In order to justify the brutal enslavement of Black people and the horrors that followed, society had to create and maintain racist ideologies. These figurines were specifically designed to demonstrate that Black people were savage and subhuman and have long been used to justify treating Black humans inhumanely. These stereotypes became so ingrained in the society that they survived long after slavery was abolished and helped to perpetuate racism in Europe and the USA.

On the post in question, a gentleman in the comments claimed he ‘mistook’ the figurine for a monkey. This profoundly offensive trope originates from the repeatedly disproven pseudoscience of eugenics; a hate-filled school of thought which has been used to reduce Black people to subhuman status for centuries, and is still ever-present in British society. For decades, Black football players have had to contend with banana peels and monkey chants hurled at them from the stands. Despite the wide publicity these events have received, and the detailed explanations as to the reasons for offence, some people in our society refuse to accept why the physical manifestations of these hate filled ideologies have no place in our society. Willful ignorance.

We will start with a deep dive into the item that has triggered this very post – The cast iron money box, or going by its original name, the ‘Greedy N*gger’ money box. The precise name of the money box has changed over time, first being ‘Greedy N*gger’, then ‘Jolly N*gger’, and the now ‘palatable’, ‘Jolly Boy’, as listed on the post in question. These money boxes began circulating around Europe in the 1900s. The idea was that the figurine resembled a servant. You would place the coin into the figurine's hand, which you could then lift to fall into its mouth and into the belly of the money box, as if the figure was eating the coins – the idea being that the Black man was gleefully ‘eating’ all your money. This was designed to represent and uphold a multitude of horrific negative stereotypes about the character of all Black people and their place in society. ‘Golliwogs’, like many related stereotypes of “primitive” Black people “piccaninnies”, “minstrels”, “mammies” and so on, also found a commercial market, and have similarly adorned cartoons and advertising imagery.

Golliwogs have also been sold on popular IOM Buy and Sell Facebook pages. Golliwogs are small figures, often portrayed with jet black skin, large white-rimmed eyes, big red or white clown lips and ‘frizzy’, ‘unruly’ hair and often wearing bright, colourful clothing. Again, Golliwogs have been specifically used to depict Black people as clown-like over exaggerated animal/humanoids – something to laugh at and ridicule. Golliwogs are an extremely racially insensitive depiction; they dehumanise Black people and represent many negative racial stereotypes that Black people still have to work to deconstruct to this day. Many Black people in our community have reported having the word ‘Wog’ thrown at them as a racist insult.

On the topic of Golliwogs, prominent historian, David Olusoga, notes that: ‘In recent years, I have been assured that such dolls, and the words “golliwog” and “wog”, are in fact harmless and that opposition to them is a symptom of rampant political correctness, I recall another incident. It is difficult to regard a word as benign when it has been scrawled on to a note, wrapped around a brick and thrown through one’s living-room window in the dead of night, as happened to my family when I was 14. That scribbled note reiterated the demand that me and my siblings be sent “back”.’

Caricatures such as the money box were specifically designed to reinforce the idea of inherent and biological White supremacy. They act as cold and stern reminders of what Black people have had to endure, the sheer abuse they received and the dangerous stereotypes thrust onto them by White supremacists and racists that we sadly still see today. Going back to the Facebook post that was featured on ‘Buy, Sell, Exchange Your Stuff. Isle of Man’, we wanted to delve into some of the comments.

One comment that stuck out to us, in particular, was the following: “I used to have one as a child in the 1950s. They were very popular. Not considered racist at all then. We had Black dolls and gollys too. I loved them x”

When reading this comment, one thing screamed out to us. That being, we are not living in the 1950s! We are living in 2021, and times have changed since the 50s. Nowadays, women are allowed to have bank accounts in their own name, the Race Relations Act has been passed, and the physical manifestations of racist ideologies have no place in our society. Individuals who agreed with this particular comment have shown themselves to embrace the changes of time that play to their benefit, but reject the will of Black people to not be reduced to subhuman status.

We should also note the comment where an individual of ‘African descent’ has stated that they “see no issue with it”. It is important to note that no singular person of ‘African descent’ is the spokesperson for a whole community.

This post and others like it have been brought to our attention by many POC in our community and a number of our white allies, who we are grateful for. Imagine being a Black person on the Isle of Man, scrolling through your Facebook feed, and stumbling across those images and comments. Imagine the disgust of seeing that a deeply racist and offensive figurine was not only being sold, but people were laughing, mocking and tagging friends to join in.

This post has shown us that some people within our society simply refuse to let go of old and profoundly racist symbols of hate. For all those who question why there was such a big emphasis on the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, this is why. Because Black people aren’t protected from symbols of hate, and certain sections of society repeatedly show their intent to block any form of progression. We implore these people to go beyond the ‘snowflake’ comment and actually take the time to learn about things they may not fully understand and how they affect other people.

Keeping these symbols of hate in our society creates a reality in which we must not only explain to our children the violent and traumatic history of these caricatures, but also the horrifying reality that people are fighting to keep these archaic tropes and what they symbolise in our society out of nothing else but wilful ignorance and ‘nostalgia’ to a past that was scarring and deadly for so many.

For further reading on this topic, please see:

https://www.ferris.edu/HTMLS/news/jimcrow/caricature/homepage.htm

How America Bought and Sold Racism, and Why It Still Matters

https://www.historyonthenet.com/authentichistory/diversity/african/3-coon/1-history/index.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/30/what-it-means-to-be-black-in-britain-today

For a documentary on Black British History, please see:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b082w9p9