25th February 2020
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Shop owner considers closing after criticism for selling golliwog dolls

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The owner of the Magpies Nest shop is considering shutting down because it is “not worth the hassle” after a visiting poet said she was guilty of “wilful racism” for selling golliwog toys.

Lancashire-born poet Lemn Sissay, who was in Shetland for this year’s Wordplay literature festival, visited the shop last Friday morning and bought one of the toys. He then posted a blog on his website heavily criticising 70-year-old Thelma Leask for choosing to sell golliwogs, which many view as a throwback to a racist era.

Mrs Leask has run the small shop at Lerwick’s Lodberries, which also sells items such as Shetland trows and an assortment of souvenirs and framed pictures, for the past eight years.

Mr Sissay’s blog, in line with the views of many anti-racism campaigners, stated: “The golliwog is a product and symbol of a time when white people believed (really believed) they were superior and black people inferior.”

The shopkeeper said she was distressed by the way Mr Sissay portrayed her in his blog. He referred to “the bitterness of an angry lost old Shetland lady” and claimed she got a “weird kick out of selling them”.

Mrs Leask said Mr Sissay had come in and told her he loved the dolls, which he then posed with, asking her to take photographs of him with the golliwogs and buying one before he left.

“I thought he was a genuine nice person,” she said. “Then someone told me that he’d written that I’d said ‘these are my children’ [Mr Sissay subsequently altered the word “children” to “childhood” after someone complained], calling me a grey lady… he’s written stuff that’s not right. He’s twisted what I said.”

She admitted that some people had suggested to her that she ought to consider removing the golliwogs from sale. But, because she had not receive very many complaints to her face, she had decided to keep them on display. However, she is “thinking that I’m going to close – it’s not worth the hassle”.

A visibly upset Mrs Leask, who describes the dolls using the term “gollies” rather than “golliwogs”, told this newspaper: “I’m in no way racist at all. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I don’t think anybody who buys them is racist – a lot of folk say they just loved them when they were a child.”

She “honestly believes” the American woman who first created the golliwog in 1895, Florence Kate Upton, was “trying to lessen” racial prejudice when she did so.

“I’m not doing anything wrong,” Mrs Leask insisted.

A spokeswoman for the Show Racism the Red Card organisation told The Shetland Times: “We wouldn’t ever brand anyone a racist [for selling them].

“What we’re saying to people is, find out the history of the golliwog. It is quite a sinister history. Most people, on doing that, would go ‘hmm, that’s probably not something we’d want to make money from’.

“That was the case for Oxfam [which faced criticism from campaigners after an oversight meant individuals had been able to sell the dolls second-hand through its website]. And hopefully it’ll be the case [in Lerwick] too.”

Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons said the organisation was honoured to have a poet of Mr Sissay’s calibre at Wordplay.
He added: “This isn’t the first time that we’ve heard comments from guests, both in terms of performers and audiences who have come into Shetland, relating to the golliwogs being in the window there.”

Around 18 months ago an Aith-based man, Steve Jack, began a petition stating that the toys were “out-dated and deeply offensive”.

At the time, he said the petition was not aimed at the Magpies Nest but had actually been prompted by a museum display.

Mr Jack said the term “golliwog” was, and continues to be, used as “racist slang… long after these unpleasant toys should have been consigned to history”.


About Neil Riddell

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  1. John and Kay Wheatcroft

    Mr Sissay is a sanctimonious prig. This is a despicable way to behave. He might well have a point about the golliwogs, but all he had to do, if he felt so strongly, was to discuss it with Mrs Leask who could then make up her own mind. To go through the pretence of saying he liked them and then blog about it is the act of a coward.

    • Peter Long

      That is true. Anyway Sissay presumes a great deal: how does he know that golliwogs are not enjoyed out of love or as icons of black people.

  2. Pauline McGinty

    This man is an idiot. These dolls are to so many people(Myself included) a very happy reminder of times gone by, when the world seemed to be a much happier and less violent place to live. Mrs Leask is a lovely lady and in no way is selling them from a racist point. If people in this century still think that people get upset by the colour of fabric on a doll then they need to take a look at themselves.
    the dolls themselves are well made and such beautiful items and i for one love the two i have and look forward to adding to my collection.
    Can i ask Mr Sissay if he feels the same way about cabbage patch dolls that are “black” in colour ? i mean really is it he who has racist feelings deep down hence he had the thought regarding these lovely dolls. Grow up man, your bringing an issue to the fore that just isn’t there.

  3. Johan Adamson

    Are we just supposed to forget that we had the black and white minstrel show and golly wogs and a kind of marmalade that gave you stickers, along with Jim’ll Fix it, or accept it is just part of our past and move on?

  4. Mrs Leask,s is one of the few places in Lerwick that sells antiquities. Historical items are full of stereotypes of many kinds winners and losers and the rich and the poor, they are often collected by those portrayed. It would be silly to see a local small business close due to this manufactured racism. I believe Mr.Sissay owes a public apology to Mrs. Leask because she was selling questionable racist portraits, but it’s far worst to portray someone as a racist.

  5. Hazel wiggins

    What a way for a “intelligent” man to get cheap publicity. Is this not exactly why as a global world we find ourselves not being able to express our selves freely. History should always be acknowledged and learnt from but not used to manipulate the future. Is there no rasim against white people?

    I know a lovely, kind and very interesting lady who runs the Magpies Nest not what some untrustworthy visitor is trying to portray her as for his own agenda.

    Don’t give up your shop for him, he’s not worth it.

    I had a golly as a child and when I think of this doll or see the doll in the shop I think of my wonderful father and great times growing up in a loving family.

  6. Sue Wailoo
  7. Ian Mundie

    The mind boggles! Get a life Mr. Sissay and crawl back in whatever hole you live in.

    • Robert Petts

      I was just doing an internet info sweep looking for information on the Sooth End of Lerwick where my grandfather was “Patter” the Butcher at 45 Commercial Street and my grannie owned “The Perrie Wool Shop” next door and I spent every summer holidays from when I was born July 1953 at the Maternity Hospital up Lovers Lane just behind Midgarth House up from the Widows Homes at Twageos Rd and as I read down the comments the name Ian Mundie rang a bell in my memory. When I was allowed to go and play on the street, at the butchers I had a wee friend who I was sure was called Ian Mundie who lived up Church Lane up from Walter Robertsons Slotties Ice Cream Factory. I was just curios to see if you were that friend from all those years ago. The last time I was in Lerwick was in the summer of 1970. If you are the Ian Mundie it would be good to talk. Also on the subject of “Mrs Leask has run the small shop at Lerwick’s Lodberries” was this The Perrie Wool Shop from back in the 50`s and 60`s that my grannie owned

  8. Beth Gerrard

    How very devious and cowardly to pretend to be so nice and then revile somebody online! I had a golly when I was a child, also another doll of colour, both of which I loved. I was unaware of any racial prejudice at the time and just loved the dolls. We also ate the marmalade/jam, collected the stickers, got the statuettes – some of which I still have – as did many another family. I do hope Thelma does not close this delightful little shop because of the nastiness of one person.

  9. Sheila Tulloch

    As we wid say hame aboot Thelma, ‘nivvir leet im’.

  10. Samantha Jack

    I think there have been a few alterations made to this story. How about keep the shop open but stop selling the toys? Shetland needs tourism so why sell items that may stop people coming back? There are so many other products that don’t have these connotations, even the queen got them taken out of the shop in Sandringham and the royals aren’t exactly known for their anti racism activism. I know that face to face conversations have been had and she is aware the effect they have on visitors and locals.

  11. John and Kay Wheatcroft

    Folk are going off the point. The original article was not really about racism (though these days we wouldn’t give a golliwog house room).

    It was about the unpleasant and underhand behaviour of Mr Sissay who should have spoken to Mrs Leask directly. It’s a pity that a poet is not able to communicate more appropriately.

  12. Elisabeth Bain

    What an idiot to suggest not to sell Golli-wogs, I am half black and my African grandmother (who was married to a dutchman and white) got me one through collecting stickers from jars of a well known jam. They are delightful and should be given to all. After all you can buy Indian, African dolls etc as collecters items. Who’s heard of Mr. Sissay anyway and how important is he!? Golli-wogs have a History all of their own, dating way way back anyway perhaps he should read abit. All my children had one so did my Mother who was born in Kenya. I am fed-up of all this political correctness, UK lives in a “nanny state” anyway thats why I live abroad. Can’t smoke, drink, eat this and that, When will people learn to get a sense of humour and chill out abit. Do what you want (providing it does hurt people) You have only got one life,enjoy it and what you buy etc is up to you, not a “nanny state”. Hope the shop keeper stands her ground and continues to sell, They reminded me that all people were not white, but black to when was a child, surely a good thing. Regards.

  13. Rachel Buchan

    What a sneaky way he has acted in! Underhand and deceptive. When I was little I had a golly, and a Maori doll. Also the Little Black Sambo books (very un-pc nowadays). They didn’t inform how I view anybody else now that I am an adult. To me they were just books and toys, the same as any of my other things.

  14. Joe Johnson

    That was a really nasty and cowardly thing Mr.Sissy did making nasty comments about Mrs.Leask. The adult thing to do was to speak to her about his concerns about the dolls instead of attacking her on his website. Don’t close your shop Mrs.Leask. Don’t give in to people like that. Probably best not to sell golliwog dolls but don’t close your shop. Don’t believe you are racist Mrs.Leask

  15. Lemn Sissay

    It is wondrous to read your comments. I too had golliwogs as a child. I collected the stickers from Robertson Jam jars and I collected both badges and figurines.

    I do not understand what political correctness is. I have a sense of right and wrong. It is nothing more than that.

    Mrs Leask knows precisely what she is doing and she has been told about it before. She is making an agressive and opinionated and knowledgable stance by putting the Gollies in the window.

    I think she enjoys the attention. She is looking for heroine status. And for that to happen I ust be characterised as the big bad ousider. It’s just not the case I’m afraid. There is a reason I did not respond to the confrontational nature of her shop window display. It’s because I’m a nice guy. Calling me a coward only shows your character not mine.

    I can guarantee you this. The Gollywogs will not be removed from the window. But what is good for the spirit of Shetland, a great island, a contemporary island known throughout the world, an island with great history, a land of survivors, fighters… but not alas self sufficiency. we all need each other.

    I am not a bully and I am not the agressor here. You are being sold a bad idea. I am not frightened of racism. I am hurt by it. Wounded by it. I ahve a history too and my history is your history and your history is my history. We are connected. we are brother and sister. e need each other. We need critique. And that is what I offer you as a gift.

    As a professional writer it is a great risk for me to have written that blog because I will probably lose work because of it. But I did it for you and for young black and white boys and girls so that they could feel at ease… the next generation, the one that feeds the island with new thoughts, new life, grown from what has gone before…

    • iris smith

      we are delighted to find a site about golliwogs and the small minded political correct morons disgust us. We are trying to find eyes for a beloved golly which belonged to my son who is now a man James the golly has been in our family for many years and is loved by everybody. If anyone could help we would be very pleased thank you I do hope the lady concerned has kept her shop open.

      • Vicki Hine

        “White privilege is a real thing … it allows people who experience it to not see the racism that all around them.” Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada 2015

  16. Clair Aldington

    The history of the golliwog is not a pleasant one and is linked to deeply offensive symbols and acts of racism that we should not be supporting as a community. The Guardian link Sue Wailoo has posted above says it all.
    As Lemn Sissay MBE says himself on his blog today and Samantha Jack says above, there is no need for Mrs. Leask to close her shop – she can just remove the golliwogs from her product range.

  17. John Tulloch

    Meaning of “projection” in psychology:

    “a. The attribution of one’s own attitudes, feelings, or suppositions to others: “Even trained anthropologists have been guilty of unconscious projection of clothing the subjects of their research in theories brought with them into the field” (Alex Shoumatoff).
    b. The attribution of one’s own attitudes, feelings, or desires to someone or something as a naive or unconscious defense against anxiety or guilt.”

    This isn’t “bad” it’s something we’re all well capable of, it’s subconscious from earlier conditioning and it causes a hell of a lot of trouble in the world.

  18. Hazel wiggins

    I have read you blog mr sissay and have concluded that the issue is not the gollys or what the stand for but the way in which you are portraying mrs leask. A “professional” writer would not behave like this. You have made a judgment on someone’s beliefs based on what they are selling in their shop and have not even had the decency to give mrs leask a chance to defend herself. It is people like you in the world who cause divides in cultures. You are just coming across as a cheap publicity seeker.

  19. Lemn Sissay

    Oh Hazel Wiggins I have made a reasonable deduction based on as agressive action. Mrs Leak worked hard to get those dolls into her shop. She saught them out, she chose them and she sells them. There is nothing innocent or accidental or naive about what she has done and she knows it. My response had to be equal to her very loud statement. I believe in equality. (sorry)

  20. Ali Inkster

    I don’t know where you are from Mr Sissay but I am of the the opinion that wherever it is there will be a lot more racism there than there is in Shetland. And if you care to go to Africa you’ll Will find racism at its worst black on black violence all because someone’s from a different tribe. Violence that is not restricted to a casual beating but murder and mayhem abound. It is not uncommon in all parts of African culture to hack the hands and feet of folk because they are from a different tribe. So Mr Sissay when you have sorted out the racists in Africa you can come back here on your high horse and preach to us, but till you have cleaned your own house don’t be telling us how clean ours.

  21. Brian Smith

    Neil, Neil. When you write a story like this, it’s best to interview both the parties. The result of the way you have written it is that a lot of Shetlanders have turned it into an argument about how Shelties have a right to be racialists …

  22. Rachel Buchan

    I could never “feel at ease” in the presence of one so duplicitous. I also have a sense of right and wrong, and it was wrong that you did not initiate a conversation upon this subject with the shopkeeper. Maybe if you had, something that you considered productive could have ensued. As it is, I think you have blown all chances of that happening Mr Sissay.

  23. Michael Garriock

    Mr Sissay was a visitor to Shetland, Mr Jack, from his name I assume moved to Shetland from elsewhere. From that it is not unreasonable to conclude that they brought the racist connotations they have of golliwog dolls with them, and are now doing a very good job of attaching those racist connotations to the dolls in a location where no racist connotations to them previously existed. To my mind they are taking it upon themselves to “educate the local native savages” and in doing so are creating a brand new racist symbol, from which its not a particularly great stretch of the imagination to forsee racism being generated where none would have existed otherwise.

    Whatever the history of golliwog dolls, good, bad or indifferent, it never reached Shetland before, I’ve been here close on 50 years and a golliwog doll has never been anything other than an effigy of a black skinned person, in the same way as pale skin coloured doll was an effigy of a caucasian, nothing more and nothing less, nor have I ever heard the term “golliwog” used in Shetland in a racist context. If the presence of golliwog dolls taught anything, it helped educate kids about the existence of black skinned people and helped promote them as an integrated portion of society in general.

    Whatever negative history may be connected to a golliwog doll, “educating” folk who had no knowledge of any such history, and only ever viewed the item as an innocuous kids rag doll toy, can only make the future in Shetland more racist, not less. A typical case of inventing a racist situation where none previously existed.

    I can appreciate that the two individuals making the public protests may have believed they were acting for the greater good of all, but next time at least have enough respect for the local population to educate yourselves as to the actual status quo of attitudes locally, not what you imagine them to be based on your own personal experiences elsewhere. The harm has already been done for this time, as it is a previously innocent in local’s eyes kids toy has been vilified, and anyone locally with racist tendencies has been handed a new weapon in their arsenal they were unaware of the power of previously. Nice one guys, how does it feel for your “good” intentions to have so completely backfired due to you not having done any homework before you let rip?!?

  24. David Spence

    In todays world where illegal wars are committed for oil, money and greed, (trait of capitalism) where our financial institutions overcharge, rob, murder and kill (supporting the Arms Industry) and dominate most of our lives through commercial control (trait of capitalism) where our politicians are in it for themselves and not the people (trait of capitalism) where the divide between the rich and poor has never been greater (trait of capitalism) where over 30% of the worlds population live for less than $1 a day (trait of capitalism) where the western youth of today and clothes shops are supporting slave and child labour camps in third world countries by buying ‘ designer clothes ‘ (trait of capitalism) and where wealth, greed, selfishness, exploitation are the key attributes to our modern society, what is all the fuss about a few dolls that happen to be coloured????

  25. Michael Garriock

    Meanwhile, I trust we can all rely on Mr Sissay’s outright condemnation on racist and sexist grounds, of all the Jack and the Beanstalk pantos that will be being enacted countrywide in a couple of months or so.

    “Fee, fie, fo, fum,
    I smell the blood of an English man,
    Be he alive, or be he dead,
    I’ll grind his bones to make my bread”

  26. Hazel wiggins

    Oh dear mr sissay, if you truly believed in equality you would not have tricked mrs leask in the way you did and would have had a “equal” discussion with her about the dolls and their history.

    Instead you choose to, by your own admission, befriend her in her shop, got her to take photos of you with the dolls and then slate her beliefs and character on the Internet. Acuse her of being racist without her being able to defend herself.

    I don’t think you do believe in equality, unless it is on your terms.

  27. David Spence

    Well said Hazel.

    If Mr Sissay is looking for controversy, he should look no further than the injustices perpetrated by the most corrupt, dishonest, deceitful, exploitative, self-centred, hypocritical and worst of all, responsible for more deaths than any natural disaster in the past 150 years, he should look no further than our financial institutions and western banking policies and their insatiable appetite for profit at all costs, even if it means the death of millions of people.

    Even in modern times, the banking system is in a win win situation…….The so-called (as we have been spoon fed by the equally corrupt political system) banking crisis of 2008 (perpetrated deliberately by the US Banking System where greed by the banks got out of control) we, the people (tax payer’s) are forced to bailout the banks on the basis that the whole of western society would collapse if the banking system was not rescued as a consequence of their behaviour in becoming, as said, too greedy.

    What sort of society is it when one aspect of it (the banking system) can get away with causing so much misery, despair, destitution, murder, killing, maiming, destruction of whole societies or even countries (via the Arms Trade Industry (fully backed by the banking system)) and yet, regrettably, we have been conditioned so much as to be totally subservient too it, and pay a blind eye to the atrocities it committed in the name (as we are falsely told) of justice, freedom, democracy and (worst of all) the Greater Good?

    There is a saying in the Bible which I am sure most people will know?

    ‘ Money is the root of all Evil’s ‘

    and our banking system, sadly, exemplifies this to a T. The Banking System and those who control it are truly the personification of evil itself.

    So Mr Sassey, why not concentrate your poems and philosophy on this and to a greater audience where your voice (poetry) will have a greater and more profound meaning?

  28. Lee cartwright

    I believe Mr Sissay has closed the comments section on his blog regarding this matter. Obviously he’s not getting quite the sort of public exposure he was hoping for.
    So it would appear his attempts to teach the ignorant little islanders the error of their ways have been all in vain…..

    However, if Sissay had been complaining about direct personal taunts he had experienced whilst in Shetland, then I’m sure the resulting onslaught of written support for him from outraged Shetlanders would have given this individual a better understanding of how the majority of Shetlanders view real race issues.

  29. Susan Jolly

    “But I did it for you and for young black and white boys and girls so that they could feel at ease… the next generation, the one that feeds the island with new thoughts, new life, grown from what has gone before…”

    Perhaps I should go over to India and tell my feminist sistahs how to fight sexism over there … except I wouldn’t, because that would be imperial racism; yet you seem to want to adopt the same attitude thus implying that people living in Shetland are inferior and you simply must tell us how to think, what we can sell and so forth. If your blog and this press report are true reflections of the facts, then I feel you are guilty of entrapment. You have your history, the shop owner has herstory and one is entitled to reclaim something with positivity.

    Do you just don your PC hat when it suits you?

  30. Brian Smith

    I thought I was reading the Daily Mail until I saw the remark by Lee Cartwright about the English Defence League giving Lemn Sissay a roughing up. Not even the Mail would have published a reader’s comment of that nature.

  31. David Spence

    Ali, it may not be that often we agree, but in the case of what you have written, I agree 100%. A very good point.

  32. Ali Inkster

    Oh Brian you are so full of it you must be near fit to burst. This is not about our right to be “racialist” but our right not to take offence at every bit of pc bullshit thought up by small minded nobodies desperately seeking attention by taking a cheap shot at an old lady.

  33. Cameron Mackenzie

    It concerns me that many of these posts are aggressive and inflammatory in tone. Some are even employing the rather unpleasant language of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Therefore, in the interest of our community’s self respect, and of this newspaper’s reputation, I strongly urge the moderator to close comments on this story with immediate effect.

  34. Lee cartwright

    @Brian Smith:

    Surely wearing those blinkers must hack you off occasionally?

  35. David Spence

    In a multi-cultural society, having dolls of any ethnic/race origins would be a positive sign of the diverse society that we live in.

    I am sure if dolls of a far eastern look were to be made and sold in this country, there wouldn’t be an outcry from the chinese, japanese or other far eastern countries who share similar biological traits.

    There are many countries who sell dolls (including Scotland) to tourists where the dolls are wearing the countries traditional costume………would Mr Sissay regard these countries as promoting racism if the tourists take these dolls back to their own country….or would you regard the tourists promoting racism because they bought the dolls and took them back to their own country where there are/may be differences in ethnic/racial traits?????

    I would be intrigued on his opinion on this matter

  36. Michael Bilton

    I’ve been visiting Shetland for 20 years and I’m genuinely sorry Lemn Sissay felt insulted. The problem lies with him, not Mrs. Leask. It is a great shame he did not try and deal with this matter privately and genuinely, rather than grab some cheap publicity. The easiest thing in the world for a person of colour to do is to lob the word racist at someone. It was a viscious overreaction in this case. In my experience Shetlanders simply do not have a racist bone in them. I have never heard a single person ever offer any kind of racial slur. If he was insulted by Thelma Leask’s display of these dolls, then forgive me, but he seems a pretty shallow person, easily insulted. You do not have to go around looking for trouble, it usually finds us soon enough. Best if he stays away from Shetland if he feels this way, because perhaps, he simply doesn’t understand the place. Shetland is not Liverpool, a city with history and economy built of racism. This poor woman does not deserve to be vilified like this. Turning a gollie into a taboo does not advance the cause of anti-racism one jot. What a shame that he does not turn his energies where they should be directed – at the politicians who wreck the life chances of black children in the inner cities by cramming more and more poor immigrants into their communities, so that they cannot possibly get a decent education because their teachers are so busy dealing with kids who cannot speak OUR language. I would stand shoulder to shoulder with him if he encountered real racism from the National Front. Mr Sissay posesses great talent and it would be decent of him if he had the humility and good grace to recognise that in this particular instance he was wrong, and actually apologise to Mrs Leask for insulting her in this deeply damaging way. It is said that it is the measure of a man when he can admit he is wrong. Fight genuine racism Mr. Sissay – do not look for slights where they do not exist. I wonder whether he has been to Shetland before, I hope he has. Perhaps he knows that many brave Shetlanders fought the Nazis seventy or more years ago, showing great courage to take on real evil at a huge cost to themselves and their own children. They could have stayed safely in their beds but they chose instead to brave the harsh conditions of the North Sea to fight the cruelty and horrible racism of Hitler’s Germany. He has not only maligned Mrs Leask, he has insulted the people of Shetland. They do not deserve this fandango. If he came back and made his peace with Mrs Leask, I feel certain that he would quickly make a good friend, not just of her, and many other Shetlanders.

  37. Hazel wiggins

    Well said Michael I have never seen such a small population who donates money to good causes. Aid to Romania, clan, children in need to name but a few.

    I think this is just a cheap publicity trick now i feel mr sissayneeds to man up and apologies. Don’t think that will happen he’s gone very quiet, probably Golly Hunting, that’s replaced witch hunting in this century.

  38. Segun Lee-French


    Are golliwogs racist?

    Would you give a golliwog to a Black person as a present? Do you think that they would be offended if you did? If so, why?

    A clue is in the term “golliwog”. Would you call a Black person a “golliwog” (or even “gollie”) to their face? I suspect that you wouldn’t. Why not? Because you know that it is a term used as a racist insult.

    Do you think that golliwogs are an accurate picture of Black people? I hope not. If you do, then you have a very strange idea of what Black people look like. Golliwogs are clearly caricatures of Black people.

    If the terms golliwog is a racist insult, and the dolls are caricatures, and Black people are offended by them, what more do you need to be convinced that golliwogs are racist? What would convince you that anything is racist?

    If you accept that golliwogs are racist, then why do you believe that it is acceptable to display them in a shop window?

    I think that Lemn Sissay made it clear in his previous blogs how much he loved the Shetland Islands and admired the islanders and their way of life. I am not a resident of Shetland Islands, but from Lemn’s blogs I got an incredibly positive picture of Shetlanders. I sincerely hope that the hostile attitudes displayed by many commenters here are not typical.

  39. David Spence

    I concur with Michael Bilton in his comments regarding this issue.

    As far as I understand, and correct me if I am wrong, Mr Sissay went to Mrs Leask’s shop on the pretence of acknowledging what she was selling, and posing with the dolls whilst his photograph was taken. I presume he gave his opinion to her in a civil but polite manner and behaved in a way which did not offend the proprietor of the shop?

    It wasn’t until he put his picture on the Internet and voiced his opinion of her that he really showed his truer, pardon the pun, colours regarding the sale of such dolls?

    I can perfectly understand why Mrs Leask was upset and the community of Shetland being angry towards Mr Sissay for his, want for a better description, two-faced attitude towards Mrs Leask.

    I think it would only be proper and right for Mr Sissay to apologise to Mrs Leask for the stress he has created as a consequence of this matter, and for the Shetland Times to also publish this and to also apologise for their part……which I am sure they realized would have stirred things up and fanned the flames of racial misrepresentation further.

    I do hope this matter can be resolved in an amicable, civil and courteous way where Mrs Leask can continue to keep her shop open and sell the dolls, despite recent events and an individuals personal issue with the said subject?

  40. Richard Mutimer

    I am interested to read about Shetland’s Norse golliwog traditions, and agree that they should be preserved. Go for it, Ali!

  41. sandy mcmillan

    Mrs Leask, Don’t give into this idiot Mr Sissay, Its guys like him that causes the problem of Raciam,
    Shetlands population is made up of many natonalitys, white ,black ,and yellow, without a problem of raciam

  42. Ali Inkster

    Like yourself Mr Mutimer I have no idea what your havering about, please explain yourself Dick.

  43. Michael Bilton

    Since writing my original comment, I did some research and turned up an article written in 2007 in The Guardian news paper. It was called “A year in black and white”. It really is quite revealing. Firstly, Lemn Sissay did not have an easy childhood – far from it. He was in foster care for 11 years and from 11 to 18 was in various children’s homes – which most people would agree would be reason enough to make any young person angry. In the article he writes about 1967 – the year of his birth. He was absolutely correct about the racial allegory at the heart of the film ‘Planet of the Apes’. But then he goes on to target the Rollings Stones band – whom he attacks because a group of Hells Angels were used as security for a concert they played at in the USA: “The Hells Angels hated black people and were virtual white supremacists” he writes. “What does this say, not about the Hells Angels, but about the Rolling Stones and their generation…..the security stabbed a man to death at the gig, a black man. The concert continued. Its the perfect metaphor for the English Sixties attitude to black people. It was the summer of love for those who preached innocence and played ignorance. Make way for the stretcher so we can party on. History gathers no moss like a rolling stone”.

    The implication is perfectly clear – it suggests, does it not, that the Rolling Stones – rather like his targeting of Mrs. Leask (in Mr. Sissay’s view) were racist? It was as preposterous a libel in 2007 against this world famous British rock band, as it is in 2013 about a humble Shetland shop keeper. Mr Sissay knows nothing about Mrs Leask – but he wrapped the most terrible and shocking description of ‘racist’ around her neck, like the shackles which used to bind slaves from Africa. ‘Gollie’ equals racist, death of black man at the hands of Hells Angels at rock concert means the same epithet, in Mr Sissay’s mind, attaches to The Stones. Yet anyone who knows anything about the Rolling Stones knows that of all the musicians in the entire world, the one thing you cannot accuse them of is racism. Then or now. Their entire 50 year professional musical career has been rooted in a very loud testiment against racism. Their music is the blues, the music of black people in the USA. The Stones have spent literally half a century playing with, and honouring, black musicians, black composers and black artists in a celebration of American black musical culture. They have, I dare to suggest, helped to transform sterotypical attitudes towards black people. So Mr. Sissay’s attack on them, like his attack on Mrs. Leask, was a thoughtless confusion of disparate ideas, perhaps linked to his own personal experience, and personal pain and hurt. In the light of the above, I invite him to re-visit his 2007 article and then to review his comments about Mrs Leask, and then ponder whether he needs to re-examine not simply what he said about her, but why he said it. I would not presume to understand the pain of his personal suffering during the first 18 years of his life – but I can begin to comprehend why he is still very angry. Re-visiting Shetland, addressing some of these issues, maybe with Mrs. Leask and other members of the local community, could perhaps be a deeply rewarding experience for him.

  44. Stewart Mac

    The man got exactly what he wanted -Publicity. The fact he has closed his blog seems to indicate it wasnt the kind of publicity he wanted – Good for everyone who stood up to this self appointed racial campaigner.

    You can find examples of racism, bigotry, intolerence etc. everywhere particularly if your looking for it with the sole purpose of trying to find it. Remember the nursery rhyme concentrating on Sheep, banned by a London Burgh Council for being racist? The UK is full of “examples” of racism being “stamped out” by the protectors of us all, even where none exists – other than in the mind of the protector. If only “The Guardian” actually did what it said on the tin, the world would undoubtedly be a safer place.

  45. Craig Birnie

    I would strongly urge the ST to consider heavily moderating these comments or best of all delete the whole lot as this is disgusting.

  46. Brian Smith

    I’m glad to see the rabid contribution about the English Defence League has been deleted, at least.

  47. Lemn Sisay

    Surely you don’t think this is a battle between Mrs Leask and I. Far from it. Mrs Leask has the right to make the statement in her shop window. I make a statement in my shop window. Mrs Leask displays her product – the dolls – and I display my product – words. She speaks with the actions and I speak with the words. I guess nobody would say that wohat I wrote didn’t matter cause “it’s only words”. In a similar way I wouldn’t say that what is in Mrs Leasks shop window doesn’t matter cause “it’s only a doll”.

    I guess what I am saying is that your sense of victory is based on getting over a hurdle that you yourself have constructed. I am not in a battle with you. I was on the island when I uploaded the blog. Nobody said a word to me while i was there. I do not infer this is because you are soft. It is because you hadn’t seen it. Mrs Leask has made herself known that she is a victim in this. Yet I guarentee you this: The shop will not close and the gollywogs will not move. I knew as much when I wrote the article.

    But at least now we all know that she can never say that she is unaware of the controversy of her product. Ofcourse she was aware of this before. She told me as much. She’s doing alot to keep her Gollywogs. I know this much and I stand by this – Selling gollywogs o the visitors from the liners who pump money into the local economy is not representative of The Shetland people or fair to them.

  48. Derick Tulloch


    No, I don’t think this thread should be deleted. Quite apart from the fact that once something is out there on the internet, it’s out there for good. Wayback Machine and that.

    No, this thread should remain for all the world to see. To see something really unpleasant and nasty. Don’t let it get back under it’s stone. Not this time. Let the sunlight in.

    Shetland Times, I would be obliged if you would let me know why you did not publish my previous comment

  49. Derick Tulloch

    Damn apostrophe

  50. Peter Miller

    “Baa baa blacksheep” has never been banned by any English local authority or school. Another of the many myths peddled by the “political correctness gone mad” brigade.

  51. David Spence

    Baa Baa Coloured Sheep……..doesn’t quite have the same ring lol

    In a butcher Shop ‘ May I have some Coloured Pudding please ‘ lol Should we let the pc brigade completely redefine everything which contains the colour black ? lol

  52. Janet Smith

    It’s interesting to see these comments become very self-protectionist. Mrs Leask has been called politely requested to reconsider the selling of these items before and she is therefore well aware of the connotation and history of them. To continue to sell what is clearly a divisive and provocative item is inviting comment. The writer’s comment piece was clear and he politely asked Mrs Leask’s views on said items. That she was naive enough to assume her views wouldn’t go beyond her shop was unfortunate, especially when she confirmed that there had been previous complaints. But it’s easily solved by replacing those items with something that might still entice her American customers and not offend others due to their continuing use as rascist provocation items in certain instances. If you are unaware that these dolls are deliberately displayed in certain places, sometimes with certain flags, to cause offense then you are indeed naive. I’m sure Mrs Leask will do well with her increased publicity. I hope she stays in business and sells less offensive items rather than continues to shoot the messenger for pointing out she was selling the outdated stereotypes of a bygone age. Thanks Brian and others for your sensible and understanding comments. Let’s make our visitors welcome (not that I’m based there anymore).

  53. Stewart Mac

    Well Peter,

    You may wish to check that again – I remember it was reported on the BBC,ok i accept they can be a great purveyor of myths, that Baa Baa Black Sheep had infact been banned by (i believe 2) London authorities. From memory it was at least one of the “looney” ones, but reportedly banned none the less.

  54. Stephen Farrow

    You shouldn’t have to be an “anti-racism campaigner” to understand why, in 2013, the golliwog has become an unacceptable symbol. Mrs. Leask is not a victim here. She placed an iconic symbol of racism and bigotry in a shop window, she was criticised for it, and she deserved the criticism. The best thing to do now would be simply to remove the items from sale, learn from the experience, and move on.

  55. Richard Mutimer

    I see a very good, measured leader in the latest New Shetlander on this issue.And an utterly ridiculous letter in today’s Shetland Times by Jeremy Godwin!

  56. Seosamh Ó Cearbhalláin

    I think the shopkeeper is being a bit of a drama queen in threatening to shut down her store.

  57. ian tinkler

    Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons said the organisation was honoured to have a poet of Mr Sissay’s calibre at Wordplay. Now that puts it into true perspective.

  58. Sandy McDonald

    Should these dolls be displayed? No. No more than 3rd Reich memorabilia should be displayed or sold. Both have an unpleasant and dark past that don’t belong in today’s society. If you played with them innocently as a child fair enough, but as a child you would not have understood the history of the doll. Would you let your child play with one today? I doubt it. A gollywog doll cannot be compared to a barbie with dark skin, I’m sorry but it can’t!

    But neither should Lem Sissay have used this as a blatant publicity stunt, his underhand taticts have undermined the issue and his self serving holier than thou attitude is only getting folks backs up.

  59. John Tulloch


    How about memorabilia from Stalinist Russia? Chairman Mao’s Cultural revolution?
    The Covenanters? Robert the Bruce? The Crusades? Genghis Khan? The Romans?

    Do they all pass muster?

  60. Sandy McDonald

    Well John, I think we can all agree that: Hitler = Bad, Nazis = Bad and that Collecting Nazi memorabilia is a dubious hobby! Or would you disagree? In 1000 years perhaps it will not be seen in such a light to collect these items but when certain traumatic events are recent history (in that there are still people alive who were directly affected by said events) then you can see why many folk would be upset by the sight of these artefacts. Which is why it is acceptable to have birthday buses full of Romans but not SS Officers!

  61. Gordon Harmer

    This is all about small minds and political correctness and I see it as the everyday succession from the party line.

    What we are seeing once again is a self appointed group of vigilantes imposing their views on others.

    Consider it nothing more than a tradition of communism; but they don’t want to see this.

    Political correctness always has been and always will be an obstacle in the values of truth, free speech and thought.

  62. John Tulloch

    I know what you mean, Sandy, however, I’m sure you’ll find pople alive who were just as adversely affected by Joseph Stalin’s regime – 20 million Russians were reputedly killed.

    I can’t imagine what kind of people would want to fill their homes with memorabilia of suc periods however I would argue that it’s important that people be aware of what we in the West have been spared since WWII and it would be wrong to try and pretend it doesn’t exist (I know that ‘s not what you meant).

    I think there’s a marked difference in scale between Hitler and Stalin on one hand and the gollies in question on the other and it really isn’t a valid comparison.

    Anyway, the gollies in Lemn Sissay’s picture looked like cheery little guys unlike various caricatures of Scots, especially, highlanders/islanders which are also widely on sale in tourist outlets.

  63. Ian Right

    Re Ian Tinklers comment

    “Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons said the organisation was honoured to have a poet of Mr Sissay’s calibre at Wordplay. Now that puts it into true perspective.
    – ian tinkler
    September 20, 2013”

    For once I actually agree with Ian Tinkler!!

  64. Robert Sim

    Re Ian Right’s comment:

    “Re Ian Tinklers comment

    “Shetland Arts director Gwilym Gibbons said the organisation was honoured to have a poet of Mr Sissay’s calibre at Wordplay. Now that puts it into true perspective.
    – ian tinkler
    September 20, 2013″

    For once I actually agree with Ian Tinkler!!”

    What is being agreed with here? What is the “it” which Ian Tinkler feels is being put into true perspective?

    Or is there nothing to be agreed with and Ian’s comment is instead a crude attempt to smear by association? That is, because Ian Tinkler dislikes Shetland Arts and they have made a positive comment about this poet, that somehow devalues his comments about the dolls?

  65. Robert Sim

    John Tulloch also attempts some verbal sleight of hand to dismiss Sandy McDonald’s reply to him (does anyone ever get the last word with you, John?) when he says that “… there’s a marked difference in scale between Hitler and Stalin on one hand and the gollies in question on the other and it really isn’t a valid comparison…”. The comparison isn’t between Hitler and Stalin and a doll, John, but between memorabilia relating to these dictators and golliwog dolls. That is a perfectly valid comparison.

  66. Ali Inkster

    I wonder what lemn has to say about events in Kenya where black extremists have massacred dozens of folk based on colour and religious belief, maybe he would like to take his poetry tour to Africa where he can experience actual racism first hand.

  67. Ali Inkster

    There is a marked difference in scale between selling a doll that some racists have used in the past to insult black folk and events in Kenya where they have used ak47’s to murder.

  68. Ian Tinkler

    Bit deep for me that Robert Sim. I have no problem with Shetland Arts, when they are promoting the Arts of Shetland, the problem is they are being run like a circus, by a committee of clowns. Just look at the incompetence displayed by the Mareel project. Are Shetland Arts truly the best people to run a Cinema and Café/, Bar. As for the other function of Mareel, what was that again? (Promoting the arts in Shetland? Or what? ( where does Mr Sissay fit here)) Is that a bit deep for you Robert?

  69. Ian Right

    Think someone hit a raw nerve…..
    Anyway if Thelma decides to go into retirement(and we all hope she doesn’t) these dolls are available on such sites as Amazon….hundreds of them!!
    Perhaps Lemn Sissay will tackle them next…should be interesting.

  70. rosa steppanova

    I’ve just returned from London to Shetland, “a location where no racist connotations to them (vile dolls) previously existed” until very recently introduced by a visitor and an incomer – the latter classified/identified according to his non-shetlandic surname (!). I’m still a little culture-lagged and can’t decide if this is actually happening or whether I’m just having a really bad Shetlandic nightmare….

  71. Ian Right

    Incidentally, I nearly forgot, If you care to check out Lemn Sissay’s website at:http://blog.lemnsissay.com/2013/09/06/golly-blog-2/ you may see that his visit was to and I quote ‘Shetlands’, Oh dear are there any offended Shetlanders out there?

  72. clive couter

    just came across this forum and I have to say as a white british citizen I am always horrified to my core to see golliwogs on display in shops esp tourist destinations – horrified and deeply deeply ashamed and I simply do not understand those that defend their sale – there may be some people that genuinely “dont know what all the fuss is about” but generally I would say that those who defend their display under the guise of oh i don’t understand, i’m not racist blah blah blah are usually disingenuous and know full well why they cause offence – I remember clearly when i was at infant school nearly 50 years ago the teacher reading a book called little black sambo carrying butter home from the shop and it melting – thinking back i don’t see it as an innocent childrens book – it was insidious and verging on evil and I put golliwogs in the same category not innocent nostalgic items – far from innocent – its nostalgia for a time when white was right and black was at best to be patronised and at worst to be kept in their place with ridicule – to me a golliwog represents both not far off treasuring a kly klux klan doll

  73. this country is full of people who have a big chip on their shoulder! trying to do anything to ruin our culture and values! full of tricksters and con artists who have no place in this country! if you dont like it you are free to leave

    • Donald Hodge

      Awa’ you go Shaun.

  74. Brian Smith

    ‘our culture and values!’

  75. rosa steppanova

    May I urge all those who still believe the golliwog is a harmless toy to listen to this programme:

    • John Tulloch

      Even if a golliwog was made of iron and we hit people over the head with it it would still be a “harmless toy”. It’s the poisoned and poisonous minds which cause the problems.

  76. rosa steppanova

    John, racial stereotyping and caricaturing poisons minds and leads to de-humanisation and ultimately disregard for human life. Sorry, but I fail to understand how anybody can defend the golliwog. It a symbol of ridicule, discrimination, segregation, oppression, torture and murder to anybody with a modicum of knowledge about African-American history. It has no place in an enlightened society.

    • John Tulloch


      A golliwog is a piece of material, inanimate. I accept disgreable perceptions exist however it’s humans who give rise to them. When we create gross caricatures of Scots, Irish, Welsh, Cornish or Picts they are hardly complimentary and are reminders of ages of past repression and effective slavery but they don’t bother us in the slightest because we don’t identify with them, rather we find them amusing.

      If you go to South Africa, they don’t find golliwogs in the least bit insulting, they recall happy times when the minstrels arrived to entertain and they have an annual carnival in Capetown whose name they had to change (officially) due to the interference of pc busybodies however, as I understand it, the locals ignore such strictures and continue to call it a name I suppose I had better not repeat here.

      I think it’s rather sad that a wonderful tradition has to be suppressed – we don’t see any minstrels on our own telly any more – like comedy is now being suppressed to humour religious fanatics, in the name of educating us all to reframe the jolly, gregarious atmosphere of the minstrel carnival or those cheery little chaps photographed with Lemm Sissay into something truly odious.

      “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” (William Shakespeare, Hamlet).

      • Brian Smith

        A ‘wonderful tradition’!

    • John Tulloch

      A gun sitting on a shelf with no bullets in it is pretty harmless, it needs a human to acquire bullets, load it and pull the trigger. Indeed, it needed a human to conceive it, design and manufacture it before we can even discuss it. Ideas and people in combination are more dangerous than things.

      It’s only poorer, working-class coloured folk, 13,000 of them, who participate in the Capetown carnival – the better-off intelligentsia tend to look down their noses at it and refer to them as “riff-raff.” Apparently, Nelson Mandela gave it his blessing, however.

      I think it’s a “wonderful tradition”, others may judge for themselves (NB Non-PC Health Warning: heavy duty four-letter “C-words” appear in this article and may cause distress to those of a sensitive disposition!).


  77. john n oakes

    What about the Morris Dancers who have a tradition for blacken face to represent Miners, Moors and unique identity of various Morris groups. While Mr Sissy is an accomplished poet and regard for his views. Sadly he has scored an own goal by abusing his goodwill on a honest seller by false buying for political means. Or was Mr Sissy stunned by the beauty of Lerwick, aghast by shetlanders culture, inspired by the clean air that filled his poetic lungs to a point I must (buy) a Golliwog. Only to return home drunk on the memories of the atmosphere, to a smoky pie eating, whippet walking lancastrians, currently in Morris dancing garb.

  78. Andy Holt

    Thank God we live in a country where we still retain the right (just) to give and take offence at each other’s viewpoints. To me, the freedom of self-expression is too valuable to sacrifice on the altar of another’s right to take offence. The Vikings were a bunch of murderous, land grabbing, rapists, should we ban souvenir model Vikings and longships and and demand an end to up-helly-a? Cleanse the toy shops of Barbie dolls and toy guns? I am sorry Lemn Sissay was offended and he is right to be but banning and book burning and policing people’s thinking is not the answer to the pain of racism, truth telling and reconciliation just could be.

  79. Sandy McDonald

    A gun is just a piece of metal and other materials John but it can still cause harm. I ask you, would you buy a golliwog doll for your daughter to play with? A simple yes or no will do!

    I have been to South Africa many times and I can tell you that the situation there is far from acrimonious, you would not want to walk around durban proudly displaying a golliwog doll. I doubt very much there would be much laughter over it.

  80. rosa steppanova

    “Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
    Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
    Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
    Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

    Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
    The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
    Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
    Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

    Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
    For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
    For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
    Here is a strange and bitter crop.”
    (Abel Meeropol)

  81. Andy Garden

    This is a fascinating thread and so interesting to see that people of today are still hell bent on keeping racism alive by continuously insisting that dolls in a shop window are evil because of what they may have represented decades ago! Why, because they are coloured differently from your skin? Or maybe because you were told they were racist, probably by a parent or someone from an elder generation, so they must be. A strange argument that reminds me of the Northern Ireland troubles along the lines of; a parent telling their children we are one religion, they are another and under no circumstances will you mingle. Take away that generational influence and what do you have? Kids playing together irrespective of race or religion!

    I am from Africa (went to school in South Africa during apartheid and have worked in Kwa-Zulu Natal) and I can tell you now that if you walked through the streets of Durban holding a Golly (that is what they are called now by the way!), nothing will happen to you. Well, nothing related to the doll anyway! I own one myself. My kids play with it but they are not racist. Why? Because I do not instill that mentality on them and I would never tolerate it. Children are not born racists, they acquire that knowledge from others, for example those that insist that a doll is racist. Lets leave the past in the past. Lets not forget the past but lets learn from it. Don’t keep dredging it up, move on, its more productive.

  82. Sandy McDonald

    So, would it be ok to flag the Nazi flag outside your house with the excuse that you simply like the patterns and colours?!

    P.S. I don’t want a history lesson on the swatsika thanks (it was originally a hindu symbol you know and therefore ok!)

  83. Ali Inkster

    Rosa a poem about events in the southern United states has nothing to do with a rag doll sold in a shop in da sooth end o lerick. It does however have a lot in common with recent and ongoing events in Africa and even with the racist murder of sqadie Lee Rigby, events that lemn has refused to condemn, it seems that only white people are guilty of racism in lemn’s blinkered world and you are only pandering to his paranoia.


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