They say Christmas comes round earlier and earlier each year, but if there’s one thing that arrives at the same time every year, it’s the dubious stalls at the Rochester Christmas Market. Whether you’re in the market for magnetic health bracelets, cures for cancer, copyright infringement Indiana Jones, or a Costco membership, the Rochester Christmas Market has you covered.
Then, of course, there’s the golliwogs dolls.
Yes, golliwog dolls.
The golliwog dolls have been a staple at the Rochester Christmas Market for many years now, with not many people seeming particularly bothered about them. But then in a town that embraced UKIP in 2014, maybe that shouldn’t be wholly surprising.
Year after year they appeared, and while a vocal minority complained, nothing was ever done. Indeed, when complaints about the dolls gained media attention in 2014, a festival manager merely said that ‘the doll is one of a variety of traditional toys on sale’. Which, while technically correct, doesn’t really explain why it’s acceptable in the first place.
As with everything from climate change to whether or not the world is flat, there is a ‘debate’ about whether or not golliwog dolls are racist. By which I mean there are people who think they are racist and people who are wrong. A cursory glance into their history reveals the unpleasantness behind them, no matter how many made up histories others might share to try and justify them.
So who is to blame for them being on sale every year? As usual, there’s a bit of blame to spread around. The stall itself is housed with a craft stall area run by the City of Rochester Society. While the Society does a lot of good work for Rochester, many of their members and views seem to be stuck decidedly in the past, perhaps explaining why they have never taken action despite this being raised with them over several years.
More responsibility seems to lie with Medway Council though, who operate the event as a whole, and have been made aware of the issues across many years. While it is not illegal for golliwog dolls to be sold, it remains highly questionable whether they should be sold as a market operated by a local authority who is supposed to represent the entire community.
So this year it came as a little bit of a shock when Medway Council finally took action, with this statement coming from Cllr Doe, Portfolio Holder for Community Services, following the first weekend of the event:
“We do not allow ‘Gollys’ to be sold at the Rochester Christmas Market.
We permitted the sale of Rasta dolls within the City of Rochester Craft Fair, at the Rochester Christmas Market last year. However, following reports that similar dolls were being sold at the market last weekend we have reviewed the situation again. Although the dolls are not labelled as ‘Gollys’ we understand that they may unintentionally cause offence to some visitors. We have therefore decided to ask the stallholder to withdraw the dolls from sale.”
While it is unfortunate that from the wording of the statement Medway Council still don’t seem to really see a problem with the dolls, they have at least asked for them to be withdrawn. Whether they will have been once the market re-opens tomorrow is a separate question. The planned removal of the dolls did not go down well with some local residents, several of them jumping onto the pit of doom that is the Kent Online comments section to moan about ‘snowflakes’, ‘political correctness gone mad’, and whatever else you’d have on your bingo card for this sort of thing.
What next? Banning the fake cures for cancer too?