I have often said that I don’t really approve of insult humor. I don’t think calling someone names really adds to the discussion in any useful way, and the real point of humor is to reveal the truth in a way that is palatable because it is surprising enough to make you laugh. Revealed truth is much funnier than calling someone names. So when I call Donald Trump the king of rotten cantaloupe rinds, I am really being no more clever than he is talking about Lyin’ Ted or Crooked Hillary.
So, what in the heck am I doing talking about Golliwogs in this post?
A Golliwog is a Raggedy Ann-type rag doll from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They were a common doll type for typical little white girls in typical little middle class families. My Aunt Jean, my father’s sister, had one as a child. A female one with a red dress with black spots. You could flip that doll over and underneath her skirt was a different doll, a yellow-haired white girl in a blue and black dress. The image has become poison in modern culture because the blackface-minstrel roots of the character is now deemed racist and offensive. The Golliwogs in the children’s books of Florence Upton and Grid Blyton, though, were actually quite heroic, good-hearted and kind.
As much as we vilify people for having them nowadays, there are many people who secretly adore them and wish to collect and preserve them. I have long been enthralled by the brilliant 1920’s newspaper cartoon, Little Nemo in Slumberland by Windsor McKay. But there are many who would lecture me sternly about that because there is at least one Golliwog character in the cartoon strip, and it is even debatable that the main character of Flip, the “bad kid”, is just another kind of Golliwog.
Now, the point of this article is to make relentless fun of Betsy De Vos, the harpy that Donald Trump has put in charge of the implosion of the Department of Education. There are a number of very bad things about this wicked witch and her policies. Diane Ravitch does an excellent job of explaining what’s wrong with De Vos and her wicked witch plans in Ravitch’s education blog, linked here. You should read all about it so you know why I am regressing into vacant-headed teacher burblings about her, and resorting to the kind of insult humor you find me committing in this blog post.
Betsy De Vos looks at public school children and sees Golliwogs. She is suspicious of their pedigree and basically doesn’t like them. Remember, we are talking about public school children, not the children in upper class, rich private schools, the only kind De Vos actually touts. She wants to give Golliwogs only the minimums absolutely necessary, the spoiled and the spilled milk. The cream belongs to rich kids. And she’s not prejudiced or racist, oh, no. She sees poor white kids as just as golliwoggie as poor black kids, and she would have no problem pandering to Ben Carson’s kids. Ben has lots of money. He can be Sleepy McBoing-boing as much as he wants, and take off after phantom luggage whenever he wants, because money keeps you from being the detestable Golliwog.
But the secret… the revealed truth is… Golliwogs are worth loving and educating. Diversity and the resilience learned from hardship and poverty are priceless things, resources too rarely put to good use. Most of the kids I truly loved as a teacher were Golliwogs. Not just the chocolate-flavored ones, though those were very precious and precocious children, but also the vanilla-flavored ones, the caramel-flavored ones, the blueberry-flavored ones and the grape-flavored ones. (Okay, maybe they were only blue and purple in my crazy old head. And maybe I shouldn’t be making metaphors that suggest I am promoting eating school children. That was Jonathan Swift’s thing.) But Betsy De Vos and her boss, Donald Trump, will never understand that, and never see the true value in them. If we are ever again going to have a fair and just system of education, we have to give value to the Golliwogs.