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Is the term “gollywog” racist?
This was a question which was posed to the Court of Appeal in Lindsay v London School of Economics and Political Science the decision for which gained a lot of publicity in the press on the basis that the press understood the Court of Appeal to have ruled that the term amounted to harassment as it is “obviously racist and offensive”.
Had the media bothered to analyse the judgement properly, it would have realised that it said exactly the opposite. The Court of Appeal held that the context in which terms were used was paramount. It rejected the argument that there are some words which are inherently racial in nature, whatever context in which they were used, and that they would always be uttered on the grounds of race.
The facts were these. A black chef manager complained that her own manager had used the word “gollywog” during the course of a conversation. The Court held that if the term had been used directly towards the Appellant it would obviously be racist and offensive. However, identifying the context in which the term was used was critical to determining whether or not it was actually discriminatory on the grounds of race and that it was vital to understand why the manager used these words.
In fact, the manager had used the term during the course of a conversation between him and the Appellant referring to the pictures of the black rag doll which used to appear on jars of Robinsons jam and which some people considered as a racist caricature. He apologised as soon as the Appellant became upset but she insisted that he had called her a gollywog – when in fact he had done no such thing.
This legal update is provided for general information purposes only and should not be applied to specific circumstances without prior consultation with us.
For further details on any of the issues covered in this update please contact Gemma Ospedale, Partner in Employment on 020 7583 2222
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