African American — Golliwog or Moor?

In the Spirit of the Gracious and Compassionate
Creator of the Heavens and the Earth

Lester A. Knibbs aka Doctor Hakeem

Golliwogg’s Cakewalk” is a piano piece by Claude Debussy, the last item in his Children’s Corner Suite. (Performance by Claude Debussy, recorded in 1913.)

Golliwog, the little black doll created by Florence Upton in 1895, and whose name is possibly derived from “polliwog,” was sure of immediate success with all children — and many grownups. His hair standing on end, a large red smile and round eyes, and his disjointed stances, supple and grotesque, were titillating factors in his immense popularity, insured in Europe by his simultaneous appearance with newly imported and sought-after minstrel groups.

Also referred to as “our jazzy playmate” in The Piano Works of Claude Debussy (1966, Dover Publications, New York), by E. Robert Schmitz, p. 125.

The prolific Enid Blyton chose to depict golliwogs in a number of her stories as rude and untrustworthy or stupid. Other authors took a similar tack. The name “golliwog” came to be used as a degrading term for anyone who wasn’t white-skinned, …

from the Wikipedia article on Florence Kate Upton and her golliwogg creation.

Golliwog images:

The cakewalk is one of the predecessors of jazz.

A piece similar to “Golliwog’s Cakewalk” was composed by Debussy in 1909 and entitled “Le Petit Negre“. The French word for “black” — the color or a person — is noir. Negre is French for nigger.

When Debussy composed “Evening in Granada“, he was not thinking of the golliwog or the little negre. He was, apparently, totally unaware that the dignified personages of his evening in Granada — the Moors, Black African Muslims — were the same people — before being degraded by slavery and colonialism.

The music of Black Africans — starting with the Moorish invasion of 711 and continuing into the 20th century — laid the foundation for the evolution of European classical music. Even Africans enslaved in the Western Hemisphere contributed to this development. The chaconne — a symphonic form found in the music of Bach, Brahms and many other composers — was originally an Afro-Cuban musical form. The habanera is named after the Cuban capital — Havana — where it originated. The opening of Debussy’s “Evening in Granada” features the African rhythm of the habanera, and Debussy indicates that the performance should be in the tempo of the habanera.

The people who dragged our dignified forebears from their civilized homelands and degraded us more than any people have ever been degraded in history want us to think of ourselves as golliwogs and negres — not as the dignified Moors who had ruled in Spain for most of eight centuries and brought the arts and sciences of civilization to Europe.

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