When a customer walked into a local pub for a drink, they were instantly offended by the bar’s “racist” decorations. However, as soon as they demanded that the bar take down the decor, the owners came up with a plan.
For pub owners Chris and Benice Ryley, dealing with difficult customers comes with the territory. Whether it’s breaking up fights or cutting off overly-intoxicated patrons, managing a bar has its setbacks. However, the couple never thought they would find themselves in hot water for something as trivial as their bar decorations.
Business owners typically live by the mantra “the customer is always right.” Of course, this could mean that a business will spend more time attempting to cater to the sensibilities of its customers rather than providing them with goods and services. That’s why this pair of pub owners made the decision to never kowtow to demanding patrons, no matter how offended they may be.
While tending to the White Hart in Grays, Essex, the Ryleys received a phone call from none other than the city council. Apparently, an anonymous customer had complained that they were committing a “racially aggravated crime” by putting up offensive decorations in their pub, and the council was asking the owners to remove them, according to the Daily Star.
Chris, 59, fumed, “The head of licensing at the council phoned to tell me a complaint had been made and said the same person had also gone to the police.”
The “racist” decorations in question: 15 historical golliwog dolls, which were created in the late 1800s and grew in popularity over the next century. The pristine dolls, which hang above the wares behind the bar, have only in recent history been looked at as a mascot of racism. However, the Ryleys weren’t about to let the council force them to remove something of theirs that they’ve never seen as a symbol of hate.
“Since we have had them up behind the bar in the past three years, there has only ever been two complaints,” Chris said. “One was from a Canadian lady who said ‘those would not be allowed back in my country’ and another was from an English woman who insisted they were racist, despite no-one else in the pub agreeing with her, including a black man who was drinking in here at the time.”
Once they realized that the complaints of just two offended individuals out of the thousands of patrons they serve each year, the Ryleys came up with an idea. Instead of removing their beloved historical dolls, the couple is doubling down. They insist that, if you don’t like their style of decor, go to another pub.
A defiant Chris said, “The council has enough things to be getting on with, rather than worrying about this. The golliwogs are staying up. No-one has said anything to us and my message would be ‘go somewhere else to drink if you don’t like it – nobody is forcing you to come here.'”
For the Ryleys, it’s a matter of common courtesy. After all, you wouldn’t go into a person’s home and demand they change the way they’ve decorated their living room. Additionally, Chris says that the two individuals who have a problem with the dolls aren’t even patrons of the bar.
“If the customers start complaining, that would change my mind, but it is our customers who brought most of them here for us as presents.”
Although some people see the dolls as a symbol of historic racism, others who grew up with the dolls have a different outlook. In fact, for a group of Aboriginal woman who continue the tradition of making golliwogs, the dolls are a beloved aspect of their childhood and a piece of family history.
“We grew up with our mothers. They were poor,” one of the women explained. “My mom used to knit little golliwogs, and they were toys for us as kids and they meant a lot to us.”
The women have never seen the dolls as anything but toys that brought them great happiness as children. However, there’s no denying that many today see the knitted dolls as racist caricatures of stereotypical blackness. As such, the debate rages on as some see the doll as offensive while others see it as a mere child’s toy.
Now, the Ryleys must wait to see if the council will revoke their bar license as punishment for refusing to take down the golliwog dolls, Mirror reports. Still, they remain steadfast, refusing to remove the controversial toys. Incredibly, the couple’s defiance has already won them support across the country.
“My phone has been full of messages of support from customers saying ‘save the golliwogs,'” Chris said. “I’ve been telling the customers about the complaint and their reaction has been ‘are you having a laugh?’ They are all in favour of us keeping them. The council will be opening a big can of worms if they were to take action against our licence for this. I will stand my ground. We will stand our ground.”
The council confirmed that the incident will be investigated for a potential hate offense. For now, the Ryleys continue to serve patrons at their pub, most of whom either love the dolls or have no feelings about them. One thing is certain — the dolls have sparked an intense conversation about just how far we should go as a civilization in the pursuit of eradicating racism, real and imagined.