Racial Equality Among Garden Gnomes

White Gnome
Image by Adrienne King

When I was in college, I was required to take a class my freshman year that focused on various -isms that we have here in the US. Of course, the big one is racism. The teacher was a brilliant female (and black) physiologist (whose name unfortunately escapes me), but she presented a class that opened my eyes in a way no other had. She did not harp on racism as most people know it, but rather the aspects of guilt and shame in society that drives the issue on all sides of the fences.

For example, one of the best questions she posed to us was “If a black man can be proud of being black, why can’t a white man be proud of being white?” Think about it, when was the last time you looked kindly on a person who said “White Pride”?

Anyhoo… She also spoke about the innocent blindness that most white people live with. And she was right, because when she held a “flesh” colored bandaid to her skin, it was the first time in my life that I realized I had never seen a bandaid made for anyone other than white people. It was probably not an intentional. Just, the people who made them were probably white and it just did not dawn on them.

Because of that class, I try to see those kinds of gaps in society, and I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it until I went to look at my website logs today and saw that a person had ended up on this site by searching for the phrase “black garden gnome“. Much like the bandaid demonstration, it smacked me up side the head that I had never seen anything but a white garden gnome.

I have in my time known a few black gardeners. And there is no more to that than to say obviously people with black skin garden too. As do Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans, and most likely any other skin tone or ethnic background you can think of. Gardening is a pretty universal thing.

So, the question is, Why is there only white garden gnomes? Is it because garden gnomes of color would be considered offensive? Like the old fashioned lawn jockeys (which are now all white as well). Does this issue go back to the Black Pride vs White Pride where one is socially acceptable but the other is not?

But then is it just as offensive to have a common garden decoration that focuses exclusively on the “dominate” (though quickly becoming minority) section of the population?

Or maybe it just never occured to garden gnome manufacturers to have anything but white gnomes.

Or maybe the truth is that only white people have the bad gardening taste to have garden gnomes in their yard (I have 3 personally).

And while we are at this, how about female gnomes? I remember very well from my Gnomes book that there are female gnomes. How come they are not represented as well?

I honestly don’t know whether to take this issue as a real one or just laugh it off. It is, after all, just garden gnomes. But maybe this is a case of fixing the garden gnomes first, then the world?

16 thoughts on “Racial Equality Among Garden Gnomes
  1. Hi,
    I do believe that garned gnomes are only white because they come from germanic folclore and also other european areas. The gnomes are white, first, because they use to live underground, and as all living creatures used to see less sunlight tend to be on the pale shade of skin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnome).
    But this are “clasic” gnomes. Also now in my country, Romania, (we recently imported the use of garden gnomes) he have other statues like animals, pigs, squirels, ducks, goose or personages like Snow-White (and the seven “gnomes” ;)) a.s.o. I would like to see also other statues like (I am a S.F fan -more or less) Star Wars garden gnomes, Star Trek, mythical animals like dragons (european not far est ones), or to give equal opportunities mythical creatures from other regions of the world: my favorite Big Foot (the nice-gentle cartoonish ape-man with biiig feet), Ifrit or Genie.
    All these will make a garden more interesting than the look-same gnomes, I think will look surprising good a wooden totem in my yard (in Europe).

    I agree with you, first fix garden gnomes and then the world, this will make a better place for ME you, and everybody else.

  2. Skippy on

    I am the owner of a black garden gnome. I found him on eBay about five years ago quite by accident. I thought he was so unique. I told a friend about him and she bid on him and won him and gave it to me as a gift. I don’t keep him in the garden (although I am a gardener). He stays in the house and is quite a conversation piece. They are out there, but they are extremely rare.

  3. Hi!
    I agree with bogdan j. Garden gnomes are not black due to the area in which they were believed in, as well as them living underground. It just wouldn’t make sense to make Asian, black, or Hispanic gnomes, becuase gnomes weren’t thought to be that way. It isn’t a matter of racism or prejudice, it’s just the way things are.

  4. Well, I know one place you can get a gnome of color, The Gnome Garden at http://www.gnomegarden.net has black Santa gnomes and also a female gnome named Mable. They may not be “traditional” in the sense that they are not “European”, but they are made in the classic style of stoneware pottery and are great American Folk Art.

  5. C.P. from NJ on

    Hi Hanna:

    yes, you are making too much of this, as is your beloved college professor. You see, up until 1964, the country was more than 92% caucasian (and by the way a higher percentage Chritian). When band-aids came out, there was no market for other colors of band aids. Later on, in the 1970’s, band-aids were marketed in a brown color to appease blacks, but they never sold. Nobody would buy them. Believe it or not, the average “minority” as you call them was not as sensitive to skin color as they are today!

    In 1964, LBJ signed in law a measure that would basically ban caucasion immigration in favor of immigration from non-white areas of the world. Very quickly the racial percentages changed dramatically in this country so that by 2040 or so caucasians will be a minority in most poarts of the USA.

    During the sixties, white revolutionaries and black activists adopted Marxist principles as a means to gain power in this country. The most important tennant IMO was the one voiced by Abbie Hoffman — that they would “steal the children of America by indoctrinating them through the school system” Radical professors began showing up in colleges across the country in the 1950s and by the late 1970s had a stranglehold on University policy. They in turn educated the next wave of teachers who gradually filled out the ranks of those teaching grades K-12.

    BTW, It was during this phase that “political correctness” came into being. PCV was an effective way to gag any opinion that did not agree with the marxist politics.

    During this period, racial politics came more into the foreground as a means to solidifying “revolutionary” ends. Whereas during the 1950’s racial politics concentrated on how to keep blacks out of power, the new version of racial politics was sponsored from the left, and it concentrated on using race as a means to forward marxist principles. Suddenly anything “white” was portrayed as evil, or worse “privledged”; unearned and unwarranted. The leftists used the idea of “diversity” to eliminate positive messages about europeans while all the time amplifying positive message sabout minority cultures. It has been not only a matter of not tolerating white pride, but also not tolerating any criticism of any minority.

    If you are truely interested in fixing the world, then you truely need to judge every person individually and not by the color of their skin. That means do not kotow to anyone just because you fear they may be offended. If you do, yopu lose their respecty and then will become less equal in their eyes.

    Black Gnome Reply:

    …where on Earth did you get your facts??!!! By the way, having white skin IS a privilege.

  6. Hanna on

    Your number of 92% white does not ring true. Frankly, with just the current black population, this could not be the case. A little fact checking shows that Blacks made up 10% of the population in 1960 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_American), so not even including the other ethnicities, your numbers are inaccurate.

    “White” countries actually have an easier time of immigration to the country. Not so much because they are white, but because European countries tend to be better developed countries with more universal education systems which make the citizens on the whole a more desirable candidate for immigration. But, since they have opportunities in their own country, they are not as apt to immigrate as citizens of less developed countries. This is already changing though. Asia has made great strides in improving higher education in the past few decades.

    I think perhaps your pseudo-facts should go through a little checking before you post them publicly. Just about every fact you posted is false or twisted. Remember, this is the internet. A quick fact check is only a few mouse clicks away.

    My professor also talked about “white shame” and the idea that being white and being proud of being white feeds into the cycle of racism. After all, what do you think would happen if you stood up and said “white pride”? But, that does not mean we should fight all the harder to deny all races (white or otherwise) their pride and equal face time. It means we should learn to embrace them. And we do. The prevalence of European festivals is a sign of that. Nobody gets upset if you say you are proud to be Irish, German or other European (white) ethnicities.

    As far as treating each person as they are, well, pretending that race does not exist is just silly. It is like pretending that someone is not a man or a woman. The trick is accept race, the differences and similarities and not to pretend it simply does not exist.

  7. Andrew on

    I think you’re reading way to much into this. I mean, it’s a garden gnome.

  8. David on

    I personally find the black gnomes a tad offensive…dont ask me why, but they just rub me the wrong way. and i know of other people that feel the same.

    Is it possibly reading too much into nothing, sure…no doubt. but that doesnt change the way that some people feel about em.

    Its almost like slavery lol, a lil black gnome under the white mans control. You can keep your white gnomes for all I care 😀

  9. For garden gnomes, the European-folklore-origin response makes the most sense. If I started seeing production of gnomes with Asian or African traits, I would dismiss them as an attempt to be politically correct. I had this reaction years ago when the HBO channel came out with that Fairy Tales For EVERY Child cartoon. I was bothered because the Grimm and Anderson fairy tales come from…Northern Europe! HBO could have created a show based on Anancy Spider stories, or any number of African or Asian characters from their cultures’ great legends. I would be interested in this type of creativity being expanded to garden decor as well. By the way, I have one garden gnome and his name is Fritz.

  10. Luke Wolfe on

    Hello Hanna. “Dominate” is a verb. It does not work as a noun or pronoun. “Dominant” is the word you wanted, in your first post.

  11. I am a black gnome. I am currently living in London, E20 but i can trace my family heratige to Africa. My ancestors were taken away to the america’s in ships, in inhumane and cramped conditions. They were placed in gardens of the rich white owners of cotton plantations. Often they got smashed up by the white gnomes, they were persecuted for our recreational use of cannabis by alcohol swilling white gnomes. The black gnomes never had a civil rights movement, thats why we are so rare, but we do exist.

  12. TMay on

    It has been a couple of years since Hana posted this. Hopefully she has moved on. I think Hanna is missing her calling. She could be objecting to the fact that African Art shows Africans and Chinese art shows Chinese and Inuit art shows Inuit.
    This is a free country. If you want to see Black etc garden gnomes then go ahead and make them. Warning: My brother was selling Nestles Africa chocolate because the beans came from Africa in the same way that Swiss chocolate comes from Switzerland and Belgian chocolate came from Belgium, and a Black person filed a complaint that selling and buying anything dark brown with the name Africa reminded her of buying and selling Black slaves and she was offended. She almost caused Nestle to move its operations from Africa to South America and could have cost the loss of all those jobs.
    People have different reactions to garden gnomes because the tradition in Sweden had ambivalence about gnomes and whether they were bad or good. I think they are in the process of converting from bad to good. Some are so ugly that you can see that they were not beloved. The idea of tomtes(gnomes) came from the back country of Sweden.
    Also Santa Claus and Mrs Claus are under attack because they are portly and the Health Police think that creates a bad role model for children. They want a thin Santa and Mrs Claus and think that Santa should not drink milk and eat cookies, because of bad modeling for children but should eat broccoli instead. If you read the medical explanation for why Rudolph’s nose is red, it would make you very sad indeed.
    Garden gnomes also suffer from the portliness that Santa and Mrs Claus do.
    Similarly if your teacher was upset about the lack of black or brown flesh colored bandages she was perfectly free to start a company and fill that gap in the West.
    Victims are always coming up with new complaints and insisting on the whole world changing language for them but this one is a new one for me. It would be ever so much more efficient if victim decided to stop viewing themselves as victims. Rational emotive therapy can help and there are books and tapes on the subject.
    I think if the world were changed so that garden gnomes were Politically Correct that the world would be worse not better because different things come from different cultures and if you begin wiping out all the things that cultures have come up with, you end up with a sameness that makes life boring and gray.
    I wonder if you are focusing on garden gnomes after your indoctrination course because it is something which is innocent and which people enjoy. Where I live in California, people disapprove of Christmas lights or “Holiday lights” as they are referred to here because they “use electricity”. Each year one sees less and less holiday trees. There have been legal complaints about lighting the menorah at Chanukah because an “atheist” was offended by seeing it. Chanukah is a holiday about lighting up the darkness, and this woman managed to be offended and wanted the lights to not light up the darkness. Personally I am getting offended by the people who get offended.
    IMHO the idea in America is to have freedom and to let people do what they enjoy and not to use PC to intimidate harass inhibit others, and you get to do what you want to do. It is helpful to know where you end and others begin so that you don’t get into the habit of thinking you can control others. Your task is to control yourself. Remember, in the French Revolution, Robespierre, who sent people to the guillotine, ended up being sent to the guillotine himself, without a trial, and buried in a mass grave. It is a rule in human nature that what you reward you get more of. If people are rewarded for being “offended” we will have more and more people “offended.”

  13. TMay on

    I think, being white, that I will be offended that all ginger bread cookies are cookies of color, and are not inclusive, and I could go on, with more things about which one could be offended by gingerbread, if one was so inclined, (sarc).
    Thank you for providing this website which so clearly shows the ridiculous extreme that our educational institutions have moved in teaching hyper sensitivity.
    Actually there are real problems in the world and real people and animals being hurt and tortured.
    Our educational institutions are teaching people how to waste their time and their energy and their compassion and ultimately their lives.

  14. Hanna on

    So, this post was written some 5 years ago and for some reason is getting a ton of traffic lately. Beyond the fact that a large majority of the commenters here seemed to have COMPLETELY missed the fact that this blog is a tounge and cheek sort of place, I thought I would chime in to these commenters, because well… my perspective has changed over the years.

    You see, since I posted this posted so many years ago I have become the proud mother of 2 beautiful African American children. And you know what, you really don’t get a true perspective on something until you actually live with it for awhile. Like when I want to buy my daughter a doll that reflects what she looks like, I have to A) make sure I go to the right neighborhood and B) make sure I go to the right store. Because not all stores in an area will sell dark skinned dolls – and this will be despite the fact that the area has an African American population. And that stings a little. That my kids don’t count on a marketers’ demographic. They are not important enough to cater to on any level. (I won’t even go into the fact that I can’t find a doll that has the same type of hair as she does – they don’t even make them really.) And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

    It is really easy when you are the in crowd to say that people are being unfair because they want to feel included in the crowd.

    *added* Step outside your boundries. Buy your child a doll of a different color (and experience how hard it can be to find one – if you are white looking for the first time). My daughter has dolls of all hues because her world consisits of all hues – she has brothers who are light, friends who are every shade and a mirror that tells her she is dark. Should not her dolls say the same – you know, to indicate that this is normal and she is not a freak? Should her toys not reflect that her world will be filled with people who not only look like her but are different too? That this is ok? If it makes you feel uncomfortable to see your child holding and loving that doll who looks different, think about why.