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Childhood nursery rhymes and other 'classic' songs you probably never knew were racist
Photo by Jakub Kriz on Unsplash

One of the hallmarks of progress, both societally and individually, is when we realize that something we thought was benign is actually not. When it comes to progress on racism, the cultural norms of language are frequently where those realizations occur.

For example, there are many common phrases we use that are racist, which many of us having no idea. And now The Conscious Kid on Instagram has shared how a collection of standard nursery rhymes most of us recited or sang as children that also come from racist origins. Some of them come from the blackface minstrelsy era, when white people dressed in blackface and sang songs portraying black people as uneducated caricatures. Others started as blatantly racist rhymes, then changed over time to be palatable to a more enlightened audience.

As we take these in, it's good to be aware that nostalgia and familiarity will naturally create resistance to the notion that these rhymes are problematic, especially if we aren't part of the racial group on the receiving end of the racism these rhymes stem from. Our minds will defend, justify, and qualify in order to keep fond memories from our childhood in tact.


With that in mind, here are "childhood nursery rhymes you didn't realize were racist," sourced from Atlanta Black Star and NPR's Code Switch.

Many of us learned Eeenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe with the phrase "catch a tiger by his toe" or maybe "catch a tigger," but the original rhyme used the n-word. Gross.


The Conscious Kid/Instagram

"Ten Little Indians" is problematic on its face, but is actually worse when you see what the original lyrics were.

The Conscious Kid/Instagram

"Chinese, Japanese" was a common playground recitation when I was little, and though I recall learning that it was wrong, it didn't seem nearly as horrifying as it does now. Who the hell originally came up with this, and how did it travel so far?

The Conscious Kid/Instagram

"Five Little Monkeys" might not seem like anything problematic—until you learn that "monkeys" used to be "darkies" or the n-word.

The Conscious Kid/Instagram

And then there's the ice cream truck song. The familiar tune that's synonymous with summer—also sung by kids as "Do Your Ears Hang Low"—was originally a song called "N****r Love a Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!" Yeah.

The Conscious Kid/Instagram

Same goes for "Shortnin' Bread." Yikes.

The Conscious Kid/Instagram

Many of us sang at least part of "Oh! Susanna" in school music classes, and it's often considered a classic. But look at what the song was actually about and how horrible some of the lyrics were.

The Conscious Kid/Instagram

"Jimmy Crack Corn" is another familiar tune from childhood. I remember singing it in some capacity, and now I'm appalled that the term "Massa" ever came out of my mouth as form of entertainment.

The Conscious Kid/Instagram

Finally, "Camptown Races." Really? Yep. Again, from the blackface minstrel era, a song that basically made fun of Black people.

The Conscious Kid/Instagram

Now's a good time to ask ourselves what we should do with these rhymes now that we know their origins. Of course, there are bigger issues than nursery rhymes, but all of the seemingly low-significance incidences of racism add up to a crapton.

When we know better, we do better—at least in theory. Now that we know, let's do something with this knowledge. Would it really be that hard to place these rhymes in the archives of history and not continue to actively use them? Are there really no alternatives that children can become familiar with instead?

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Noe Hernandez and Maria Carrillo, the owners of Noel Barber Shop in Anaheim, California.

Jordyn Poulter was the youngest member of the U.S. women’s volleyball team, which took home the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics last year. She was named the best setter at the Tokyo games and has been a member of the team since 2018.

Unfortunately, according to a report from ABC 7 News, her gold medal was stolen from her car in a parking garage in Anaheim, California, on May 25.

It was taken along with her passport, which she kept in her glove compartment. While storing a gold medal in your car probably isn’t the best idea, she did it to keep it by her side while fulfilling the hectic schedule of an Olympian.

"We live this crazy life of living so many different places. So many of us play overseas, then go home, then come out here and train,” Poulter said, according to ABC 7. "So I keep the medal on me (to show) friends and family I haven't seen in a while, or just people in the community who want to see the medal. Everyone feels connected to it when they meet an Olympian, and it's such a cool thing to share with people."

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