School children sing alongside the Bournemouth Symphony performed by Kirill Karabits in ~ the Colston Hall, in a tribute to the composer Benjamin Britten and the centenary of his bear on November 22, 2013 in Bristol, England. An ext than 100,000 childr photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
Warning: We are talking about racism in this article. There is some offensive language below.

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A little over a week ago, NPR had an illuminating and also poignant report top top the the racist starts of the ice cream cream van song. The song"s melody, it transforms out, was popularized in antebellum minstrel mirrors where the text "parodied a cost-free black male attempting come conform come white high society by dressing in good clothes and using huge words." To do matters worse, that song came to be the basis for an offensive folk song in 1916 titled, "Nigger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!" before turning into the melody that beckons ice cream cream seekers today.

For Theodore Johnson III, who wrote the article, understanding of that history ruined ice cream cream trucks for him. "When the with of racism robs me the fond memory from mine childhood, the feels intensely personal again. Whenever ns hear the music now, the neck voice laughing around niggers and watermelon filling my head," Johnson wrote.

Johnson"s piece got us thinking about the songs prefer the ice cream truck song — a look at innocuous individual song, nursery rhyme, or solder — that we may not have known were racist, and also what we need to do as soon as we learn about their histories.

"Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo" (Early 19th Century)

The words: "Eenie, meenie, minie mo. Catch an nigger through the toe. If that hollers, let the go. Eenie, meenie, minie mo." An alternating version: "Catch a black by his toe/ If the hollers do him pay/Twenty dollars every day."

The meaning: The an interpretation of this rhyme is rooted in the servant trade. There"s one idea the it originates from slave choice or a summary of what white slave owners would carry out if they caught a runaway slave. That was actually a part of a 2004 lawsuit against Southwest. The black color plaintiffs in that situation sued the airline for discrimination due to the fact that a flight attendant had used the rhyme if urging them to take your seats. The jury did no side v the plaintiffs, and also though they appealed, the Tenth Circuit Court the Appeals affirmed the early stage ruling.

"Pick a Bale the Cotton" (1801-1861)

The words: "Jump down, revolve around, choose a bale the cotton. Gotta run down, rotate around, Oh, Lordie, pick a bale a day." There"s also another version that goes

The meaning: . The song can be seen as glorifying and also poking fun at servant conditions. In 2005, the track made the news once a school in suburban Detroit included "Pick a Bale the Cotton" in a choir performance. The officials in ~ Anderson center School removed the song from the regimen after a complaint.

"Jimmy crack Corn" (1840s)

The words: "Ol" massa"s gone and I"ll let him rest/They say every things room for the best/ however I"ll never ever forget "til the day i die…"

The meaning: The track is about a slave and also the fatality of his master. There"s a suggest where the servant (who is to sing the song) laments because that his master, but part scholars argue the there is a subtext the the servant rejoicing.

"Oh! Susanna" (1848)

The initial lyrics: "It rain’d all night de day ns left, De wedder it to be dry, The sun so hot I froze to def."

The meaning: The protagonist that the track is an African-American servant who is shown as dumb and also naive. In the song, the singer can"t grasp the concepts of temperature and geography.

"Camptown Races" (1850)

The initial lyrics: "De Camptown females sing dis tune — Doo-dah! Doo-dah!/ ns come under dah wid my hat caved in — Doo-dah! Doo-dah!/ i go earlier home wid a pocket full of believe -- Oh! Doo-dah day!"

The meaning: The vocabulary supplied by lyricist Stephen Foster is intended to mimic black speech. There"s a deliberate selection here to do the singer sound unsophisticated.

Should we change the songs if we understand they"re offensive? need to we ban them?

These songs, numerous of which space still sung today, aren"t simply uncomfortable since of your lyrics; many were used in minstrel/blackface performances in the past.

An inescapable question arises: what do you do with these songs? ban them? protect against singing them? readjust them? because that the most part, institutions in the U.S. Have gone v the latter. But that decision raises even much more questions: what sort of music room we censoring? What sort of music room we preserving? and who decides this?

At NPR, Johnson struggled with similar questions when challenged with even if it is or no to phone call his children about the origins of the ice cream cream van song. "Do ns empower them with the background of our country, or encourage the youthful exuberance induced through the ice cream truck? Is it my duty to foul the sweet taste of ice cream with their an initial taste of racism?"

I contacted Matthew Shaftel, a professor of Music Theory and also Associate Dean that Undergraduate researches at Florida State for an expert opinion.

When it comes to these songs, Shaftel describes that youngsters should be taught the amendment versions because they can"t master the nuances that race just yet and also don"t have multiple level of understanding. Later, they deserve to learn where the songs came from, and also that lesson will be critical one. "These song are component of a racist background — our nation"s history. And we desire to be conscious of our racist roots," Shaftel said.

We don"t constantly do this through American individual songs. We readjust the songs and scrub lock clean. In various other musical instances, this is no the case. J.S. Bach"s St. John Passion, for instance, is collection to anti-semitic text. "It’s renowned that yes sir some an overwhelming language in the Gospel the John," Michael Marissen, a listed Bach scholar, said in a 2013 interview through WQXR-radio. Shaftel defines that us usually connect a disclaimer come Bach and also explain how his arts was a product the his time.

But this songs, deserve to teach us around our past. Because that instance, the songs might have detailed information around the cruelty of slavery to Northerners in the 1800s. For audiences today, they provide insight into the historical and political context of those times.

"It"s end up being clear come scholars... That blackface/ minstrels were really the North"s only exposure because that what was going in the South," Shaftel says, explaining that while these shows were racist and terrible, they were trying to portray part semblance of reality of what life was prefer in the South.

"Jimmy cracked Corn", one of Abraham Lincoln"s favourite songs, is one example Shaftel point out out. The song portrays a servant who reflects emotion and also perhaps longing in the wake of his master"s death. The was composed at a time when slaves were frequently dehumanized and also not gift as having actually internal stays or worth, however the slave illustrated in "Jimmy …" is someone who has feelings (whether it it is in lament or rejoicing), someone that is human, who "who isn"t simply property," Shaftel explained.

In comparison, "Oh! Susanna", the slave is depicted as too dumb to establish his situation and or master the ide of geography — that"s an ext of the "slaves as property" portrayal. Both song depict slaves and black world in an attack manner, but the slight difference between the two can show the incremental transforms in cultural representations.

Again, this is in no way a defense of those songs, a defense for maintaining their original lyrics or absolving the audience members native their consumption of racialism material. However studying these songs within the ideal context argues the songs represent an ext than may appear at first listen.

In Johnson"s article, the writes that he eventually decided against telling his kids about the beginnings of the ice cream truck song, however they will likely discover it one day. And his story raised awareness amongst his readers. Perhaps, therein lies the worth of this songs: their visibility raises awareness and starts conversations that us wouldn"t have actually if they merely were forgotten. The stories we find out from them space painful, but additionally valuable. The songs supposed something at the time they to be created, and they have actually a different, and also important definition to our stays now: psychic a previous that we need to never forget.

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Update: A reader stated that i was inconsistent in citing the use of the word "nigger" in lyrics and also in the piece. I"ve to update the piece to reflect those concerns.