Saturday, October 1, 2011

"Get Your Black Hands Off Of Me" Line In African American Playground Rhymes

Written by Azizi Powell

Update October 29, 2014

When I was growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s, the very worse thing you could call another Black person was "blackie". Being called "blackie" usually resulted in a fist fight. Sometimes the child hurling that taunt had the same skin complexion or a similar skin complexion as the child being taunted. In those days few Black people I knew wanted to be Black or wanted to be reminded that they were Black. Unfortunately, as I witnessed during the two years I substitute taught in an all Black Pittsburgh Pennsylvania school, the "Black is Beautiful movement" of the 1970s and 1980s in the United States doesn't appear to have changed this attitude all that much. Black kids still taunt other Black kids by calling them "blackie". And immigrant children from Somalia, East Africa - who were darker than most of the African American children, and who also wore outfits that were different than the norm - were the particular target of "blackie" racial slurs.

Taunts aren't the only place that putdowns of Black people by Black people show up. Those in-racial putdowns also show up in children's playground rhymes where they are recited along with other words, with very little thought to their meaning.

In addition to telling adapted West African stories, I also enjoy collecting children's playground rhymes. So when an opportunity presents itself to do both, I'm really in my glory. Such an opportunity occured one evening in January, 2011 when I was slated to present African folktales for young children whose women who were members of a Black Greek lettered sorority. A nine year old girl arrived early to that event with her mother. While her mother helped set up the room, that little girl, who I later learned was named Naijah, spent some time on her small notebook computer. I couldn't resist the opportunity, and I approached her, introduced myself, and asked her if she would share with me some playground rhymes she knew.

It just so happened that two of the playground rhymes that Naijah shared with me included the line "Get your black hands off of me". Here are those two rhymes, along with my comments & Naijah's comments:

ET from outer space.
He had an ugly face.
Sitting in a rocket.
Eating chocolate.
Watching soap operas
All day long.
Get your black hands off of me. *
Now freeze! **
-Naijah S.; (African American female, 9 years old; Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; January 14, 2011; Collected by Azizi Powell 1/14/2011

This rhyme is part of the "Miss Sue From Alabama" family of rhymes.

Naijah recited this rhyme without my asking for it by name. She said that that "ABCDEFG" part is used in another rhyme which she later recited. See "I Am A First Grader" below.

* I said to Naijah that I heard that "get your Black hands off of me line before in other rhymes and I wondered if if meant that people were ashamed of being Black. Naijah looked shocked and said "I enjoy my heritage".

I am a pretty __ first grader*
As pretty as can___ be be.
My boyfriend's name is__ Chris Brown**
He lives in Ala__bama.
One day when I was___walking
I saw my boyfriend __ talking
To the ugliest girl in the whole wide world.
And this is what he said.
I M-I-S-S miss you.
I L-O-V-E love you.
Get your black hands off of me.***
I K-I-S-S Kiss you!
-Naijah S.; (African American female, 9 years old; Hazelwood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; January 14, 2011; Collected by Azizi Powell 1/14/2011

The dashes indicate one beat before the next word or the next syllable.

Editor: "I Am A Prettty First Grader" is a version of the playground rhyme "I Am A Pretty Little Dutch Girl". Naijah recited this rhyme without my asking for it by name.

* Naijah said "Girls say the grade they are in when they say this rhyme (like first grade or second grade or fifth grade)". Naijah also said that when she was in the second grade she forgot and said "I am a pretty first grader". And that's the words she used for this recitation of that rhyme.

**"Chris Brown" is a currently popular young African American R&B singer and actor. I think that besides his popularity, his last name "Brown" is the reason why he joins a long line in children's playground rhymes of other people or of characters whose last name is "Brown"-for instance "Buster Brown", "Charlie Brown", "James Brown", and probably others.

***Naijah said "The reason why the woman said said "Get your black hands off of me" in that rhyme is that she was mad at him because he was cheating on her. I found that explanation interesting as it showed that an attempt was made to explain that line within the context of that rhyme. However, it still seems to me that the emphasis on the color of the hands meant that their dark color was considered negatively.

I've collected other examples of this rhyme which include the "Get your Black Hands Off Of Me" line. Another example of this same rhyme with that line in my collection is on this page of my Cocojams website That rhyme is presented under the heading "I Am A Pretty Little First Grader" but with the title "Zing Zing Zing At The Bottom Of The Sea".


My experience with Naijah, and particularly her response to my question about the "Get Your Black Hands Off Of Me" line in the "ET" rhyme gave me some hope that the way some Black children view themselves may be changing for the better. But in my opinion, the inclusion of that line in both of these rhymes shows that we still have a long way to go before dark skin color isn't seen as a negative, and all skin color references are just descriptors with no positive or negative valuation.

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