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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Racialized Versions Of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea"

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest revision: October 18, 2018

This post provides selected examples of and comments about verses of the racialized rhyme "I Like Coffee I Like Tea". This rhyme is also called "Down Down Baby".

This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series on race/ethnicity in contemporary [post 1960s] English language children's playground rhymes.

I coined the term "racialized rhyme" to refer to playground rhymes that now include racial references although those rhymes previously didn't mention race.

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OVERVIEW OF I LIKE COFFEE I LIKE TEA RHYMES
"I Like [Love] Coffee I Like Tea" is a large family of playground rhymes which has been documented as early as 1869. Examples of these rhymes include

"Molly, my sister and I fell out,
And what do you think it was all about?
She loved coffee and I loved tea,
And that was the reason we couldn’t agree."

**
"I like coffee I like tea
I like the boys and they like me"

**
"I like coffee I like tea
I want [child's name]
To come in [or "jump in"] with me.

None of these examples include any references to race or any confrontational content.

However, a version of "I Like Coffee" from Great Britain contains this racial referent:
"I like coffee I like tea
I like sitting on a black man's knee".

It's important to note that this "I Like Coffee" rhyme carried/carries the implication that there is something risque and/or wrong about sitting on a Black man's knee only when it is recited by non-Black children. That implication wouldn't have been present/isn't present when this rhyme was/is recited by Black children.

According to the definition given above, this "sitting on a black man's knee" example of "I Like Coffee" is what I call a "racialized rhyme".

This pancocojams post focuses on post 1960s* racialized examples of "I Like Coffee" rhymes that originated in the United States. I don't know if any examples of these rhymes are found outside of the United States.

For the record, I should note that the only racialized examples of "I Like Coffee" that I've found to date [2018] include the racial referents "black", "white", or colored (including the folk processed spelling "color"). I've never come across any versions of these rhymes that referred to Asian, Latino/a, or any other race/ethnicity (with ethnicity here having the USA definition of Latino/Hispancic).

*An anonymous commenter shared this recollection with me on March 12, 2013 via email:
"A Down down baby / colored boy version was sang on the school yard at my elementary school in 1977 during double dutch at recess. [Seattle, Washington]" end of quote.

1977 is the earliest date I've come across thus far for these racialized versions of "I Love Coffee"/"Down Down Baby" rhymes.

Like most contemporary children's rhymes, racialized examples "I Like Coffee I Like Tea' is composed by stringing together couplets (pairs of lines with the same length and ending in a word that rhymes or nearly rhymes. Most of these couplets are from stand alone rhymes (i.e. rhymes that can be recited by themselves, but are usually combined with other recreational rhymes.)

Racialized and non-racialized versions of "I Like Coffee" are combined with "Down Down Baby" rhymes. ("Down Down Baby" is also known as "Shimmy Shimmy Co Co Pop" or similarly sounding titles.) "I Like Coffee" verses are also combined with several other rhymes, particularly versions of "Last Night, The Night Before" (and particularly the version of that rhyme that is most often called "I Met My Boyfriend At The Candy Store." Racialized and non-racialized versions of "I Like [Love] Coffee" are also often combined with verses of "Apple On A Stick", "Take A Peach, Take A Plum", and "Eeny Meenie Epsideenie". The "I Like [Love] Coffee" lines may appear anywhere in those rhymes.

Most racialized examples of "I Love Coffee" that I've collected were/are chanted by two girls while doing hand clap routines. However, like other hand clap rhymes in the United States, these rhymes may have initially been chanted by girls while jumping rope and may still be chanted by girls while jumping rope.

The "I Like Coffee" portion of these rhymes include references to race and confrontational content. Here's an example of that rhyme (without the other verses that are usually recited with it.]

I like coffee I like tea
I like a [racial term] boy and he likes me.
So step back [different racial term] you don't shine
I'm gonna get a [same racial term as initially given] boy
to beat your behind"

Lines from other rhymes follow that couplet. [Read the examples below.]

I've found the same or similar versions of this sub-set of "I Like Coffee" ("Down Down Baby") on multiple websites that provide examples of contemporary children's rhymes. I've also heard this version of "I Love Coffee" recited in my adopted hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and have directly or indirectly (via telephone of email and from the internet) collected the same or similar versions from persons in New York City, Georgia, Michigan, Connecticut, and Maryland. This leads me to believe that this version is probably found throughout the United States.

In almost all cases that I have found, the rhyme is voiced from the standpoint of females, i.e. "step back black boy/ you don't shine/ I'mma get a white boy/ to beat your behind". However, I've read at least one example that is composed from the standpoint of boys ("step back white girl you don't shine/ I'mma get a black girl to beat your behind"). And at least one example of this rhyme is composed from the standpoint of girls fighting other girls for whatever reason or reasons.

I've also read an example of "I Love Coffee" which uses the phrasing "step back white/black boy/ I'm gonna get a white/black boy to beat your behind" (Example #7 below). In response to my query, the contributor who posted that example clarified that in the integrated setting he grew up in, children reciting this could choose to say "white" or black" and usually did so to "match" their race.

These racialized lines express the societal expectation that a person should only be romantically interested in someone from their own race. The girl who is approached by a boy from another racial/ethnic group not only tells that boy that she already has a boyfriend from her racial group, she also tells the boy who approached her romantically that "You don't shine" (In standard English, this probably means "You're not a star", "You're not special"). The girl also threatens the boy from another racial group who approached her, saying that she's going to get a boy from her race/ethnic group to fight him ("beat your behind"). Presumably, she says that she will do this if that boy "bothers her" again (approaches her again with romantic intent.)

I believe that these racialized references and confrontational lines in "I Like Coffee" rhymes reflect the racial tensions between school children that often occurs with increased school integration.

Unfortunately, in the past and to perhaps a somewhat lesser extent now, children have been socialized to believe that race/ethnicity (and gender) limits who they will be involved with romantically. And unfortunately, confrontational attitudes toward other races/ethnicities are all too frequently still the norm in the USA and elsewhere.

Children's playground rhymes often reflect the mores of the society in which children live, move, and have their being. Therefore, girls (or boys) who recite rhymes with racial content are usually echoing what they have absorbed from society in myriad (often unconscious) ways. Just as I don't think that every mention of race or ethnicity is racist, I don't think that every mention of race in children's playground rhymes is racist.

A commenter who shared an example of this rhyme she remembered from her childhood on a mudcat discussion thread that I started in 2010 wrote "I am VERY saddened that we said this in elementary school."
-GUEST,guest, http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=100653 Down Down Baby-Race in Children's Rhymes, 12 Dec 10

Here’s my response to this comment:
Guest, guest, with regard to your ending comment, I believe that children's playground rhymes often reflect the mores of the society in which children live, move, and have their being. Therefore, girls who recite rhymes with racial content are probably just echoing what they have absorbed from society in myriad (often unconscious) ways.

Unfortunately, it was (and to a large extent still is) the norm for children to believe that race/ethnicity (and gender) limits who they will be involved with romantically. And unfortunately, confrontational attitudes toward other races/ethnicities are all too frequently still the norm in the USA and elsewhere. In my opinion, the fact that you, and I (and I'm certain others) recognize this, regret it, and challenge this as a norm, is a hopeful sign.

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TEXT EXAMPLES OF RACIALIZED I LIKE COFFEE I LIKE TEA RHYMES

Note: I usually capitalize the racial referents "Black" and "White". However, in this post, unless I'm writing my own comments, I adhere to the format used by the contributors of these rhyme examples, and spell those and other racial referents such as "Colored" with a lower case beginning letter.

Example #1
I remember
Down Down Baby Down Down the rollercoaster
Sweet Sweet Baby I'll never let you go
Shimmy shimmy cocoa puff shimmy shimmy I
Shimmy shimmy cocoa puff shimmy shimmy I
I like coffee I like tea
I like a colored boy and he likes me
so step back white boy
you don't cause a cool colored boy gonna bet your behind
He'll beat it once he'll beat it twice
He'll beat it beat it beat it
So let's get the rhythm of the head
Ding dong
Sho' got the rhythm of the head head
Ding dong
Let's get the rhythm of the hands
(Clap,Clap)
Sho' got the rhythm of the hands
(Clap,Clap)
Let's get the rhythm of the feet
(Stomp, Stomp)
Sho' got the rhythm of the feet
(Stomp, Stomp)
Let's get the rhythm of the Hot Dog (While doing the snake)
Sho' got the rhythm of the Hot Dog
Ding dong, clap,clap,stomp,stomp,Hot Dog
-Guest ,Pazzion; http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=81350 "I'm Rubber . You're Glue: Children's Rhymes"; 5/26/2005 [no race or location given]
-snip-
[Added October 18, 2018]
Here's some information about the term "colored":
In the United States "colored" ["Colored"] is short for "Colored people". This term, with or without capitalization, was used from the mid 19th century to around the mid 20th century as a referent for Black Americans. In the United States the term "Colored People" and "Colored" has almost completely been retired since around the 1970s, although it is still present in the official name for the civil rights organization NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Other than that usage, the term "Colored People" or "Colored" (in the United States) is largely considered offensive. Note the term "People of Color" (which refers to all races/ethnic groups other than White people) doesn't have the same meaning as "Colored People". "People of Color" has been used in the United States since the 2000s, and is largely considered favorably.

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Example #2
I love coffee
I love tea
I love a Black boy and he loves me
so step back White boy
you don't shine
I'mma get a Black boy to beat your behind
I met my boyfriend at the candy store.
He bought me ice-cream, he bought me cake,
He brought me home with a belly-ache.
Mamma, Mamma, I feel sick.
Call the doctor - quick, quick, quick.
Doctor, Doctor, will I die?
Count to five and you'll be alive.
1-2-3-4-5. I'm alive.*
-African American girls (6-12 years old), various neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and various neighborhoods in surrounding communities of Pittsburgh; collected by Azizi Powell, 1980s-2006; posted on cocojams.com, 2/26/2006 [Cocojams.com was my cultural website. That website is no longer active. Click https://cocojams2.blogspot.com/2014/10/hand-clap-jump-rope-rhymes-examples-i-j.html for a post on my cocojams2 children's rhyme blog that features "I Love Coffee I Love Tea" and some other rhymes that begin with letters I-J.

*Sometimes "and on channel 5" is added to the end of this rhyme. Prior to cable television, there was no channel 5 in Pittsburgh. That number is used for its rhyming effect.

Editor:
This version appears to be widely recited among African American girls in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area from about the late 1980s-early 1990s to at least 2010. See example #3 for another version of that rhyme that is also recited among African American girls in Pittsburgh.

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Example #3
Zing, Zing, Zing,
and ah 1-2-3.
I like coffee, I like tea.
I like a black boy and he likes me.
So step back, white boy, you don't shine.
I'll get the black boy to beat your behind.
Last night and the night before.
I met my boyfriend at the candy store.
He bought me ice cream he bought me cake.
He brought me home with a belly ache.
Mama, mama, I feel sick
Call the doctor, quick, quick, quick
Doctor, doctor, will I die?
Close your eyes and count to five
1-2-3-4-5
I'm Alive!
See that house up on the hill.
That's where me and my baby live.
Eat a piece of meat
Eat a piece of bread.
Come on baby. let's go to bed
-Kayla. (African American girl, age 5; recited for Alafia Children's Ensemble, Fort Pitt Elementary School chapter, (Pittsburgh, PA), 2000; collected by Azizi Powell, 2000; Cocojams.com handclap rhymes

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Example #4
...I learned a version of Down down baby that went like this:

Down down baby, down by the roller coasters
Sweet sweet baby, I'll never let you go
Shimmy shimmy coco pop
Shimmy shimmy rye
Shimmy shimmy coco pop
Don't make me cry
I like coffee, I like tea
I like the ??? boys, and they like me.

Now as I sang this to my daughter, I could not for the life of me remember what the adjective on "boys" was. Having read a bit about the rhyme on your site and on Mudcat, I am now pretty sure that the missing word was "colored". Now, I am white and the little girls who taught me the rhyme were mostly white, and this being the late 80s, in liberal Seattle, I don't think we had any idea what "colored" meant. My guess is that when I grew up and learned about the term and our country's history of racism, I mentally blocked out the "racist" term from my memory of the rhyme. Interesting.
-Emma M; (Greenlake Elementary School; Seattle Washington, late 1980s) ; May 10, 2010; Cocojams.com handclap rhymes

Editor:
I exchanged several emails with Emma M. She confirmed that the version of this rhyme she remembers stopped after the last line given above. As part of my response to Emma's email, I wrote that the referent "Colored boy" isn't inherently racist. I also wrote that since "Colored" hasn't been used since the 1960s as a referent for African Americans, if any young African American (or if anyone else) used that phrase now, it's very likely that they don't know what it means. That goes double for the phrase "I like a color boy". Children who chant those lines may have been doing so from rote memory, vocalizing the rhythmic utterances without thinking about what the words they are saying really mean.

Emma responded to that email by writing "I agree with you that the term "colored" isn't inherently racist, but as soon as I learned about it, I certainly I would have perceived its use in the modern era by a bunch of little white girls as, at the very least, very embarrassing, if not outright racist."
-snip-
Emma also shared with me that she had talked with another (White) female friend of hers who went to another Seattle school at the same time as she did, and who also remembered saying the line "I like a colored boy" with the "Down Down Baby" rhyme. Emma also wrote that "the 1980s there was bussing and [Seattle] schools were fairly well integrated."

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Example #5
down down baby, down down the rollercoaster,
sweet sweet baby ill never let u go.
shimmi shimmi coco puff shimmi shimmi pow
shimmi shimmi coco puff shimmi shimmi break it down,
i like coffie i like tea i like a white boy and he likes me.
so step back girl cuz he is mine.
i bet u five $ i can beat ur behind
.. to the front to he back to the side side side.
to the front to the back to the side side side.
i can beat u with ur head ding dong(repet)
i can beat u with ur feet ((stomp stomp)) repet.
i cant beat u with ur hands ((clap clap)) reapet.
i can beat u with my hot stuff(hands on hips)reapet
now put it all together and c what u got.
ding dong, stomp stomp, clap clap, hot stuff.
now lets put it all backward and c what u got.
- summmm13lzs;http://hubpages.com/hub/Recess-is-BACK-Hand-Clapping-Games; July 2010 (retrieved August 21, 2010)

****
Example #6
ilike coffee
i like tea
i like the other boy and he likes me
so step back white boy
you dont shine
i'll get the other boy to beat ya behind
last night
the night before
i met my boyfriend at the candy store
he bought me icecream
he bought me cake
he brought me home with a stomach ache
i said "momma, momma, i feel sick"
"call the doctor...quick quick quick"
"doctor, doctor. will i die"
he said "count to five and you'll be alright"
i said "1, 2, 3 ,4 ,5... i'm alive!"
-cryss; http://roughdraft.typepad.com/dotmoms/2004/05/theres_a_song_i/comments/page/2/ There's A Song In My Heart; November 23, 2007

Editor:
I believe that "the other boy" is a folk etymology form of "the colored boy". That racial referent for African Americans is no longer used in the United States and is therefore likely to be unfamiliar to children nowadays.

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Example #7
I went to elementary school starting in 1980, in Bloomfield, Connecticut (adjacent to Hartford). The girls (including my sister) did clapping games on the bus everyday it seemed, and when they hung out in the street, etc. Demographic note: my family is White; Blacks (including many Jamaicans) are a majority in the town, and were most of our playmates.

The version to this one went:
"I like coffee, I like tea
I like a Black/White boy an' he likes me
So step back White/Black boy, you don't shine
I'll get a Black/White boy to beat your behind."

The girls would switch the race of the boy, depending on who was singing. Sometimes there'd be confusion if a White and a Black girl were playing together, and they'd sort of get jumbled up on that word and try to push their version. Sometimes they would agree on a skin tone based on a previous conversion about who the girl whose "turn" it was actually "likes." The reason why I remember distinctly that they did it both ways was that as a little kid I tried to imagine what "you don't shine" meant. I'd try to reason what skin tone "shined" more [sic]! Needless to say, I never figured it out!
-Gibb (White male; Bloomfield, Connecticut); http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=115045&messages=66 "Not Last Night But The Night Before-rhyme"; 3/5/2009

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Example #8
I always heard it as...

Down, down baby down down the rollercoaster
Sweet sweet baby, mama never let you go,
shimmy shimmy cocoa puff
shimmy shimmy pow
shimmy shimmy cocoa puff
shimmy shimmy wow
i like coffee, i like tea,
i like a white boy and he likes me
so stand back black boy you don't shine,
i got a white boy to kick your behind,
kick it rough, kick it tough, kick it till you get enough

I am VERY saddened that we said this in elementary school.
-GUEST,guest, http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=100653 Down Down Baby-Race in Children's Rhymes, 12 Dec 10
-snip-
[Added October 18, 2018]

Here’s my response to this comment:
Guest, guest, with regard to your ending comment, I believe that children's playground rhymes often reflect the mores of the society in which children live, move, and have their being. Therefore, girls who recite rhymes with racial content are probably just echoing what they have absorbed from society in myriad (often unconscious) ways.

Unfortunately, it was (and to a large extent still is) the norm for children to believe that race/ethnicity (and gender) limits who they will be involved with romantically. And unfortunately, confrontational attitudes toward other races/ethnicities are all too frequently still the norm in the USA and elsewhere. In my opinion, the fact that you, and I (and I'm certain others) recognize this, regret it, and challenge this as a norm, is a hopeful sign.

****
Example #9 [Added July 4, 2014]
Down down baby down by the rollercoaster sweet sweet baby mama never let you go if you wanna kiss me just say you love me

Shimmy shimmy coco pop shimmy shimmy pow shimmy shimmy coco pop shiimmy shimmy pow

I like a black boy and he likes me so step back white boy I aint shy I bet you 5 dollars ill beat yo behind

Last night and the night before I met my boyfriend at the candy store he brought me ice cream he brought me cake he brought me home with a belly ache

I said momma momma im so sick call the doctor quick quick quick! I said doctor doctor shall i die he said close your eyes and count to 5

I said ah 1 ah 2 ah 3 ah 4 ah 5... im alive on channel 5 scooby dooby doo on channel 2 big fat lady on channel 80 and all the rest on channel 8
-GUEST,Meme http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=100653 Down Down Baby-Race in Children's Rhymes, 3 July, 2014
-snip-
This is the first example that I've read in which the girl chanting the rhyme says that she will beat the boy's behind rather than finding a boy to do it for her.

"Yo" in this example means "your".

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11 comments:

  1. Down down baby / colored boy version was sang on the school yard at my elementary school in 1977 during double dutch at recess. I never understood the colored reference (iknew what it meant but not how it came to be, bc no one had ever used that term), I was only in 3rd grade, but it seems that it was taught to the younger generation. Oaklake elementary, Seattle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Anonymous March 12, 2013 at 8:59 AM

      Your recollection gives the earliest date for a racialized version of "Down Down Baby" that I've read. I'll note that in the above post.

      I want to also add that I believe that most young children who recited/recite racialized versions of these rhymes either don't know what the racial referents mean or don't realize that those racial referents can be problematic.

      Delete
  2. I'm young but in New Orleans 1990s-2000s I always heard:

    Oh gosh he's crazy, oh gosh he's crazy
    Take a piece take a plum take a piece of bubblegum
    No piece no plum, no piece of bubblegum
    I like coffee, I like tea
    I like the colored and he likes me.
    So smack that white boy, he don't shine.
    (it could be step back white boy, I think I heard both)
    I'll throw him round the corner and i'll beat his behind
    Last night and the night before.
    I met my boyfriend at the candy store.
    He bought me ice cream he bought me cake.
    He brought me home with a stomach ache.
    I said Mama, mama, I feel sick
    Call the doctor, quick, quick, quick
    Doctor, doctor, if I die
    I'll close my eyes and count to five
    I said 1-2-3-4-5
    I'm Alive!
    See that house on top of that hill.
    That's where me and my boyfriend live.
    Cook that chicken
    Burn that rice
    Come on baby let's shoot some DICE!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i like coffee i like tea
      i like the colered boy and he likes me
      so step back white boy you dont shine
      i like the colored boy and he is mine
      last night abd the night before
      he took me to the candy store
      he bought me ice cream
      he bought me cake
      he brought me home with my belly ache
      mama mama i feel sick call the doctor quick quick quick
      doctor doctor will i die
      close your eyes and count to five
      1-2-3-4-5
      i'm alive
      you see that house on top of that hill
      that is were me and my baby going to live
      cook the chicken and cook the ribs
      THATS RIGHT BABY NO CALLEN DIBS

      Delete
  3. I grew up in the South in the early eighties and remember these playground chants from those years or my kindergarten time. To hear people outside the South comment about "colored boy" not being inherently racist is laughable. Both the word colored and boy are precisely racist and derogatory.

    My confusion the rhymes is that it seemed we were chanting about kids hooking up after a date at the candy store, having a child, and living in a house on a hill.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Anonymous.

      My position is that when used as referents for Black Americans, the word "colored" and the word "boy" can be and often was/is racist. However, in the late 1940s and 1950s when I was a child, the referent "colored people" was an acceptable and even preferred referent for African Americans.

      Times and contexts -including who is using the words- determines whether those words are racist.

      I would go so far as to say that statement even applied to the n word which was used by some Black people in the 19th century/early 20th century and beyond as a non-racist referent for themselves. That said, my position with regard to the n word is that I consider it too offensive to be salvaged or reclaimed even with the "ni&&a" spelling.

      Delete
    2. Also, anonymous, I agree that the "come on baby let's go to bed" line in "Down Down Baby" is rather risque for children.

      However, I don't think that "tummy hurt" has to mean that the girl is pregnant. I think it means that the girl ate too many sweets.

      Delete
  4. I was born in the very early 80's in the San Gabriel Valley and yes a lot of Black people lived there when I was growing up. From me reading the examples I always thoughts theses were separate rhymes because for each section different movements were made.

    For me the "I like coffee, I like tee" went like this

    I like coffee, I like tea.
    I like a Colored boy and he likes me.
    So white, white boy, you don't shine.
    Turn around the corner and I’ll beat your behind.

    Then after that rhyme we did maybe this

    I’m cool, I’m cool all day from number 9
    Give it to me another time.
    Mhmm oh/or all my babby.
    Mhmm oh/or all my babby.
    Mhmm Mhmm Mhmm.

    Also, Mama mama, let's get the rhythm, down down baby were all separate and we did separate movements. I just wanted to add my version of I like coffee and I'm cool(i can't find a reference for that).

    Down, down baby down down the roller coaster
    sweet sweet baby I’ll never let u go.
    shimmy shimmy cocoa puff
    shimmy shimmy pow
    shimmy shimmy cocoa puff
    shimmy shimmy wow

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello, Anonymous.

      Thanks for sharing the example that you remember fro the early 1980s in California.

      Playground rhymes often combine "floating" verses from multiple other rhymes which could be chanted by themselves.

      I'm particularly interested in the "I'm cool. I'm cool all day from number 9" verses in the rhyme that you remember.

      The referent "soul sister number 9" is found in a number of African American children's rhymes and African American popular music. Click https://cocojams2.blogspot.com/2014/11/soul-sister-number-9-in-childrens.html for a post entitled ""Soul Sister Number 9" In Children's Playground Rhymes". Cocojams2 is another Google blog that I curate.

      That post indicates that "soul sister" means "Black female" and "number 9" means something that is superlative. That post also provides some background to that vernacular meaning for "number 9" from the late 1940s and 1950s in the United States.

      Thanks again!

      Delete