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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Racialized Versions Of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea"

Edited by Azizi Powell

[Introduction slightly revised June 21, 2017]

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 pancoocjams 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.

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 (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.

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. In my opinion, it's a hopeful sign that some people (myself included) reflect on this norm embedded in those rhymes, and recognize that this norm is wrong. It will be interesting to see if these verses of "I Like Coffee" change or disappear with the improvement of race relations in the United States and the world.

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.

COMMENTS ABOUT THIS RACIALIZED PATTERN
Since at least the late 1970s or early 1980s*, references to Black people and White people have become a part of some versions of the "Down Down Baby" / "I Love Coffee I Love Tea" family of rhymes. Confrontation lines (lines threatening to "beat [a person's] behind") have also become a standard part of this sub-set of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" rhymes. I'm not completely sure why these racial references and confrontational lines were included into that previously usually benign rhyme. However, it's my guess that those lines reflect the racial tensions between school children that often occurs with increased school integration.

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) 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, if not elsewhere in the world.

The specific racialized lines in "I Like Coffee" ("Down Down Baby") rhymes are:
"step back [racial name]
you don't shine
I'm gonna get a [racial name] to beat your behind."

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 written either from the standpoint of boys (step back white girls/ I'mma get a black girl/ to beat your behind) or written 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 emphasize the societal expectation that females should only be romantically interested in males from their own race. The girl who is approached by a boy from another racial/ethnic group, does more than tell that boy that she already has a boyfriend from her racial group. She ups the ante by insulting him, saying "you don't shine". ("You don't shine can be interpreted into standard English as "You aren't anyone special"; i.e. "You're not a star").^ 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 if that boy "bothers her" (approaches her with romantic intent) again.

I also consider examples with similar lines such as "step back...you ain't fly" as examples of this racialized pattern.

**ADDED March 14, 2014
The word "shine" can have racial implications in and of itself, since it has been used as an informal, racist referent for Black people - because Black people's skin is supposedly so dark it shines at night, and/or for a long time black was the only type of shoe polish [wax], and eventually most shoe shiners in the United States were Black males. A Black male shining a White person's shoes and the command “Shine my shoes, boy” have become shorthand images and symbols of the power differentials between White people and Black people. But the classic African American "toasts" about the anti-hero "Shine" plays on this racial/racist meaning of the word "shine". And I don't think that that racial, racist meaning has anything to do with the line "you don't shine" in the racialized versions of "I Like Coffee/ I Like Tea"/"Down Down Baby" children's rhymes.
-snip-
*UPDATE: March 12, 2013
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. Thanks, anonymous!

Note: The example given as #4 in this post is also from Seattle, Washington but is from another commenter.

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OVERVIEW OF I LIKE COFFEE I LIKE TEA RHYMES
"I Like Coffee I Like Tea" is a large family of playground rhymes which has been documented as a jump rope rhyme as early as 1869. Like most other children's rhymes, "I Like Coffee I Like Tea is made up of a number of independent or semi-independent (stand alone) verses. The title for these rhymes is also commonly given as "I Love Coffee I Love Tea".

"I Like [Love] Coffee" is often found in "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 found in several other rhymes, particularly versions of "Last Night, The Night Before", "Not Last Night But The Night Before", "Apple On A Stick", "Take A Peach, Take A Plum, and "Eeny Meenie Epsideenie".

Since the 1970s, "I Like Coffee" rhymes appear to usually be performed in the United States by girls playing hand clap games. Previously, that playground rhyme appeared to be most often performed by girls jumping rope.

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TEXT EXAMPLES OF RACIALIZED I LIKE COFFEE I LIKE TEA RHYMES
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]

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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)

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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-
Click that link for my response to this guest's comment.

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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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RELATED LINK
http://www.mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=100653 Down Down Baby-Race in Children's Rhymes

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9 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