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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Racially Derogatory Variants Of Old Shoe Boots And Leggings

Edited by Azizi Powell

In 2004 I started a Mudcat [folk music] discussion thread about "Songs Your Parents Didn't Allow".http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=73889.

The first song that I posted to that thread was one whose title I knew as "The Little Baldheaded Chinese". Shortly after I posted the lyrics to that song, Joybell, a commenter from Australia, indicated that the song I had posted was a variant of song "Old Shoe Boots And Leggings". Prior to reading that comment, I had never heard of that song by that title or any other title.

Here's the lyrics of that song which I had somehow learned as a child but definitely not from my parents:

My mother she told me to open the door.
The little bald headed Chinese nese nese.
I opened the door.
He fell on the floor.
The little bald-headed Chinese nese nese.

My mother she told me to get him a drink.
The little bald headed Chinese nese nese.
I gave him a drink.
He peed in the sink.
The little bald headed Chinese nese nese.

My mother she told me to give him a dance.
The little bald headed Chinese nese nese.
I gave him a dance.
He pulled down his pants.
The little bald headed Chinese nese nese.
-snip-
Since then I've read other online versions of "The Little Bald Headed Chinese" which is also called "The Crazy Man From China" and other such titles. And I realize that my sisters and I added the "nese nese" ending for rhythmic effect. Besides that, those words that I remember from the mid 1950s Atlantic City, New Jersey are quite similar to examples of that song that I've found. (For what it's worth, I thought my mother didn't want my sisters and me to sing that song because it made fun of some one's race, and it was "nasty". By "nasty" I meant the "peed in the sink" line. It wasn't until I got older that I realized that my mother also didn't like the sexual overtones of the song. But as a young child, the sexual implications of the line about the Chinese man "pulling down his pants" went right over my head. I thought that the man was doing wrong because you weren't suppose to go to the bathroom or get ready to go to the bathroom in public.")

Here's another version of that song:

My Mother told me to open the door
Gee I don't wanna
But I opened the door and in stepped the man,
The dirty old man from China,

My mother told me to take him to a dance
Gee I dont wanna
But I took him to a dance and he peed in his pants
The dirty old man from China

My mother told me to take him to school
Gee I don't wanna
But I took him to school and he acted like a fool
The dirty old man from China

My mother told me to take him to bed
Gee I don't wanna
But I took him to bed, and I screwed off his head
The dirty old man from China

My mother told me to bury his head
Gee I don't wanna
But I buried his head and that was the end
Of the dirty old man from China.

Collected by Lisa Null from her nieces who learned it in a school playground, early 1970s, in West Glover or Barton, Ver
-http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=98174
"Lyr Req: Crazy Old Man From China" posted by Guest, Lisa Null,
January 2007

For comparison's sake, here's an American example of a song from the "Old Shoe Boots And Leggings" family:

WITH HIS OLD GRAY BEARD A SHINING
Cat. #0217 (MFH #687) - As sung by Mrs. Laura McDonald and Reba Glaze, Springdale, Arkansas on July 23, 1958

VERSE 1
There was an old man, lived over th lea
I hope, but I won't have 'im
Came over th lea, a courting with me
With his old gray beard a shining

VERSE 2
My Mother she told me, to open th door
I hope, but I won't have 'im
I opened th door, he fell on th floor
With his old gray beard a shining

VERSE 3
My Mamma she told me, to feed him some cake
I hope that I won't have 'im
I fed him some cake, he swallowed th flake
With his old gray beard a shining

VERSE 4
My Mamma she told me, to feed him some pie
I hope that I won't have 'im
I feed him some pie and he swallowed a fly
With his old gray beard a shining

VERSE 5
My Mother she told me, to put 'im to bed
I hope that I won't have him
I put 'im to bed an' I cut off his head
With his old gray beard a shining
http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/songinformation.aspx?ID=0217
-snip-
Here's some information about that family of folk songs from http://web.spsp.net/jbealle/bullfrog/Bullfrogtext.html
Introduction:
Bullfrog Jumped: The Long and Short Histories of Songs on the CD
by Joyce Cauthen
"Bullfrog Jumped is a CD of children’s songs that were recorded across Alabama in 1947

Under a wide variety of titles, "Old Shiboots and Leggings" has appeared in British and American collections since the 1700s. Other titles include "The Old Man's Courtship," "Old Shoes and Leggins," "The Old Man from Over the Sea," "Old Grey Beard," "The Dottered Auld Carle," and many others. All depict, in farcical tones, a failed courtship. Early country music versions were recorded by Henry Whitter ("Overshoes and Leggins," Okeh, 1926), Uncle Eck Dunford ("Old Shoes and Leggins," Victor V-40060, 1928) and the Burnett Brothers ("Old Shoes a-Draggin'," Victor 23727, 1932).

Among the many variants, there are a few narrative strategies that commonly recur. Callie Craven's version* follows a well-known course: at the mother's insistence, a hapless suitor is offered chances at courtship; the dutiful daughter seems to have little hope of avoiding marriage; but the man spoils the courtship with his ridiculous and crude behavior.

Although there some versions by male singers, this song is chiefly a women's song"...

* Click http://www.allmusic.com/song/old-shiboots-and-leggings-mt0031668966 "Old Shiboots and Leggings" for a brief sound file of Callie Craven singing this song. (1946)
-snip-
"The Little Bald Headed Chinese" songs don't seem to adhere to the overarching theme found in "Old Shoe Boats And Leggings" family of songs of a young woman's reactions to being courted by a ridiculous, crude old man. However, given the very close similarities between the structure, lyrics, and tune of "The Little Bald Headed Chinese" and the "Old Shoe Boots And Leggings" songs, it's curious that the connection between these songs doesn't appear to be that widely documented and discussed - online, anyway.

Also, given the historical and present day racism against Chinese, Japanese, and other East Asian people as reflected in mainstream American culture and other Western nations - including in examples of put down & ridiculing children's playground rhymes* - it seems to me that these "Little Bald Headed Chinese"/"Crazy Old Man From China" variants should be recognized as being potentially harmful to children & others as those songs can add to the generalized disparagement of East Asian people, whether or not that consequence is largely unconscious.

Unlike the other songs in the "Old Shoe Boots And Leggings" family, the Chinese examples aren't necessarily about a suitor, and aren't obstensibly about an old man. For what it's worth, as a child I didn't interprete the man being bald headed as an indication that the man was old.

*Examples of what I consider to be anti-Chinese playground songs are "Ching Chong Chinaman", "Me Chinese Me Drink Coke", and some examples of "I Went To The Chinese Restaurant".

ADDENDUM
"The Old Black Booger" is a song with an interesting title whose structure, lyrics, and tune clearly testify to its membership in the "Old Shoe Boots And Leggings" family. Given that song's theme of a woman being courted by a ridiculous, crude old man, I believe that the word "Black" in the song "The Old Black Booger" refers to a person of ill repute and not a person of African descent. This is particularly true because in the Southern part of the United States, and elsewhere in that country up until fairly recently (and still among many people today) it would have been anathema for a White woman to be courted by a Black man. For those reasons, I don't think that the inclusion of the word "Black" in that song's title causes it to be categorized as a racially deregoratory song.

Click http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-old-black-booger-folk-song.html for a separate pancocojams post about th song "The Old Black Booger".

RELATED LINKS
http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/07/examples-of-anti-asian-references-in.html "Examples Of Anti-Asian References In Children's Playground Rhymes"

**
http://maxhunter.missouristate.edu/songinformation.aspx?ID=0217 "With His Old Gray Beard a Shining"

**
http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=19426 "Penguin: The Old Man From Lee"

****
Thanks to all who I have quoted in this post.

Thank you for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comments are welcome.

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