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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Racist Roots Of The "Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed" Chant

Edited by Azizi Powell

Anecdotal evidence suggests that early versions of the chant that is now known as "Five Little Monkeys" (also known as "Ten Little Monkeys" used the "n word" plural or "darkies" as referents for Black people instead of the word "monkey". And "monkey" itself is a word which has also been used in the past and the present as an offensive referent for Black people.

This post presents a compilation of the online comments that I have found to date about the probable racist roots of the "Five Little Monkeys/"Ten Little Monkeys" chant. This post also includes my comments about that information and about another possible source for that chant.

The content of this post is presented for folkloric and cultural purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

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VIDEO EXAMPLE OF "FIVE LITTLE MONKEYS'
"Five Little Monkeys" by ABCmouse.com



ABCmouse.com Early Learning Academy, Published on Jan 6, 2014

http://ABCmouse.com/LearnMore
The classic children's song "Five Little Monkeys" (or "5 Little Monkeys") helps children learn basic math skills. As each little monkey falls off and "bumps his head," children will learn about basic subtraction skills in the context of this quirky song.

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TEXT EXAMPLE "FIVE LITTLE MONKEYS'
(author unknown)
Five little monkeys jumping on the bed
One fell off and bumped his head
Mama called the doctor,
And the doctor said
No more monkeys jumping on the bed

Four little monkeys jumping on the bed etc.

Three little monkeys jumping on the bed etc.

Two little monkeys jumping on the bed etc

One little monkey jumping on the bed
One fell off and bumped his head
Mama called the doctor
And the doctor said,
Put those monkeys right [back] to bed.
-various sources, including http://www.kidsongs.com/lyrics/five-little-monkeys.html

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POSSIBLE SOURCES OF AND COMMENTS ABOUT EARLY VERSIONS OF "FIVE LITTLE MONKEYS JUMPING ON THE BED"
Comment #1:
From http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_origin_of_The_Five_Little_Monkeys
This is a response to the question: "What is the origin of The Five Little Monkeys [chant]"?
respondent: Books and Literature SupervisorMyrab51
"It derives from the original first verse of "Shortenin' Bread": Two little (insert N-word here)Lyin' in bed One of 'em sick An' de odder mos' dead.Call for de doctorAn' de doctor said,"Feed dem darkies on shortenin' bread" We all know the chorus: Mammy's little baby loves Shortenin', shortenin',Mammy's little baby love shortenin' bread. Unfortunate, but true.

Like many children's rhymes and songs, the rhythm of the verse was too catchy for people to abandon, so parents/teachers simply changed the characters and the action. "Monkeys" belies this... unfortunately monkeys and apes have often been used as stand-in characters for African-Americans. This rhyme was beginning to be cleansed as early as the late 1930s. My 77-year-old mother heard "Five Little Monkeys" on my child's Baby Genius CD recently and said "Monkeys? It's 'Five Little Darkies' and the doctor says to feed them shortenin' bread!" So the N word was already out of favor in the northeast US by the time she was a child, and "darkies" was preferred for both the beginning and ending phrase
-snip-
This quote was reformatted for this post

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Comment #2:
From http://forums.adoption.com/transracial-adoption/380564-5-little-monkeys-racist.html

ChromaKelly, 09-19-2010, 01:56 PM
5 Little Monkeys - racist?
..."I'm not real crazy about 5 Little Monkeys jumping on a bed anyway (I remember hearing it with "N" as a kid)… I'm sure the vast majority of the people repeating this rhyme have no idea it has any racist roots. So, do I just let it go, or educate people? Even though I can't be 100% certain."
**
ChromaKelly, 09-19-2010, 08:14 PM
"Just to clarify, I'm not like, "everything with a monkey in it is racist". I'm mainly talking about the version of 5 Little Monkeys that goes -
Five little monkeys swinging in the tree
teasing Mr. Alligator can’t catch me….can’t catch me
along came Mr. Alligator quiet as can be
and snapped that monkey out that tree *

It's the combo of monkeys plus being eaten by an alligator that's tweaking with me. Anyway, I was just wondering if anyone knew whether or not this was based on the alligator bait thing."

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Comment #3
From http://babyandblog.com/2014/04/5-childrens-songs-with-racist-histories/# "Five Children's Songs With Racist Histories", posted by Angele, April 29, 2014
Comments:
GB Harris, May 6, 2014 at 3:01 pm
"I’m not a Mom but I came across this website to find some activities for my little sister. I had heard from my grandmother about some of the songs and phrases that we think of as “modern” today actually had their roots from several centuries ago & blatantly included racist, sexist, etc language. I had heard of the racist version of “Eenie Meenie Mini Moe” but the last one “Short’nin Bread” made my mouth drop because I recognized it as “Three Little Monkeys”, a song I was taught in private school no less. To my horror I realized N-word was replaced by monkeys, a veiled racial epithet to refer to black people once again. I’m torn between never wanting to hear these songs again to wanting to incorporate this into a class children learn by elementary. I think the more you learn about the past, the more prepared you are, as long as you do not wallow in it. Growing I think my family could have helped more about being completely honest with how I as a black woman was going to encounter racism and the varied ways I could combat it. Either way, I am learning for myself, but a more open dialogue would have helped with my development."

**
Comment #4:
Angele, May 12, 2014 at 10:51 pm
"GB Harris, you are right, the lyrics and rhyme structure in that verse of “Short’nin Bread” have a STRONG resemblance to 5 or “10 Little Monkey’s Jumping on the Bed.” I have heard from many people that the origin of “10 Little Monkey’s Jumping on The Bed” was racist, but while doing research for this post could not find any reputable sources to confirm or negate that claim. I visited quite a few libraries and chatted with various reference librarians, and museums as well. I didn’t find anything on the origin or authorship of the song. There is a book published by Eileen Christelow, but even she states she is not the original author and she does not know who is. It is unclear how long “10 Little Monkey’s Jumping on The Bed” has been around, if it came before or after “Short’nin Bread,” etc. The only online reference I found was this:

http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_origin_of_The_Five_Little_Monkeys*

This reference is very anecdotal, and while it may be true, I didn’t consider it a scholarly source of information so I didn’t include it in the post. But I will say the resemblance is undeniable."
-snip-
* This is the quote given as Comment #1 in this post.

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WAS A VERSION OF "EENY MEENY MINEY MO" A SOURCE FOR THE "TEN LITTLE INDIANS" RHYME?
While I believe that "Shortnin Bread" is the probable main source for “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”, I wonder if the precursor to "Ten Little Indians" could also have been a source for that children's chant. Tiffany M.B. Anderson wrote an interesting and informative article about that post-Civil War "coon song" which was entitled "Ten Little [n word plural]." http://folkloreforum.net/2009/05/01/%E2%80%9Cten-little-niggers%E2%80%9D-the-making-of-a-black-man%E2%80%99s-consciousness/. Here's the beginning paragraph of that online abstract:
"During Reconstruction in the 1860s, the proud Confederate states found themselves in a place of subordination. Forced to concede their free slave labor, the former citizens of the Confederacy refused to fold their ideology of the inferiority of the freed slaves. A “comic” song titled “Ten Little [n word plural*]" circulated through the United States in Minstrel shows and children’s nursery rhyme books in keeping with this ideology."
-snip-
*That word is fully spelled out in that abstract.
-snip-
Here's a comment about a song that is probably the German version of that composition:
"ciara1973, June 29, 2014 at 9:21 am
"In Germany we have “Zehn kleine Negerlein“ (Ten little negros). A horrible song about ten little african children doing the most stupidest things and getting themselves killed. The kindergarten teacher had my sister and the rest of the childeren singing it at a play. I later told my mom about it (she was at work) and she took care of it. Later a punk group changed the name and the text and it is no longer allowed to be teached. Oh by the way, my siblings and I are biracial (african-american and german)." http://babyandblog.com/2014/04/5-childrens-songs-with-racist-histories/#

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EDITORIAL COMMENT
If "Five Little Monkeys" and "Shortnin Bread" do indeed have racist roots, does that mean that people who are anti-racist shouldn't sing those songs and teach them to children?

I believe that the current versions of because the offensive references and offensive dialectic words have been removed from both of those songs/chants, in my opinion, they are acceptable for singing and sharing with children.

Here's a comment that I wrote on July 20, 2014 in response to a query about whether versions of the "Eenie Meenie Miney Mo" rhyme should never be taught to children or used by children, even if those versions don't include "the n word":
Regarding: http://loveisntenough.com/2007/10/24/ask-arp-what-should-i-do-about-nursery-rhymes-with-a-racist-past/ "Ask ARP: What should I do about nursery rhymes with a racist past?" Posted on October 24, 2007 by Carmen Van Kerckhove

"More than seven years after this post was published, I happened upon it while searching for discussion and I’m surprised that there aren’t any responses to your legitimate query.

As an African American community folklorist who is particularly interested in playground rhymes, I’m aware that some playground rhymes – like other folk material – have problematic, and even quite offensive early versions. However, I don’t think that means that people should avoid teaching and sharing with children those politically correct versions which were purposely made to substitute for those offensive versions, or which developed non-racist variants by happenchance.

For what it’s worth, I learned “Eeny Meenie Miney Mo” with the “catch a tiger by the toe” line when I was growing up in the mid 1950s in Atlantic City, New Jersey. And it wasn’t until I was in my fifties that I learned that “tiger” (or some other word) was a replacement for the “the n word”. From reading other online discussions about this song, including your comment, it seems that a number of people who know that “Eenie Meenie Miney Mo” choosing it rhyme don’t know that it once included the “n word”."

I’m not encouraging people to forget the history of rhymes or songs that contained offensive referents. I believe that it would be beneficial for children of certain ages -at least pre-teens- and adults to formally and informally study & discuss this subject as an introduction to and auxiliary resource for the study of anti-racism, multiculturalism, and folklore etc.

What I’m much more concerned about is the fact that some playground rhymes are still being recited today that are racist- for example, some examples of “I Went To A Chinese Restaurant”. I strongly believe that those rhymes shouldn’t be recited, and I would have no problem whatsoever contacting the school or community center if I learned that a teacher or staff person was teaching my young granddaughter those offensive versions of those rhymes. Her parents and I would redirect my grandchild in an age appropriate way if she learned an offensive version of that rhyme or if she learned any other offensive rhyme or song from her friends, from television, or the internet or elsewhere.

However, I would have no problem – and I believe that her parents would also have no problem – if she recited a non-racist version of a rhyme or a song that had a racist version in its past or its present.

I agree with the principal who had concerns about “sensitizing a child to something that we cannot quite explain in full as there is no context for the child – we can’t tell them what the old words used to be.”

Just saying that “Some examples of that rhyme have hurtful words” is too vague unless we also say what those words are. And I don’t think that adults need to do that unless the children are older or are the children are heard using those words or hear someone else use those words and ask us about them."
-Azizi Powell
-snip-
I re-visited that website today and noticed that my comment was still awaiting moderation. I also noticed that a note indicated that there were 36 other responses to that query. Unfortunately, I can't seem to access those responses. It seems that that website is no longer under active moderation and the comment feature is largely de-activated. But, the points that I made in that comment about "Eenie Meanie Miney Mo" also apply to "Five Little Indians Jumping In The Bed".

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Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitors' comments are welcome.

31 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for posting this and sharing it with the world! I am 46 and honestly don't ever remember hearing any version at all of the "ten little monkeys" song during my own childhood, but the song popped up on a favorite children's website of my son. Unfortunately for us, it disappeared suddenly, and because my son is autistic, it was incredibly difficult to reconcile him to its loss. It was only after contacting the website moderators that we learned that they had taken it down after learning it had racist roots. I went researching and found your site! I wasn't sure what to do, as my son loves the song and likes to sing it, etc. I really do not want him to inadvertently offend people by singing it in public, but teaching him about this kind of social complexity right now is challenging. Anyway, it was so nice to find this terrific information and hear your very thoughtful ideas on the subject. Thank you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nyx Qualls,

      Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your concern. In my opinion, even though "Five Little Monkeys" has racist roots, it can be enjoyed by children and still sung in public.

      There are lots of "Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed" videos on YouTube. I think that the racist connotations of this song occur when the monkeys are drawn to look like some Black people.

      Delete
    2. As a non white parent I have been quite appalled by the more recent depictions of the so-called 5 little monkeys being made very much in the image of black people. I think this is no accident at all. I feel that black and non-white parents as a whole should really monitor the usage of these so-called youtube nursery rhymes paying particular attention to the imagery being used (e.g. Depictions of black people as criminals, monkeys, wolves etc). It has been my experience that these utterly racist depictions normally occur near the middle of the longer (say 50 minute) runs of nursery rhymes and they are easy to miss unless you are sitting with the child and looking at the screen with them. It is depressing to watch such horrible Jim crow style programming being wrapped into a sweet modern looking format. As a parent of color I feel that these nursery rhymes can be used to promote white supremacy in a very deceptive way. I thank the author of this blog for pointing out the origins of some of these seemingly harmless songs. This has been a constructive dialogue.

      Delete
    3. Thanks anonymous for your comment. And you're welcome.

      As a grandmother of a two year old, I've also experienced what you wrote about racist depictions of Black people occurring in long series of nursery rhymes and other children's songs. And I agree that those depictions would be missed if an adult wasn't sitting with the child and watching the screen with them. I offer this series as an egregious example: Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed | Nursery Rhymes Collection | Nursery Rhymes Dave and Ava https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auQh6DCh4qM

      And although I usually LOVE chuchu TV's children's series (and my granddaughter loves those videos too), I dislike their version of Five Little Monkeys: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWO9uP_VJV8

      In addition to what I believe are negative racial depictions, I'm also concerned with some versions of "Five Little Monkeys" which show the other monkeys laughing when one of them falls out the bed and bumps his or her head.

      I can't find the version of "Five Little Monkeys" that I used to show my granddaughter (who I regularly babysit). There are so many other good YouTube videos for children that I've not replaced that video with another Five Little Monkeys video that I would consider acceptable.

      Delete
    4. Ms. Powell,

      Thank you again. This is very constructive and informative. Hopefully more people can be made aware so that we can guard against some of the stereotypical programming that seems to perpetuate itself across generations. It really seems like the nursery rhyme monkey imagery on YouTube could fall right in line with some of the minstrel type imagery of the late 1800's.

      Again, thank you for the information, discussion, and helpful links.

      Delete
    5. You're welcome, anonymous.

      I thought about publishing a post that includes examples of what I consider to be contemporary racially stereotypical children's cartoon animations, but instead I've decided to focus on presenting some historical and contemporary examples of positive Black culture.

      Best wishes!

      Delete
  2. With regard to my comment to Nyx Qualls dated February 13, 2016 at 2:12 PM,

    I should have written "drawn to look like stereotypical images of Black people" instead of "drawn to look like Black people".

    ReplyDelete
  3. I found the version of "Five Little Monkeys" that I show to my granddaughter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qx1NcLZBZ1k Five Little Monkeys | Family Sing Along - Muffin Songs

    The monkeys in this video aren't drawn with exaggerated Black facial features or so-called "Black" hairstyles such as female monkeys with multiple braids in their hair.

    Also, the monkeys don't laugh when one of them falls off the bed.

    If you know other animated examples of that song that you like, feel free to share them.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'm so glad I'm not the only one watching Dave and Ava and thinking oh my gosh they are portraying the black family as monkeys! Totally unacceptable!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Molly.

      So I'm not the only one who thought this, un?

      And I liked watching a few other episodes of that cartoon with my pre-school granddaughter- until I began to watch that one with her and saw the way they depicted Black people . After that- the entire series is off the list of which cartoons my granddaughter can watch.

      Delete
  5. No you're not alone! Especially when the two white kids look perfectly human and all the other animals just look like animals. Then all of a sudden there is the monkey family that definitely looks like it's suppose to be a human-animal cross. It's awful, it's off our list too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad that you stopped watching Dave and Ava cartoons because of the way that they depicted monkeys to look like Black people. I turned off that Dave and Ava series because of the way that they drew the monkeys in that five little monkeys cartoon and my granddaughter hasn't been allowed to watch that series since that time.

      If enough people who watched Dave and Ava cartoons stop watching that series because of the offensive way that they drew those monkeys and if enough people who would watch Dave and Ava cartoons boycott Dave and Ava cartoons because of that depiction, then maybe the producers of those cartoons will get a clue and draw monkeys so that they don't look like stereotypical Black people.

      Delete
    2. What is up with Dave and Ava? It's not just the appalling "5 Little Monkeys," it's the "Apples and Bananas" song where, not only do the monkeys steal from the white kids (who chase them), they dance. The whole show is just creepy.

      Delete
    3. Laura Phillips,
      Ugh! I hadn't watched Dave and Ava's "Apples and Bananas" animation until you mentioned it in your comment.

      You are right. The drawing of the monkeys with their stereotypical Black hairstyles is appalling.

      The author of this page http://ukrainegoodnews.com/dave_and_ava_breaks_records_in_usa.html, written in May 2015, indicates that "For one month and a half 15 000 000 Americans have watched 'Dave and Ava' cartoon. It is an incredible success not just for Ukrainian 3D animation but for all Ukrainian cinematography.

      Animation 'Dave and Ava' is 100% Ukrainian product: idea, plot, direction, team of 3D animators, composers, voice actors and financing."

      The cartoon is produced at animation studio in Lviv. However, the cartoon is available in English because it was produced for English speaking audience."....
      -snip-
      There are no comments to date for that article. I just wrote this comment:

      "The animators of Dave and Ava cartoons should be aware that their depictions of monkeys (including their hairstyles) are offensive to Black people. (see for instance, the Dave and Ava "Five Little Monkeys" and the Dave and Ava "Apples And Bananas" cartoons.)

      And it is not just Black Americans who have noted this and are letting others know about it. Read for example the comments on this blog http://pancocojams.blogspot.co...

      Hopefully, the animators will become more socially conscious and change these drawings.

      -signed the editor of that above mentioned blog and a grandmother who will never allow her pre-school grandchildren watch Dave and Ava because of those stereotypical depictions."
      -snip-

      It appears that that comment was published without the specific link for this post. I added a reply with the title of this blog post.

      Delete
  6. I am neither black or white, my husband is of East Indian descent and I am asain. We were both very disturbed by the racial connotations depicted in Dave and Ava when watching with our 1 year old son and have decided to boycott the show from our house.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, anonymous.

      I appreciate your comment. Dave and Ava's animators should be aware of the racist connotations in their cartoons and change those drawings, for all of our children's sake.

      Delete
    2. This comment was posted to http://ukrainegoodnews.com/dave_and_ava_breaks_records_in_usa.html in reply to my comment written on September 22, 2016

      Jaquelynn Herrera Azizi Powell • 3 days ago [October 9, 2016]
      "Agreed. My 19 month old daughter pointed to a group of African Americans and yelled "Monkeys!" I was mortified and couldn't understand why she was so adamant. I mentioned it to my mother who put it together...I now bypass all those nursery rhymes."

      I wrote this in reply:

      Azizi Powell Jaquelynn Herrera • a few seconds ago
      "Thanks for your comment, Jacquelynn Herrera.

      Hopefully, the producers of Dave and Ava cartoons are aware of the negative consequences of the stereotypical depictions in their cartoons and will change them."

      Delete
  7. Dave and ava have since added an actual black character who is not a stereotype. she appears to be the kids mom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for that information, Anonymous.

      What is a name of a cartoon in which this character appears?

      Delete
  8. Hi Azizi,

    I believe they have been including her in most of the recent ones. Apples and bananas part 2 I believe it's called is one of them.

    -Andrew

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for that information, Andrew.

      I watched the Dave & Ava Apples and bananas part 2 video that you referred me to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A0FiMc7BOT0&t=869s.

      I found the artists' depiction of Black people to be very much improved from the five little monkey video that I had critiqued and mentioned in this pancocojams post.

      You (or another anonymous commenter) wrote that the Black woman with the curly hair and glasses "appears to be the kids mom". I'm curious if she is identified as their biological mother or their step mother in one of this cartoon's episodes and if so which one?

      Also, I noticed that in the "Miss Polly Had A Dolly" segment [beginning at 12:40 in that same video] Ava plays with a Black doll who is also drawn without stereotypical characteristics. I'm very pleased with that depiction.

      The "Wheels On The Bus" segment beginning around 12:20] has a monkey family that appears to drawn as though they are a Black family. Given the stereotype [in the USA and I think elsewhere] of Black people as monkeys I'm not thrilled about that depiction and would have preferred that the characters on the bus be drawn as some other animals and not monkeys. That said, the drawings were considerably better than the "Five Little Monkeys" caricatures of Black people that I commented on before. (For instance, the little girl in the "Wheels On The Bus" segment had her hair in a pony tail and not the multiple braids sticking out of her hair like the previous drawing of the girl monkey had.

      Thanks again for letting me (and other pancocojams visitors) know about this (and other) new Dave & Ava episodes.

      And thank you very much to the artists and other production staff of this Dave & Ava cartoon!

      Delete
  9. I find their videos blatantly racist! Main characters have bright blue and green eyes subliminally representing the perceived racial class of Caucasians. The main characters always look way better than the rest of the characters, usually represented as non-Caucasians in every video, as if non-Caucasians can never look as good.

    Initially, I did not think much of it, but as I watched more along with my son it stared to hit me that it was in fact racist, very much so. Out of all their videos, I find "Five Little Monkeys" video especially racist.

    I am not for hyper political correctness, but I find Dave and Ava cartoons to be racist and wrong.

    It's no surprise that they are from Ukraine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As pointed by others as well, I have boycotted that channel at our residence.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for your comments, Brian Scott.

      Delete
    3. That's a bit rich, especially accusing creators of being racist and immediately making generalizations about their nation as a whole.
      The absolute majority of Ukrainians have never seen a black person in real life, the country has no history of slavery and racial tensions to the extent that the US and certain European countries do, and there is therefore no inherent evil monkey stereotypes. Characters from the 'Five Little Monkeys' actually seem to be loosely based on an old Soviet cartoon about five mischievous young monkeys living in a zoo with other anthropomorphic animals, and the trouble they cause to their ever-exhausted but ingenious mum and everyone else. A nod to parents from their expected audience, who are likely to remember these cartoons fondly from their own childhood.
      I am sure the creators found their product very unexpectedly popular outside of their own country (where it was marketed as series for early years English acquisition) and were mortified by how the global community read the message behind the characters. They actually made a massive effort introducing a much better representation of racial diversity into the new series. Dave and Ava's mother (stepmother?) introduced in the new episodes, is actually Black.

      Here is the original Soviet cartoon:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2K2l02C9As&t

      Delete
    4. Unknown, thanks for your comment.

      I refer you to all the comments that I've made about my opinions about the depictions on that series.

      Delete
  10. Recently Dave and Ava have replaced many of the songs that had the monkey family in them with a group of kittens including the 10 in the bed video

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. https://youtu.be/25WIA-7LZFg new version with kittens

      Delete
    2. Thanks for sharing that information, Rose Whiting.

      When I put that link in Google, it directed me to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25WIA-7LZFg&feature=youtu.be.

      Delete
  11. People this a nonsense.... It has become a childs song. And its used as such.... No one is being racist with this version of the song.... So why bring it there? Dave and ava has by far been the best in my opinion at being catchy educational and fun for my little one and many others... Why pick apart somthing out of thier control? My little one love 5 little monkeys and it definatly isnt out of racist slander!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your sharing your opinion, Anonymous.

      I've agree that Dave and Ava videos might be educational and fun. I pointed out what I believed-and still believe-to be stereotypical depictions of Black people in that particular video and I've since learn those depictions were in some other videos from that animated series and have since been changed.

      Delete