Friday, February 1, 2019

Examples Of The Lines "Step Back Jack, Your Hands Are Too Black" In African American Playground Rhymes

Edited by Azizi Powell

This pancocojams post presents examples of playground rhymes that include the lines "Step back, Jack/Your hands are too black"/ You look like a monkey (or "n word) on a railroad track". Other versions of these rhyme include the line "Get back, Jack..." or "Jump back, Jack" etc.

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.

"Step back, Jack" means "Get out of here, man" (with "man" meaning a male or a female).

This saying may have its source in Big Bill Broonzy's 1951 song "Black, Brown, And White" with its verse:
"If you was white, should be all right,
if you was brown, stick around,
but as you's black, hmm brother, get back, get back, get back"
Click a pancocojams post about this song.
All of the playground rhyme excerpts below are usually performed as two partner hand clap games. All of these rhyme examples are what I call "racialized rhymes."

In the early 2000s I coined the term "racialized rhyme" to refer to examples of playground rhymes that include racial references although those rhymes previously didn't mention race. The usual way of "racializing rhymes" is to include racial referents (such as "black "white", "colored" people. However, the examples in this post document that references to skin color are also ways of racializing rhymes.

Click for a pancocojams post that focuses on the inclusion of racial references in "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" rhymes.

This line and the line "Get your black hands off of me"* in children's playground rhymes strongly suggest to me that these children consider Black skin as something negative. That said, children may just be reciting from rote memory, not giving any thought to what the words really mean.

Click for the pancocojams post entitled "Get Your Black Hands Off Of Me" Line In African American Playground Rhymes.

Click for some examples of "to the front", "to the back", "to the side side side" that are found in playground rhymes that don't include racialized references;
The example given as #1 below is the only example that I found online that referred to what is commonly called "the n word". In the other examples that I found, the n word was changed to "monkey". Referring to Black people as "monkeys or apes" is highly offensive. Click for a article on this subject.

These line are given in italics.


Down down baby,
Down, down the roller coaster
Sweet, sweet baby, please don’t you let me go.
Shimmy shimmy cocopuffs
Shimmy shimmy pow.
I like coffee I like tea
I like the little boy and he likes me
Step back, Jack; your hand too black
You look like a ni**er* on a railroad track.

To the front, to the back, to the side side side
To the front, to the back, to the side side side
Ladies and gentlemen, children too,
This little lady’s gonna boogaloo
Gonna shimmy shimmy till the sun goes down…
*This word is fully spelled out in this text example of this rhyme
This is the end of that quoted rhyme
- Margaret Brady, 1975, page 51; quoted in The Man who Adores the Negro: Race and American Folklore; Patrick B. Mullen, 2008


I like coffee
I like tea
I like a little boy
And he likes me
Little boy, little boy
Don't you cry
I've got another boy on my mind
Step back Jack
Your hands too black

To the front
To the back
To the side by side
To the front
To the back
To the side by side
The president's got a hole in his underwear
-Barbara Michels, Bettye WhiteApple On A Stick- The Folklore Of Black Children (1983; page 33)
The rhymes in this book were collected from Houston, Texas.


down down baby down by the rollercoaster
sweet sweet baby, I'll never let you go
shimmy shimmy coco pop, shimmy shimmy rah!
shimmy shimmy coco pop, shimmy shimmy rah!
I like candy, I like tea, I like a little boy
and he likes me.
so step off jack, your hands are black
your looking like a monkey on a rail road track

To the front to the back to the side by side
To the front to the back to the side by side,
Ladies and gentlemen children too
this old lady's gonna boogie for you
she's gonna turn around
touch the ground
boogie boogie boogie till her pants fall down!!!

this version i remember from when i was little..i loved it!!
-GUEST,guest..jenna; October 1, 2010 "We Wear Our Hair In Curls".


Subject: RE: Lyr Add: Down Down Baby-Race in Children's Rhymes
Date: - 04:45 PM

Lol. I'm a guy and I remember Black girls saying this in the 70s in Tx. They said "Step back Jack, your hands too black. Looking like a monkey on a railroad track"
-GUEST,Jj Peterson, 26 Mar 16
From Kodak Black’s Comments Have Me Wondering, What Are We Teaching Our Boys About Black Beauty?
July 6, 2017 | By Erickka Sy Savane
We all know it ain’t easy being dark skinned in our society. I start thinking about a song that we sang as kids growing up.

Jump back Jack because yo hands too black and you looking like a monkey on the railroad tracks! To the front, to the back, to the side-by-side.

Nobody told us not to sing it.

I start thinking about what’s being instilled at home. I know that I obsessively tell my girls how beautiful their skin color and hair is. One is medium brown and the other a little darker, so I consider it my job to reinforce their beauty before society introduces its trickery. And I’m clear that the trickery begins as soon as they turn on the TV and see dolls and books with images that don’t look like them. A Black mama has got to bring her A game from day 1. But what’s happening with our boys? Are moms (and dads) reinforcing their beauty? I wonder if Kodak Black ever heard that his skin color was beautiful growing up? I never heard that my “nappy” hair was beautiful and as a result I never saw it that way.

I texted my friend Shaniqua who has a 7-year-old son about this question about whether we need to reinforce Black boys’ beauty and she hits me back with, “I make it a weekly ritual to tell my son that Black skin is beautiful in all shades and that he should love himself and his skin tone…he and I are two different shades and I constantly reiterate that we all look beautiful.”..."

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1 comment:

  1. "Step back, Jack" is also found in James Brown's 1991 R&B song "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag".

    Song: Papa's Got A Brand New Bag
    ..."He's doing the Jerk
    He's doing the Fly
    Don't play him cheap
    Cause you know he ain't shy
    He's doing the Monkey, the Mashed Potatoes
    Jump back Jack, see you later, alligator
    Come here sister
    Papa's in the swing”...
    "Papa" and "Jack" are general references for a man or a male. "New bag" here means "a new (hip; hipper) way of doing things."

    That song excerpt lists names of popular R&B dances; jump back jack/see you later alligator are Africa American street sayings; "Jump back Jack" means "Get out of here, man". See you later, alligator" means "Goodbye". (The usual response for "See you later, alligator" is "After while, crocodile" meaning "see you after while.")