Thursday, August 28, 2014

"Policeman Don't Beat Me" And Other Examples Of Policemen Mentioned In Children's Recreational Rhymes

Edited by Azizi Powell

This post showcases examples from three "families" (groups) of children's recreational rhymes or taunts that mention policemen. The families of rhymes/taunts that are featured in this post are "Policeman, Policeman Don't Beat Me", "Policemen Policemen Do Your Duty", and "I Don't Want To Go To Mexico" (Macy's).

It's possible that there are additional families of children's recreational rhymes/taunts that mention police officers. However, I can't think of other examples of such rhymes.

By children's recreational rhymes/taunt I mean "playground rhymes"
which may be chanted with accompanying movement activities such as jumping rope or partner handclapping or which may be chanted without any accompanying movements. Although these recreationa; rhymes/taunts have no known authors, the assumption is that they were either composed by children or that children composed variant forms of the original songs or compoaition on which theese rhymees are based.

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

Click for the companion pancocojams post "How Police Are Portrayed In Pre-School Animated Videos."

It's interesting that those video examples of police officers focus on their responsibility of directing traffic while an enforcement or punishing function is the focal point of police officers in the children's recreation rhymes that are featured in this post.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who havee collected these examples. Thanks also to all those who are quoted in this post.

"Policeman, Policeman Don't Whip Me" is a variant form of the songl ines "massa [master] please don't whip me/whip that [n word]* behind that tree". A 1922 example of those lines, with the words "Mistah Washington" substituted for "massa/master", are found in the following example from Negro Folk Rhymes: Wise And Otherwise, edited by the African American collector Thomas W. Talley:

T-u, tucky, T-u, ti.
T-u, tucky, buzzard's eye.
T-u, tucky, T-u, ting.
T-u, tucky, buzzard's wing.
Oh, Mistah Washin'ton! Don't whoop me,
Whoop dat N___r* Back 'hind dat tree.

He stole tucky, I didn' steal none.
Go wuk him in de co'n field jes fer fun
- Thomas W, Talley, Negro Folk Rhymes, Wise & Othewise,, p. 7
*The n word was fully spelled out in this example.
Talley wrote that some of examples in his book were remembered from [United State] slaveery times. It's likely this is one of those old rhymes or is a later variant form of an old rhyme. I've read that the earliest form of these lines was ""Massa, please don't ketch me/ketch that [n word] behind that tree". "Teacher dont beat me", "Policeman don't beat me", and "Policeman Don't Blame Me" are some of the variant forms of this rhyme.

The core meaning of these verses is that having been caught doing something wrong, the person speaking redirects the authority figure's attention to another person who the speaker claims was engaged in wrongdoing.

Here's an example of the policeman version of this rhyme from Jump-Rope Rhyme: A Dictionary edited by Roger D. Abrahams (Publications of the American Folklore Society, 1970 [p. 161]

Policeman, policeman don’t whip (blame) me,
Whip that [n word] behind that tree;
he stole peaches I stole none;
Put him in the calaboose* just for fun.

Usually collected as a taunt
*calaboose - jail [from Spanish word "calabozo" dungeon]

Citations include: Douglas (1916), 54 [London] Policeman, don’t touch me/I have a wife and family”
Heck, JAF [Journal of American Folklore], 42 [Ohio]
Brewster, SFQ [Southern Folk Quarterly, 3, (1939) , 178. “Teacher Teacher”= Botkin (1944), 795

Ritchie (1965), 148 [Edinburgh]. “He stole sugar/He stole tea”
Given the increased reporting of police violence directed to Black people, it's startling to read a children's rhyme or at least a rhyme that children chanted in which someone suggests putting a Black man in jail just for fun. It should be noted that the way I read the Negro Folk Rhymees example given above, a Black man was encouraging a White man to punish another Black man instead of himself. [Some Black people in the late 19th century used "the n word" as an informal self-referent. However, a number of Black people now (and probably also then) consider that word to be very pejorative. I personally never use "the n word" and I refrain from fully spelling it out when I am quoting it.]

Click for more examples of variant forms of these lines and comments about those examples.

"Policeman Do Your Duty" rhymes only mention policemen in the firt line. The second line "do your duty" suggests that the police officer should arrest the girl jumper beecause she is being too risque by showing off her legs (as given in the last line of this rhyme.)

I believe the "postman" or "mailman" versions of these rhymes in which the lines "do your duty/send a leetter to my cutie" predates the policeman versions. However, the focus of all of these examples is the different movements that the person (usually a girl) does while jumping inside a rope which is turned by two other players.

Here's an example and some citations from i>Jump-Rope Rhyme: A Dictionary edited by Roger D. Abrahams (Publications of the American Folklore Society, 1970; p. 161)

Policeman (postman) do your duty
Here comes....the American beauty.
She can wiggle, she can woggle,
She can do the splits,
She can wear (pull) her skirts (dress) up
to her hips.*

Also commonly ends “She can dance/She can sing/She can do most anything.”
Cf” Hi Ho Silver, Opie (1959), 236, relates this rhyme to a Valentine [card] verse
The earliest citation listed in that book was Haufeecht (1947) 61.
Also listed was Ainsworth, WF, 20 (1961), 181 [Maine], 184 [California], 186 [Michigan], 187, “Send this letter to my cutie], 190 [Wisconsin], 196 [Utah]

*This action was considered quite risqué.
Here's an example that I remember chanting in the 1950s (Atlantic City, New Jersey:
Policeman, Policeman, do your duty.
Here comes Debby
An American beauty,
She can wiggle
She can wobble
She can do the split. [later changed to "She can do the twist"]
But I betcha five dollars
She can't do this.
Lady on one foot, one foot, one foot
Turn all around, around, around.
Lady on two foot, two foot, two foot
Touch the ground, the ground, the ground.
Lady on three foot, three foot, three foot
Say your prayers, your prayers, your prayers.
Lady on four foot, four foot, four foot
Jump right out.
-Azizi Powell, Atlantic City, New Jersey, mid 1950s.
One foot" means hopping. One foot touches touching the ground when you jump. Two foot" is jumping with both feet off the ground. "Three foot" is two hands touching the ground and then one foot . "Four foot" is jumping with both hands and both feet touching the ground.

Here's an example of this rhyme that my daughter chanted in the 1980s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania:

Police lady, police lady.
Do your duty.
Here comes Keisha
with ah African booty.
She can wiggle.
She can wobble.
She can do the split.
But I betcha five dollars
She can't do this.
Lady on one foot, one foot, one foot
Turn all around, around, around.
Lady on two foot, two foot, two foot
Touch the ground, the ground, the ground.
Lady on three foot, three foot, three foot
Say your prayers, your prayers, your prayers.
Lady on four foot, four foot, four foot
Jump right out.
-TMP. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, mid 1980s
I think the change from "policeman" to "police lady" is significant. When I was growing up, there were no female police officers that I knew of.
"African booty" means a big butt. That referent comes from the commonly held (but erroneous) belief that all Black African women have big butts.

"I Don't Want To Go To Mexico" may actually refer to a store security guard rather than a police officer. Here's a comment about this rhyme that I wrote and posted on my cocojams cultural website:
Shame Shame Shame.
I don’t want to go to Mexico
no more, more, more.
There’s a big fat policeman
at door, door, door.
He’ll grab you by the collar
and make you pay a dollar.
I don’t want to go to Mexico
no more, more, more.
-Multiple sources; posted by Azizi Powell, 2004
"I Don’t Want To Go To Mexico” appears to be a widely known handclap rhyme*. Like most hand clap rhymes, it is recited in unison.

*"I Don't Want To Go To Macy's", as this rhyme was originally known, was chanted while jumping rope. However, as was the case for many jump rope rhymes, by at least the early 1970s, the usual performance activity for this rhyme (with the name changed to "I Don't Want To Go To Mexico") was partner hand claps.

I collected this version in 1998 from a number of school aged African American girls and boys living in various Pittsburgh, PA. neighborhoods.

In 2001, I also collected a version of this same rhyme from my school age Philadelphia cousins Breeana and Tonoya. Breena’s and Tonoya’s version also starts with “Shame, shame, shame” and has all of the same words until the section about the big, fat policeman. At that point they say: if he pulls you by the collar, girl, you better holler”. Their version ends with the players saying “I don’t want to go to Mexico, no more, more, more”, “Shut the door!” Each partner tries to be the first to say “shut the door!” Whoever says it first, lightly taps the other player on the shoulder or on the side of their head and then points to them in a “Got ya!” manner.

Barbara Michel's and Bettye White's 1983 book of African American children's rhymes Apple On A Stick contains a version of this rhyme from Houston, Texas “I Don’t Want To Go To College.” That rhyme has the same words as the examples mentioned above, up to and including the line "at the door door door". It then continues by saying:

See what I mean,
Jelly Bean.
Wash your face with gasoline.
Jump in a lake.
Swallow a snake.
Come back home with a tummy ache.

The source for all of these versions is probably the rhyme
“I Don’t Want To Go To Macy’s.” Roger Abrahams notes in his Jump-Rope Dictionary that "I Won't Go To Macy's" was documented as being performed by American children in 1938. p. 97.

“Macy’s” is the name of a chain of department stores. The most famous Macy's store is located in New York City.

Here's information about that rhymee and early examples from
" “I Won’t Go To Macy’s Any More, More More” (Jump-rope jingle, 1938)

This New York "jump rope jingle" involves Macy's. It's also in the book Rimbles: A book of children's classic games, rhymes, songs, and sayings (1955, 1956, 1960, 1961) by Patricia Evans, pg. 30.

10 May 1938, New Masses, section two, pg. 109:
I won't go to Macy's any more, more, more!
I won't go to Macy's any more, more, more!
There's a big fat policeman at the door, door, door!
He will squeeze me like a lemon.
A chalachke zol em nehmen.
I won't go to Macy's any more, more, more!

(Also, as "New York Children's Street Rhymes and Songs, by Fred Rolland, pages 565-567, in Sidewalks of America: Folklore, Legends, Sagas, Traditions, Customs, Songs, Stories and Sayings of City Folk, edited by B. A. Botkin, Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1954 - ed.)

14 April 1946, New York Times, "Jump-Rope Jingles," pg. 109:

I won't go to Macy's any more, more, more.
There's a big fat policeman at the door, door, door.
He takes me by the collar, and makes me pay a dollar.
So, I won't go to Macy's any more. more. more."
My theory is that these children substituted "Mexico" for "Macys" since they weren't familiar with the "Macy's" store or the word “Macy’s”. This is an example of “folk etymology” Folk etymology occurs when people change foreign words or unfamiliar words into familiar words or sounds that are similar to the word they don’t know.

The original version of “I Don’t Want To Go To Macy’s” doesn’t have any introductory phrase, but a lot of African American songs have beginning (introductory) phrases such as “Shame, Shame, Shame”. One seven year old Pittsburgh girl recited the same version as other Pittsburgh children had shared with me, but she started the rhyme by saying “Shine, shine, shine”.

“Shine” may be another example of “folk etymology”. The girl may have thought she heard the word “shine” when she actually heard children saying “shame”. After all, it makes more sense to say “shame” then “shine” when talking about police grapping you by the collar.
Since at least the 1980s, the words "big fat policeman" has been retained in some examples of "I Don't Want To Go To Mexico" (and similarly titled rhymes). However, in other examples, the policeman has been replaced with "a big fat boy" or "a big fat person name ______ " or "a big mean lady", "a big fat lizard", "a big fat gorilla", "a cute little boy", "two cute boys", "a big fat Michael Jackson" or "a skinny Michael Jackson". And I'm sure there are other characters who I didn't mention.

I think that the examples of "I Don't Want To Go To Mexico" that deescribe the policeman or any other person (or animal) as "big fat" are examples of "fat shaming". Unfortunately, in the United States and in many other Western nations, many people still consider it okay to insult people who they consider to be overweight. I think that "big fat" was used in the earliest example of "I Don't Want To Macys" (and was retained in the "I Don't Want To Go To Mexico" and other variants) because it was a relatively safe insult. However, it's likely that "big fat policeman" might not even refer to the policeman's height or weight, but is a substitute for another less acceptablee descrptor. For example, it would be much less socially acceptable to say that the policemen was "big [and] mean" (with the word "big" acting like an intensifier].

That page includes multiple examples of "I Don't Want To Go To Mexico", including the following example in which the word "black" replaces the word "fat":

i got one:
i dont wanna go to mexico no more more more
theres a big black policeman at the door door door
he’ll kiss you on the lips he’ll make you do the splits
i dont wanna go to mexico no more more more

then you try to say, shame on you! before your friend (partner) does.
-beth, May 19, 2013,
That word substitution of "black" for "fat" could have occurred as a result of mishearing or misremembering a word. However, it's significant that a child could chant a rhyme about a Black policeman. I was a teenager [in the 1960s] before I ever knew that police officerrs could be Black.

Also, for what it's worth, I don't think that "I Don't Want To Go To Mexico" rhyme is meant to disparage Mexicans or the nation of Mexico in any way. And just because a written or spoken composition mentions not wanting to go to Mexico, that doesn't mean that that composition is about immigration. [I've read both of these opinions online.]

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitors' comments are welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment