Monday, March 8, 2021

Racialized Versions Of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" Rhymes That Include The Words "I Like A White Boy & He Likes Me / So Step Back Black Boy..."

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Update: August 7, 2022

This pancocojams post provides selected examples of and comments about examples of the racialized rhyme "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" (also called "Down Down Baby" and other titles which include the words "I like a White boy and he likes me/So step back Black boy/You don't shine/Imma get a White boy to beat your behind. 

Some examples in this post include the words "I like a White/Black boy" etc. One commenter wrote that in his experience this wording was used when a White girl and a Black girl were chanting this rhyme together (Each girl chanted the same race for the boy that she was.) 

The Addendum to this post includes an example of this rhyme with the words "I like a Mexican boy/He don't like me".

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

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to all those who are quoted in this post.
Click for the 2012 pancocojams post whose revised title is "Racialized Versions Of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" ("I Like A Black Boy And He Likes Me" and other racial referents)".

This post is part of an ongoing pancocojams series on race/ethnicity in contemporary [post 1960s] English language children's playground rhymes. These comments update those that I wrote in 2007 on a Mudcat folk music discussion thread about versions of this rhyme. 

In the early 2000s I coined the term "racialized rhymes" to refer to examples of playground rhymes that include racial references although those rhymes previously didn't mention race. Most of these rhymes refer to "black", "white", "colored" people (racial referents).and may also include referents to black skin.

The earliest dates that I have found for racialized examples of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" is the 1970s (United States). 

Almost all of the examples of these "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" rhymes that I have come across have the "I like a Black boy (or a "Colored boy") and he likes me wording. Many of the rhymes that I've come across have the referent "Colored" even those that referent for Black Americans hasn't been used since the 1960s. I haven't come across any examples of these rhymes that include the referent "African American" since that referent would really mess up the rhythm and flow of that rhyme. 

Some examples have "I like a Black boy/White boy and he likes me" wording (sometimes with the contributor indicating that the racial referent that is chanted depending on who is chanting that rhyme-presumably a Black girl would say "I like a Black boy" and a White girl would say "I like a White boy).

I have come across a few examples of these rhymes with the words "I like a White boy and he likes me". 

I haven't come across any online examples that mentions of other races/ethnicities except one example (given below) that includes the words "I like a Mexican boy and he likes me." 

Down down baby down by the roller coaster
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 shimmy shimmy pow

I like a black boy and he likes me
so step back white boy I ain't shy
I bet you 5 dollars i'll 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 i'm 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...
i'm 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; 03 Jul 14; "Mudcat: Down Down Baby, Race In Children's Rhymes"
I started that Mudcat discussion thread in April 2007. Comments may still be added to that thread.

Here's a comment that I wrote in April 2007 early on in that Mudcat thread (with the addition in March 2021 of some words in the last paragraph to clarify what I meant.

"As to my opinions about these rhymes, it seems to me that with regards to childrens rhymes, children are much more interested in the rhythm of the words than the meaning of the words themselves. It certainly appears as though children care whether 'the right words' are recited-"right" here meaning the words to that particular rhyme that they learned and which are recited in their neighborhood. If a child recites the rhyme a different way, others will say that she or he "messed" up. So it certainly appears as though children are conscious of the words they are are reciting.

However, I don't think this means that children are concerned about what the words 'mean'. I don't think children think about rhymes as a story with characters and plots and actions.

The rhyme's story is actually quite common-a boy approaches a girl and asks her for a date. The boy is rebuffed by the girl who says she already has a boyfriend. The story could have ended there. But this rhyme adds the element of the boy being identified as White, and there is [at least in my mind] the assumption that the girl is Black {or non-White]. Furthermore, the girl takes exception to the boy asking her for a date. She tells him that she already has a boyfriend who {it can be assumed} is of the same race as the girl. Furthermore, the girl threatens to get her boyfriend {and/or other boys of her race} to beat up the White boy.

How much of this do children 'get' by osmosis, or by repetition, or otherwise? Are we not seeing a rise in interracial schooling in the United States? Isn't interracial dating and interracial marriage on the increase in the USA? These rhymes are certainly anti-interracial dating. Also, these rhymes appear to give a stamp of approval to fighting.

Perhaps the changes in these rhymes came about when schools were just being integrated. As such, the aggression and reference to race in these rhymes reflect the difficulties associated with those particular times. Perhaps times have changed and the interracial relations between students of different races have improved. Maybe the words to these rhymes have become so familiar and so ingrained that no changes have been made, or any changes that were suggested did not 'stick'.

Still, I'm very concerned about the normalization of in-group/out group perceptions and interactions where the only acceptable interaction between people of other races is fighting.

If our cultures do not address these perceptions among children that people who aren't part of the same race/ethnicity that you are are different than you and are therefore unacceptable, how will we ever have a world where differences don't make any difference? How will there ever come a time when  race and ethnicity are descriptors that have no positive or negative valuation?"

Please add to the folkloric record by sharing any versions of these racialized rhymes that you know. Please remember to add demographic information (which city/state you learned this rhyme or which country if outside of the USA; the decade or year you first learned this rhyme; your race/ethnicity.) Thank you.

These examples are given in no particular order and are numbered for referencing purposes only.

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! Needless to say, I never figured it out!"
-Guest Gibs, 05 Mar 09, originally published on RE: Not Last Night But The Night Before-rhyme 
Here's a portion of my March 5, 2009 response to Guest Gib (posted to that "Not Last Night But The Night Before-rhyme" thread)
..."Here's my take on that "you don't shine" phrase:

In this context, "shine" means to be as radiant as the sun or stars. Saying "you don't shine" to a boy means that you don't think that he is anything special (in looks, and/or in actions, or in his very being) as he or she thinks he is. Perhaps that use of "shine" comes from the outer (or inner glow) that people are said to have because of their auras or their spirit. Theoretically, the aura* of a good or great person shines brighter than that of a person who is evil or ordinary. And a charismatic person would be described as shining brightly."...

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;; July 2010 (retrieved August 21, 2010) This example is no longer included on that page. 

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, 12 Dec 10, Down Down Baby-Race in Children's Rhymes, 

"Went to a pretty racially mixed elementary school in Georgia in the early 90's. We white girls *definitely* knew Down Down Baby as a story of white aggression:

"I like ice cream
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 beat ya behind!"

I don't remember ever seeing black girls doing that rhyme, so I don't know if they did it differently. But as a child it made sense to me that the rhyme would assert white dominance. It was just another example of the casual racism we were immersed in in rural Georgia. Even at that age my white friends and I understood that a white boy beating up a black boy for flirting with his girl was the expected norm, not the other way around."
-Guest, mindy, 28 Feb 15, Down Down Baby-Race in Children's Rhymes, 

"Ina Lina Thumbelina
Two times Thumbelina
Iriatchee Liriatchee
I love you.

Take a piece
Take a plum
Not a piece of bubblegum.

I like coffee.
I like tea.
I like a Black/White boy
And he likes me.
So step back Black/White boy
You don't shine.
I gotta a Black/White boy 
To kick your behind.

See that house on top of that hill
That's where me and my baby gnna leave.
We gnna chop some wood
Eat some meat
Come on baby
Lets go to sleep."
-GUEST,17yr old kid at heart:), 20 Jul 10, Children's Street Songs
This example was written in capitol letters and paragraph form. I reformatted it to increase its readability.

The word "gnna" probably means "gonna" (going to). 
The word "leave" is probably a typo for "live".

My guess is that White/Black and Black/White meant that if they were Black, the chanters said "I like a Black boy" and then said "so step back White boy". Or if the chanters were White, they said "I like a White boy" and "step back Black boy"

Down down baby down down the roller coaster sweet sweet baby I'll never let you go shimmy shimmy Coco Puff Shimmy Shimmy aah shimmy shimmy coco puff shimmy shimmy aah. I like coffee I like tea I like a white boy he likes me step back black boy you don't shine I bet you $5 I can beat your behind. get the rhythm of the head, ding dong. get the rhythm of the hands clap clap, get the rhythm of the feet stomp stomp  get the rhythm of the hot dog, get the rhythm of the hot dog (move your body like a snake motion each time you say hot dog). Put them all together and see what you get, ding dong (move head from left to right when saying ding dong), clap clap, stomp stomp, hot dog. Put them all backwards and see what you get. Hot dog, stomp,stomp, clap,clap, ding dong.

Amazing how it's a similar song but different in many ways...
-Sarah Bukoski, 2016 [comment in the discussion thread for "Learn FUN hand clapping game "Down Down Baby", published by KSquared, Nov 9, 2013  

This is such an interesting article and so neat to see something that is a deep memory of mine. I went to Fruitvale Elementary in Oakland, Ca. Kindergarten 76-77. We also sang this song. The version I sang, for some unknown reason, was :

I like coffee , I like tea,
I like the Mexican Boy
He don’t like me
Go away White boy
He don’t shine
She bop a badda badda
She bop a badda badda
She bop a badda badda

I was a 5 year old white girl. I came home singing this song. My mother just thought I was adapting to my surroundings and fellow school mates.

I have never forgotten this song. So interesting to find your article.

Thank you

Bella, October 4, 2020, [comments]

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  1. This 2o10 comment from a commenter in the Mudcat discussion thread that I started in 2007 on racialized references in "Down Down Baby ("I Like Coffee I Like Tea") rhymes helps to document that the "I Like A Black boy and he likes me /So step back White boy you don't shine"...versions of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" rhymes were being chanted in the United States in the 1970s.

    (Note that the commenter quotes what I had written earlier in that discussion thread).

    GUEST, 9 Oct. 2010,
    "Thank you so much for posting this!!! I went to an all black elementary school in Norfolk, VA in the early to mid 70's and we used the variation you described (shown below).

    "The confrontational action in these verses follows a consistent pattern. First, these rhymes are almost always given from a female perspective {which makes sense since the person or persons reciting these rhymes are usually girls}. Secondly, in the rhyme, a Black {or "Colored"} girl rejects the advances of a White boy. Thirdly, the girl tells the White boy that she "likes a Black boy and he likes me". And fourthly {if there is such a word}, the girl threatens to get a Black {or "Colored"} boy to "beat his {the White boy's} behind".

    "I have also found or received an example of this rhyme in which a {presumably} Black girl tells another girl "Step back white girl you don't shine/I'll get a black girl to beat your behind". However, I have never found or received any version of this rhyme in which a White girl or White boy initiate this confrontational encounter."
    -end of quote-

    Writing in 2021, I now know that there are some "I like a white boy and he likes me" versions of these racialize "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" rhymes.

    That said, I believe that the "I like a Black boy" versions of these rhymes were chanted earlier than the "I like a White boy" versions.

    I believe this in part because of the African American Vernacular English wording that both forms of these rhymes use.

    The fact that there are so many more online examples of the "I like a Black boy" versions of racialized forms of "I Like Coffee I Like Tea" also suggests that the "I like a white boy" examples were/are "copied" from the "I like a Black boy" examples.

  2. Here's a closely related comment that was written in another Mudcat discussion thread:
    "Very cool to finally find a historical resource of the musically interesting trauma I experienced in 1st grade 1971 North East Houston Texas. I’ve asked everybody all my life and they’d never heard the song sung to me after I was beat up by the neighbor children. I was an easy to beat up white kid (actually Hispanic) so they did it as often as possible until I stopped walking to and from school.

    Me with a bloody nose crying on the ground would hear:

    White patty white patty you don’t shine
    You got bumps on your booty like Frankenstein.

    There were 2 or 3 other verses that I can’t recall but that one would make me laugh. I tried to laugh with them in hopes I could be friends.

    Thanks for this cathartic resource!"
    -GUEST, Ehaw, 7 Oct 20, ttps:// , Lyr Add: Down Down Baby-Race in Children's Rhymes