Slang language and word definitions have morphed and changed over the centuries since we’ve had the power of language. But race, a prominent sector in our history, produced certain terms and words with negative connotations that we still use today and many aren’t aware of.
Here are four phrases and or words that you didn’t know had a racist history.
The Peanut Gallery
I’ve heard the term “The peanut gallery” for years from family members, teachers, and older folk in general, though I never truly knew what it meant. I definitely didn’t know that it’s roots are demeaning.
With a little research, I discovered that the phrase was meant to refer to the cheapest seats in a theater, and when it’s directed at a group, it’s meant to imply that said group is rowdy and uninformed. In the late 19th century, the peanut gallery referred to the section of the theater where Black people sat.
Uppity in modern times is described as self-important or arrogant, but in history, the term was degrading and racist towards Black people. It was used to describe a Black person who “didn’t know their place.” Still, this term is alive, well, and racially-loaded today. People have even gone as far as to describe the 44th President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle with this term.
Eenie, meenie, minie mo
“Eenie, meenie, minie mo catch a tiger by its toe” is, in my opinion, the most memorable lyric of the childhood foot game. The phrase has been used to solve many tag and hide and seek disputes; but it’s origins and original phrasing are much different than we’ve been led to believe.
The original lyrics to the song were “Eenie, meenie, minie mo. Catch a nigger by the toe.” The words stem from the slavery and was what slave owners would do/say if they caught a runaway slave.
The Ice Cream Truck Song
This one surprised me the most. The seemingly innocent whimsical tune played throughout neighborhoods on hot sunny days is well..racist. The song mostly known today as “Turkey in the Straw” was originally brought to American colonies by Scottish and Irish immigrants. The tune, which was made to mirror what was happening in immigrants’ Iives was stolen in 1916 by a man named Harry C. Browne who released his racist song with Columbia records.
Browne’s version of the song featured the chorus “Nigger love a watermelon,” which played into harmful stereotypes as well as racial slurs. This song later became the iconic song played by ice cream trucks – minus the negative lyrics.
Cakewalk, meaning a very easy task, is a word/phrase that might not arouse suspicion of it having a racist background. However, if this list has told us anything, it’s to expect the worst.
Oxford English Dictionary writes that a “cakewalk” was a dancing contest judged by plantation owners with a cake as the prize. It’s fair to assume that the ones being judged were of course, the slaves.
Now, this list is not meant to say you can not sing eenie meenie miney moe for childhood nostalgia, or enjoy Turkey in the Straw on a hot summer day, it’s just meant to make you aware. History has to be known and addressed so that it will not be repeated, and truly this article is to educate and remind you to choose your words and phrases carefully.
By Kendal Amos, sophomore at Little Black Pearl