I will not be surprised to see a formal course of study emerge in the near future in our institutions of higher learning, teaching the skills necessary to become a certified race-grievance manufacturer. One would be trained in such classes as Advanced Race-baiting, Historical Distortions, The Uses of Paranoia, and The Permanent Victim Mindset, and a typical honors thesis would be exactly like the essay featured on NPR’s website, by Theodore Johnson III, but with footnotes. Come to think of it, maybe that’s where Johnson’s article did come from. If so, I’m sure he got an A.
And, as was the objective, other race-baiting lackeys, like RYOT’s Viola Knowles, picked up the baton by taking Johnson’s thesis to the next level, with her opus, “So It Turns Out Your Beloved Ice Cream Truck Is Actually Super Racist.” Like its origin, the piece is a lesson in confirmation bias and intellectually dishonest research. Also like the NPR piece—and tell me again why my tax dollars support an institution that encourages racial distrust—it is sinister in intent. “If you’d rather I not crush all of your beautiful childhood memories with ugly racism then you may want to leave now,” she begins ominously. For NPR has discovered that the jingle traditionally played by the friendly neighborhood ice cream truck—“or the racist truck,” she says, is “one of the most racist songs in America.”
Here, in brief is Johnson’s thesis—
- In March 1916, Columbia Records released a song called “Nigger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” written by performer Harry C. Browne.
- That song contains this exchange:
Browne: “You niggers quit throwin’ them bones and come down and get your ice cream!”
Black men (incredulously): “Ice Cream?!?”
Browne: “Yes, ice cream! Colored man’s ice cream: WATERMELON!!”
- Shortly after this time, the first ice cream trucks began appearing in America’s cities (NOTE: Before this time, there were no trucks to carry ice cream or anything else)
- Many of the trucks played jingles from popular songs of the day.
- The tune of “Nigger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” was one of the jingles adopted, and has become the predominant one used since.
- Ergo, the ice cream truck, playing its racist song to this day, is racist.
Because, you see, Johnson deeply wants it to be.
The initial problem with his reasoning is that the ice cream truck doesn’t play a “song”—there are no lyrics. It plays a tune, and the tune is one that comes to us from European immigrants, and dates in this country from the early 19th Century. You know it, unless you are about 120 years old or Harry C. Browne, as “Turkey in the Straw,” one of America’s most persistent and popular folk melodies. The lyrics most commonly used with the tune, and the ones I learned, are these:
- Turkey in the hay, in the hay, in the hay.
Turkey in the straw, in the straw, in the straw,
Pick up your fiddle and rosin your bow,
And put on a tune called Turkey in the Straw.
Nobody sings this song any more, and hasn’t for at least 75 years. It’s a tune, like “Greensleeves,” and one that has invited lyrics, parody and otherwise for centuries. When someone under the age of 50 asks you what the tune is, because the schools and the culture have pretty much consigned America’s folk song past to the trash heap, you will answer “Turkey in the Straw,” not “Nigger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” So, in fact, would Johnson and Knowles, but never mind, they are dead certain that when today’s ice cream truck drivers enter our neighborhood, the intended message of the cheerful note sequence coming out of the loud speakers is racist.
Johnson acknowledges the tune’s origins, but rationalizes his alarming conclusion like this:
“The first and natural inclination, of course, is to assume that the ice cream truck song is simply paying homage to ‘Turkey in the Straw,’ but the melody reached the nation only after it was appropriated by traveling blackface minstrel shows.”
Ah. That proves that the tune is racist, then, because minstrel shows, which were a predominant form of entertainment that nobody thought of as racist at the time, popularized an already iconic non-racist melody—a melody can’t be racist, or anything else, just as Wagner music is not itself anti-Semitic because it is associated with German and Hitler— that already had proven its ability as an ear-worm by crossing an ocean and hanging around for over a century.
Whatever musicologist who wrote the Wikipedia entry on the song informs us that the tune has had dozens of different lyrics through the centuries. The first published lyrics could be called an early equivalent of “Louie Louie,” being filled with incomprehensible gibberish like…
- O ist old Suky blue skin, she is in lub wid me
- I went the udder arter noon to take a dish ob tea;
- What do you tink now, Suky hab for supper,
- Why chicken foot an posum heel, widout any butter.
- Did you eber see the wild goose, sailing on de ocean,
- O de wild goose motion is a berry pretty notion;
- Ebry time de wild goose, beckens to de swaller,
- You hear him google google google google gollar.
No wonder we just remember the tune.
Other popular versions, we are told, included lyrics about the life and career of Andrew Jackson, such as the Battle of New Orleans and his successful campaign to destroy the Bank of the United States. Later there were Mexican War lyrics and Civil War lyrics, obscene lyrics, nonsense lyrics, and lyrics about fishing. In 1928, the tune was used as the base melody in the first Mickey Mouse cartoon “Steamboat Willie;” I’m pretty sure that’s where I first heard it. The melody is quoted in Second Symphony by that noted racist composer Charles Ives; it’s used in the song “Oklahoma Mixer” popular in Japan and other East Asian countries and is often played during gym classes.
So why isn’t the NPR article about the fascinating factoid that the ice cream truck is actually paying homage to Andrew Jackson? It doesn’t take that direction because that theory, though equally sensible as the one Johnson proposes, wouldn’t further the politically useful narrative that the United States is still racist to its core, that African-American are constantly under attack, and that even the most benign aspects of life and popular culture are secretly, maliciously, attempting to undermine black confidence and success by seeding messages of denigration and degradation.That is what Johnson has been taught to believe, and now he is spreading the word. It doesn’t dissuade him that in all likelihood, there isn’t anyone connected to the ice cream business that ever heard of “Nigger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!,” nor anyone anywhere, black or white,who thinks about it, its parody lyrics or racist imagery when they hear the tune, any more than they think about Andrew Jackson. NPR, however, wants to change that, because it is the political and ideological ally of those whose power and influence depend on preserving the belief that racism isn’t waning in The U.S., but vigorous and pervasive—why, even the ice cream truck is sending racist messages! No wonder the President can’t make any progress!
This is obvious, tortured, contrived pop-psychology junk. It is also irresponsible and wrong. Occam’s Razor governs: the ice cream truck plays “Turkey In The Straw” because it is a cheery, recognizable, traditional American folk tune of long-standing. It wasn’t considered racist when it was first used by the trucks, and it absolutely isn’t racist today, long after anyone but government subsidized race-grievance manufacturers like Johnson know or care about an obscure use of the tune in a 1916 recording.
You know the next step, though, because it is so familiar. Some race-huckster like Al Sharpton—he was recently chosen to receive the “Man of the Year” award from the Los Angeles NAACP after they stripped Donald Sterling of the honor, which is so rich in hypocrisy and irony that it sets me into uncontrollable giggles—will seize on NPR’s piece, and organize a Good Humor boycott, and the weak and principle-free corporate executives will fold immediately, issue an apology, and change the tune played by the trucks to “We Shall Overcome,” Kumbaya, or, better yet, “Accidental Racist” by LL Cool J and Brad Paisley. Then “Steamboat Willy” will be declared racist as well, and in a few years, another scholar will explain that Mickey Mouse’s origins were also secretly racist. Disney, “The House of Mouse,” as well as its movies, iconic characters and theme parks, are all just part of the continuing, oppressive, white conspiracy to oppress blacks. No, U.S. racism isn’t waning, not at all. We’re just beginning to recognize it!
This is despicable, and depressing.
I need some ice cream