“Ten Little Niggers”: The Making of a Black Man’s Consciousness

“Ten Little Niggers”: The Making of a Black Man’s Consciousness

Tiffany M.B. Anderson
The Ohio State University

Abstract:

During Reconstruction in the 1860s, the proud Confederate states found themselves in a place of subordination.  Forced to concede their free slave labor, the former citizens of the Confederacy refused to fold their ideology of the inferiority of the freed slaves.  A “comic” song titled “Ten Little Niggers” circulated through the United States in Minstrel shows and children’s nursery rhyme books in keeping with this ideology.

This paper explores how the ballad shapes social and cultural race consciousness. While the purpose of its widespread popularity was to refute the competency and human qualities of the black freedmen to white audiences, the ultimate legacy that the rhyme leaves behind is the mental conditioning of following generations of black males. The white population who circulated the song intended to define the black freedmen as barbaric and ignorant, yet the song also connected the white-constructed definition of ‘nigger’ to the black man’s consciousness.

The United States was a nation undergoing destruction and reconstruction in the 1860’s. Towards the end of the Civil War, President Lincoln agreed to gesture the freeing of all African slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation. Even as they found themselves in a position of subordination, forced to concede their free slave labor for the Union’s promise to reconstruct their ruined lands and severed ties to the North, the former citizens of the Confederacy refused to compromise their ideology of the freed slaves’ inferiority. In fact, folklore developed to further propagate the belief of black inferiority. A “comic” song titled Ten Little Niggers circulated through the United States in minstrel shows and children’s nursery rhyme books typical of the proliferation of materials focused on the degradation of the African American race.

In this paper I am interested in how this song shapes social and cultural race consciousness. While the purpose of its widespread popularity was to refute the competency and human qualities of black freedmen to white audiences, the ultimate legacy of the minstrel song and nursery rhyme is the mental conditioning of black males. It is the essence of this mental conditioning that I hope to explore. The white population who circulated the song intended to characterize the black freedman as barbaric and ignorant, and the song also connected the white-constructed definition of ‘nigger’ to the black man’s consciousness.

The minstrel show was popular even before the Civil War, performed before audiences in both the North and the South. However, the shows’ materials changed once freedom was granted to the Negro slaves in the United States. Before the matter of freed slaves became a volatile issue, the typical minstrel show exhibited white men in black makeup performing song and dance exaggerated by lack of coordination and improper English, a style that became known as Jim Crow. After the Civil War, the stage opened itself up to new performers, recently freed slaves, willing to impersonate the impersonator. These performers, though already darker skinned, adhered to the minstrelsy tradition of blackface makeup. The tone of these black caricatures became less innocent and more damaging to blacks. The shows evolved from Jim Crow shows to coon shows, which focused on the wily nature of the freed slave. Black theater scholar Eric Lott notes that “the coon show was a mine of problematic racial representations, from razor-toting hustlers and gamblers to chicken-thieving loafers” (Lott 172). It is in the midst of these popular coon shows that the minstrel song Ten Little Niggers enters the stage. This comic song married the stereotypes of violence and ignorance of blacks in order to villanize freed black males while allowing the violence to be acted upon the black players of the song. I will focus on the following version of the rhyme for my analysis:

Ten little nigger boys went out to dine;
One choked his little self and then there were Nine.
Nine little nigger boys sat up very late;
One overslept himself and then there were Eight.
Eight little nigger boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.
Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.
Six little nigger boys playing with a hive;
A bumble bee stung one and then there were Five.
Five little nigger boys going in for law;
One got into Chancery and then there were Four.
Four little nigger boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.
Three little nigger boys walking in the Zoo;
A big bear hugged one and then there were Two.
Two little nigger boys sitting in the sun;
One got frizzled up and then there was One.
One little nigger boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were None.

Ten Little Niggers surfaced in two distinct genres: minstrel shows and children’s nursery rhymes. While the words usually remained the same in both genres, the audience varied greatly in age. The audience of the minstrel shows was typically white adult Americans indulging in the popular form of mainstream entertainment and, especially during this time, entertainment weighed heavily in the transmission of racial conditioning. While periodicals in Great Britain, for example, advertised the song as a comic song, the stereotypes created and spread through the largely popular genre of the minstrel show were anything but comic and in fact furthered the dehumanization of the recently freed black population (“The London Theatres”). The live performances of Ten Little Niggers in minstrel shows allowed the white audience to face a living manifestation of their fears in comic form. The act of chiding the black race became an empowering act of watching black or blackface performers denounce themselves in a public forum.

The appearance of the ballad in children’s nursery rhyme books represents the early racist indoctrination of children. When performed as a minstrel song, Ten Little Niggers serves as entertainment; when used as a nursery rhyme, Ten Little Niggers operates as education. Ten Little Niggers not only taught a child to count down from ten, it also presented the racial construction of the black population as ‘niggers’ with equal importance. Caricatures accompanied the reprinting of the song in the nursery rhyme books. The pictures varied from edition to edition, but all were grossly exaggerated cartoons of black males. In the first publication of 1875, made available by the McLoughlin Brothers, the cover shows the ten main characters dressed alike in sailor shirts and enjoying the music of the banjo that one of them plays (Martin 21, 22). Because the McLoughlin version of the book also includes the sheet music that accompanies the rhyme, “readers might assume that these characters are singing the story. In this case, they are celebrating their own demise” (Martin 21). The pictures support this analysis in that the characters remain smiling and laughing on each page. Though the many publications of the same rhyme boast different pictures, the basis of the characters remains the same. The “little niggers” are really men with the same face watching as each die violent, unusual, and, mostly, unnecessary deaths one by one. One of the only changes in the actual text in the children’s nursery rhyme comes with the final character. For nearly two decades, the last character dies just as the others had: sometimes he gets “frizzled up” in the sun, other times he hangs himself . In 1894, McLoughlin Brothers revised their commercial success so that the last “little nigger” marries. And while original copies of these nursery rhyme books are difficult to find in the United States, the skeleton of the nursery rhyme still exists in the education of American children. Ten Little Niggers became Ten Little Indians. Upon the race movements of American Indian people that contested the (mis)representations of American Indians in American folklore and contemporary culture, the nursery rhyme became Ten Little Soldiers.

It is easy to read the minstrel song today and recognize the stereotypes that are evoked. Black people eat and sleep with nothing else in their day; they senselessly participate in activities such as “playing with a hive” that common sense teaches most people is not a proper pastime; they prove burdensome to the legal system; they are, at best, lesser evolved creatures, closer to animal kind than mankind. These stereotypes live in the American consciousness today, but when the song was popularized, the racialized American psyche was still in the creation process. In addition, African Americans were processing understandings of self outside of the debilitating institution of slavery that rejected self-determined identities. The song taught white Americans how to view subjects that were previously objectified in the cloak of slavery and taught blacks how to view themselves through the perspective of white Americans.

Reading the historical song with a modern perspective, one finds a general analysis commonsensical. The stereotypes upon which the song depends appear trite, but there are several stanzas that require a closer analysis. The character who chooses to stay behind in Devon, for example, is not simply explained by a recognizable stereotype:

Eight little nigger boys travelling in Devon;
One said he’d stay there and then there were Seven.

The character’s status changes from tourist to immigrant within the two lines dedicated to his journey. The character’s resolution to stay in the English county alarmed the contemporary listeners of the song: the decision marks an invasion by black people of white land. The former slaves’ freedom to travel and freedom to choose threatened the white audiences’ comfort zone. Migration of black males was acceptable if for the sake of slavery, but the migration of black freed males suggested equality that white people of this time were not prepared to face.

The only character who performs labor in the ballad works himself to death:

Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks;
One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

It is significant that he is not doing the work typical of a field slave. If he were to die in a cotton field, the song’s attack against slave emancipation would fail. This stanza demonstrates the dangers of an ignorant, sub-human being with a weapon and operates as warning against hiring blacks and a verification of white people’s fears. The stanza advises against giving small tasks such as wood chopping to freed slaves. Through this caution, the economic status of freed slaves is threatened, especially considering that most employment opportunities for blacks during Reconstruction came from whites. Furthermore, the stanza reinforces the previous characterizations of black men carrying knives that were also popular in minstrel shows. Here, even a working tool in the hand of a ‘nigger’ becomes a weapon. This idea is complicated by the fact that the tool is a weapon against the carrier of the weapon. Self-inflicted injuries with the ax is not purposeful in this case which suggests that while the black man is dangerous, his incompetence makes for an even more frightening case: bloodshed results from both the violent intent and unintentional simple-mindedness.

The fourth “nigger boy” dies in the belly of a red herring:

Four little nigger boys going out to sea;
A red herring swallowed one and then there were Three.

The choice of fish here is key. The red herring carries multiple connotations. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a usage in the 16th century that notes the in-betweenness of the red herring: “they that are neither of both, but betwixt both, neither Fish nor Flesh, but plaine [sic] Red-Hearing” (OED). The in-betweenness of the red herring points to the in-betweenness of the black male. Whites struggled with naming blacks: they were neither animal nor human. The stanza also invites us to read the red herring in its common metaphorical use to reference distraction, specifically in allusion to the Civil War. Although constructed as a war about slavery, the Civil War played out with greater political and economic issues for both the Union and the Confederacy. Slavery and, consequently, the Emancipation Proclamation were mere diversions. When the red herring in the poem swallows the black man, he eliminates the diversion which allows attention to return to the larger issues at stake, state governance versus federal governance.

The third character to die is murdered by affection: a bear hugs him to death. This stanza recalls the question of humanity as it relates to the black male. The bear does not attack him or view him as a threat as he would a human being; rather the bear sees a likeness within the “little nigger.” The black male, therefore, receives a more affirming response in a zoo than he does in the world among humans.

The final death is a suicide:

One little nigger boy left all alone;
He went out and hanged himself and then there were None.

This character is the only out of the nine to die who dies purposefully instead of accidentally. The song points to the isolation of the last character as the reason for the suicide, yet the most significant detail of this final stanza is in how the “little nigger” chooses to die. He takes notice from the lynch law of the South and hangs himself. While this method of suicide might simply suggests an echo of the mistreatment of blacks in the Post-bellum South, I contend that this final character’s death demonstrates black adoption of white American perspective regarding black life and black death.

The song acts as a fantasy for those who enjoyed performances. While whites wondered what to do with the freed slaves, the song suggested that leaving them alone to destroy themselves was the best method. The comedic intent of the song seems haunting to today’s listener and encourages one to question the humor of nine deaths in ten stanzas. To better understand the humor, we can turn to a similar kind of dark humor in folklore: dead baby jokes. Alan Dundes explains, “the most obvious interpretation of the cycle would seem to be a protest against babies in general” (Dundes 154). This theory is quite applicable in our analysis of the song Ten Little Niggers. The cycle of the song serves as a protest against freed black men. As demonstrated in the song, the deaths all result due to the freedom of black men, and the song only surfaced in response to the freeing of slaves. The unspoken point behind the song is that nothing in the song would happen if the institution of slavery were still legal. Black men were needed for free labor in the Antebellum South and were controlled by white masters and, therefore, protected against themselves. To word it a bit differently, black male slaves were safe from themselves as was the rest of the world, specifically, and most importantly, white men and women.

Ten Little Niggers becomes one of the first clear definitions of nigger as a derogatory term. Originally, the negativity that ‘nigger’ evoked came from the tone and attached ideology of the person saying it. While value judgments might have existed within the first people who used the word ‘nigger,’ the original use of ‘nigger’ was merely to identify the new Africans on American soil:

Most lexicographers trace both words to “niger,” the Latin word for “black.” Some of them also contend that “nigger” was intended initially as a neutral term [ . . .] the word acquired a derogatory character over time, picking up various spellings along the way (Asim 10).

Although nigger carried negative connotations for those who used the word and for those who were called the word, the transformed understanding of what a nigger was remained undocumented until Ten Little Niggers clearly demonstrated the ignorance, slothfulness, and violence of black men that was once simply understood.

While the perpetuators of the song were mostly white, black people came to know the song as well. Perhaps black minstrels sung the tune at shows; young black children encountered the rhyme in magazines like St. Nicholas (Johnson-Feelings 134). The extraordinary transference of the stereotypes occurred once the term nigger, often used to address these freed blacks, was clearly defined. And the negative depiction of niggers that the song presented became real for the grossly misrepresented black male. According to scholar Barbara Christian in an interview found in the documentary Ethnic Notions, the stereotype becomes a part of one’s consciousness:

[People] believe these images because [they have] become [threads] throughout the major fiction, film, popular culture, the songs, even the jokes black people make about themselves. It has become a part of our psyche. It’s a real indication that one of the best ways of maintaining a system of oppression has to do with the psychological control of people.

Because white Americans saw black men as the “little nigger boys” in the song, the black men began to see themselves this way also. As Christian notes, “our lives are lived under that shadow [of these stereotypes] and sometimes, we then even come to believe it ourselves.” In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois introduces double-consciousness as a “peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amusement, contempt and pity” (Du Bois para. 3). Once this definition of nigger becomes real for black men, the black men mirror the definition represented within the song: black men begin to act out the slothfulness, ignorance and violence of the characters within Ten Little Niggers.

The freed black men were refused a consciousness previous to their emancipation. Everything that their ancestors knew was left behind in Africa because slave masters severed cultural connections. Toni Morrison suggests that for American white settlers, “the attraction was of the ‘clean slate’ variety, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not only to be born again but to be born again in new clothes” (Morrison 34). For the African slaves, the clean slate was forced upon them and the choosing of what would be wrought on the new slate was not their own. Due to the explosion of nigger representations in the Reconstruction Era of America, the nigger mentality soiled the clean slate of freed men searching for a new identity. Once freedom presented itself, the black males’ identity remained dangerously in the hands of white Americans, and the white Americans decided black men would be niggers.

Bibliography:

Asim, Jabari. 2007. The N Word: Who Can Say it, Who Shouldn’t, and Why. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Christian, Barbara. 1987. Ethnic Notions. Dir. Marlon Riggs. California Newsreel.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 1903. “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” The Souls of Black Folkhttp:// www.bartleby.com/114/1.html. (Accessed 28 February 2009)

Dundes, Alan. 1979. “The Dead Baby Joke Cycle.” Western Folklore 38:3, pp. 145-157.

Johnson-Feelings, Dianne. 1997. “Children’s and Young Adult Literature.” The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Eds. William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lott, Eric. 1997.  “Minstrelsy.” The Oxford Companion to African American Literature. Eds. William L. Andrews, Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Martin, Michelle H. 2004. Brown Gold: Milestones of African-American Children’s Picture Books, 1845-2002. New York: Routledge.

Morrison, Toni. 1992. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Vintage Books.

“Red Herring.” Oxford English Dictionary. http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50200095 (Accessed 1 March 2009)

“Ten Little Niggers.” 14 August 2006. http://www.everything2.com/index.pl?node_id=1075518. (accessed 1 March 2009)

“The London Theaters” 1868.  The Era (London, England), Sunday, September 6, 1868; Issue 1563. (2909 words)

Tiffany M. B. Anderson (M.A., Southern Methodist University) focuses on U.S. Ethnic Literatures including African American and Latino/a literatures of the 20th and 21st centuries. Her presentations and forthcoming publications focus on double-consciousness as a phenomenon of ethnic literatures, on black male consciousness, and on suicide.

Advertisements

40 thoughts on ““Ten Little Niggers”: The Making of a Black Man’s Consciousness

  1. This work is the racist rantings of the sick minded Agatha Christie. Just to know that African Americans, as a race of people, have overcame this too is a testament to their greatness. This Great nation’s President is a black man. Black people comport themselves as dignified, intelligent, loyal and caring. It is a known fact among Black people that this work is racist, and in today’s environment is used, not as a piece of literature, but for the grandisement of racist, ignorant white people. On the world stage Black people are viewed in a much different and favorable light. More important, Black people, knowing their own achievements, view themselves as important contributors, as well as stakeholders in every facet of society. Black people have traveled a very long way in a relative short span of time. For some White people, this fact is intimidating to them, therefor knowing the gap is still closing, they will never acknowledge it.

  2. Thank you so much for your comment and your interest in my article. One of the most significant reasons I chose to write on “Ten Little Niggers” was because the earliest forms (minstrel song and nursery rhyme) is rarely discussed while Agatha Christie’s 1939 publication is often considered the origination of the poem/song/nursery rhyme. As I suggest in my article, the song influenced post-Reconstruction America with cultural significance. While people typically focus on the proliferation of racist ideology that comes with this song’s existence, I think it is equally important to consider how this damning song affected the black consciousness as well. I am presently considering these issues in my current project _Power to the People: Identity Self-Determination in Black and Chicano Movement Literature_ in which I posit that ethnic people in America only view themselves through the perspective of white Americans until race movements and literatures of those movements encourage these groups to create ethnic identities independent of white American influence.
    “Ten Little Niggers” is definitely a part of our American folklore archives although people try to sweep difficult materials such as this under the proverbial rug. And, I absolutely agree, that the song functions as a dangerous tool in the hands of “racist, ignorant white people.” However, I also feel that in the hands of a burgeoning scholar (or, more specifically, a black female scholar interested in black consciousness) “Ten Little Niggers” might provide insight as to how we understand identity formations in a crucial period of our nation’s history.

  3. FYI…Much to my horror, my 12 year old daughter came home with this poem in her notebook, it had been a handout sheet from her english teacher. She attends a predominately all white school in Virginia. I thank you for this article as it will be incorporated in my “response” to the school board.

  4. I really appreciate this analysis as I had just emailed my 7th grader’s reading teacher who had assigned this book as mandatory reading. I think he must have read the contemporary very cleaned up version of oh old Agatha was writing about little soldier boys–how perfectly nice what bull sh-*)^%. Somehow our version we bought this summer had the indian boy reference along with sneaky jew and Ni**ers in wood piles-So Only partially cleaned up. So when my son balked at reading it I concurred. Your analysis has further emboldened me. I think if his teacher doesn’t quite understand I’ll send him a link to your page. Thanks so much

  5. It’s a shameful thing that “10 Little Indians” is lauded or that it even survives. Nonetheless, I would point out that most people disagreed with the horrible treatment of Blacks, Indians, Chinese, etc. The majority in power (Whites) were the ones who passed the laws to bring equality. And finally, although slavery was used extensively by Whites against Blacks, it is an inescapable truth that it did not begin as a racial vehicle. The very first slave in America was a Black man, but the very first slave owner was also Black. It was bad people who did the bad things. It was not the color. That was only the excuse.

  6. this was very informing. my teacher came in the room singing the song and asked us to recite the song to her and write it 14 times on a peice of paper. i attend a mainly white school. there are 2 african american people in my class. they were very, very offended by this act. i, and my friend were asked to write a 10 page essay on why rascim should be allowed! i am deciding to write about why it is wrong. i think the actions of my teacher was very very cruel and immature. please tell me what u think

  7. First I want to thank you Tiffany for placing this online. I am putting together a speech for class on the negative effects and the use of the N word. And why we need to not glorify this word because or its origin. It’s only a 10 minute speech but it was hard for me to obtain online the correct lyrics. So thank you and stay inspired and continue to educate and inform.

  8. The need for change is always in the past, the ability to change is always in the present and the hope for change is always in the future, I hope the racism and sexism and all the isms in the United States of America will be fuel the need to change for the future!-Born to do battle, drafted at birth!-Michael E. McKinzy, Sr.-11-24-2010

  9. I would just like to say, if my child came home from school with the assignment of learning this poem/song I would be mortified. I can’t even imagine.
    I would like to say however that when Mrs. Lawes says that “This work is the racist rantings of the sick minded Agatha Christie.”, it leaves me a bit confused. This article never mentions the book, which was written well after the song was in wide circulation. It should also be pointed out that the song from which the book title was based was not in reference to Black Americans, but rather Indian (as in from India) and Pakistanis. This doesn’t take away from any of the effects the song had here in the States, but it was not written by white American’s about Black Americans. It was a British work, written about those with dark brown skin. Look at the song itself, Devon is in England, and Chancery is a very Brittish term. Again, this does nothing to change the effect it had on American society. I am only suggesting that from an academic perspective, the song should be reexamined through a different point of view. This is touched on in deconstructing stanza three where it is stated that the “character’s resolution to stay in the English county alarmed the contemporary listeners of the song”. This was about the immigration of Middle Eastern peoples into England, yet this article makes it seem as if it were written about freed slaves. The fourth stanza doesn’t advise “against giving small tasks such as wood chopping to freed slaves”, as it was never written about slaves. As for the final verse and the sole surviving little nigger, the article states that “He takes notice from the lynch law of the South and hangs himself.” This is a complete misrepresentation, as “He” was not a Black American. Again, the importance of this article to me is the effects this song had on America. I have no doubt but that the effects postulated in this article are accurate and would hate to think them discounted because of less than full disclosure.

  10. Hi, Mrs. Anderson
    I have just finished a book with the title: “Ten Little Niggers – Zehn kleine Negerlein. Racism in Children’s Books. A German Point of View”. Your article was very helpful for me for the interpretation of the scenes. Before I offer the manuscript to a publisher in UK/USA I would give it to an expert like you. If you are interested and can read it within a month I would be happy to get a feedback from you and the opportunity to correct wherever it is necessary. Pleas answer
    Wulf S-W. University of Hanover (GER)
    Deptm. of Edu

  11. I have this book from 1894. It was left to me by my grandmother and I have kept it hidden from my children for years. I have the version that the tenth negro marries. I would like to sell, donate. I do think it is an Important part of history. Thank you, Carol S. Baker

  12. i’d like to say that you are all a bunch of immature idiots. if people offended by racism cant get over slavery and racism then why should the rest of the world forget about it. many of you stated that ‘white people’ were ignorant or racist. that they were bad people. you talk about equality and anti-racism. well hello you’re being racist. you’re stereotyping ‘white people’ and paving the road for racism. the only way to get through racism is by forgiving and forgeting. look at martin luther king jr. he worked for equal rights by understanding ‘whites’ and explaining his point of veiw. he didnt use violence. he didnt put down so called whites. no. he reached the hearts of peole of all races with his words. i say this because racism is a part of my life. im not black or aisian or mexican. and it doesnt matter. all that does matter is that im human.

    IF YOU FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE YOU GET A BIGGER FIRE> FIGHT FIRE WITH WATER WHO DO YOU THINK WILL WIN.

    use love not hate

  13. Ten guilty crackas crin’ all datime
    A nigga camen et one dender was nine.

    Oh the HORROR.
    Does anyone here take any of this seriously or believe these ancient harmless relics of a long gone age are being taught in government schools today?
    If so get over it.
    We recently elected a black guy president.

  14. Dear Ameicans, please, at least have the decency to leave Agatha Christie out of this. Stop embarrassing yourselves. Ignorance and political correctness has already made your once great nation the laughing stock of the rest of the civilised world. Honestly, you can buggerize the English language all you want within the US borders but do you have any idea how much impact your politically correct lunacy is having on the rest of the English-speaking world? Hasn’t English suffered enough?! Thank god other languages, as far as I’m aware, aren’t subjected to this king of butchery. At least not to this extend.
    You preach tolerance yet you insist on censoring classics thus displaying mind-numbing narrow-mindedness. You claim to be purveyors of equality and fairness yet, in the 21st century you still insist on viewing the world through a prism of race and gender. Recently, Apple censored an app for an Australian TV show called “Spicks and Specks” – a music quiz show of some sort… Americans did not invent the English language and I couldn’t care less what the word Spick has morphed into in the American vernacular. Or the word “hoe” for that matter. My hoe is made of wood and metal. Here (in Australia) people are starting to refer to stewardesses as flight attendants, toilets – as bathrooms, chairmen – as chairs., etc. Luckily, we can still order a black coffee – and call it… a black coffee. I’m not Anglo Saxon or even a native English speaker but this cultural (in this case – linguistic) imperialism, arrogance and IGNORANCE upsets me to no end.
    If the author is so concerned with mental conditioning of the oppressed black male, may I draw her attention to the ugliest cultural(?) phenomenon ever to be spawned by her country. It’s called hip hop.
    Now I hear they are planning to cut smoking scenes out of old Disney cartoons (I hope I hallucinated this rumour). I digress. Maybe I’ve had one joint too many tonight. Speaking of which, who came up with the idea of criminalising pot? Aaaah… never mind.
    Farewell.

  15. I invite you all to see the beauty of the poem as well.
    As in any form of hypnosis one counts from 10 to 0 in order to come in contact with ones soul. Judging is something only the mind can, the mind indeed minds, that’s why we call it mind. The soul is the greatest force to hypnotize a human being and can only operate out of pure, unconditional love for the benefit of the whole, in all times, under all circumstances, without exception.
    Even if the nursery rime was intended to condition kids minds that there is such thing as superior and therefor inferior races, it will completely miss its effect since the connection with the pure soul and the real truth makes one realize we’re all one. And we have an ego and image, we are not that, we have thoughts and feelings, we are not them. Who we think we are is just who we think we are, who we are is who we are.

    All is perfect, we don’t see the world as it is, we see the world as we choose to think we believe it is, we see the world as we are.
    Life is a miracle, and a divine plan, thanks for being alive, you’re all right, all the time, and please share your knowledge and insights with everyone we might benefit from it.

  16. Hello Mrs Anderson,

    I’m currently studying a degree in Media in London, UK. I have recently finished writing my Thesis based primarily on the book and racism in children’s literature in general. Your article was very helpful and a key source in the analysis of the rhymes and illustrations. I have also read Prof. Dr. Wulf Schmidt-Wulffen “Ten Little Niggers – Zehn kleine Negerlein. Racism in Children’s Books. A German Point of View.”- In which I discovered the reference to your article. I grew up in Germany during the 1990s, and in fact my family read the book to me, and it was available in the children’s section of the local library. I’m currently working on a script for a screenplay around the same subject area and if you’re interested I would be happy to receive your feedback or involvement.
    I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon.

    Kind regards

  17. I can clearly see the effects of the rhyme in the comments that have already been posted. The author of this well thought-out article has made an accurate construct of the effects the rhyme has had on generations of black and white people. The effect is obvious to anyone that has seriously observed the generational behavior of a majority of black males in this country…she accurately called it for what it is..and has been since the introduction of this obvious tool of racism.

    To those that commented that the accuracy of the origin of this rhyme should be highlighted as not being white people….that is a defensive position that you have taken to shed some of the shame that has been provoked, in your conscious, because of the truth of its effectuality as a racist tool.

    Some responded that blacks should concentrate on practicing love and not bringing-up the effacacy of this rhyme as one of the root-causes of the divisive environment that exists in America today. They want us to just forget hundreds of years of dehumanizing abuse at the hands of an insensitive task-master….that kind of mass forgiveness seems to be so distant in our future, because of the disparity in the current social & economic landscape of this country, and that is why the attitudes of unforgiveness seem to perpetually linger and loom over the heads of “All Americans”. Also, most of the rhetoric in the rhyme is still being actively perpetuated on all levels of institutionalized education in many states in this country….under the ‘guise of historically valuable literature.

    I believe that the only viable answer to bridging the social, cultural, & economic gaps that divide us is: “Love & Serve The Lord as He has loved and served us; and, love and serve one-another as He has loved & served us”. Although my assertion might sound “preachy”, it is non-the-less true. We, as a nation will never be able to describe ourselves as a nation of God-loving & God-living people until we start living-the-part. We have lost our spirit-selves, and we continue to apply the same old ineffective salve to an ever increasing sore that has eaten away at our flesh….all the way to-the-bone.

    Black people & other minorities: Stop crying pity-party and “do” something about the wretchedness that has been allowed to live and thrive in our mindal-makeups. Let us educate our progeny to search for & apply answers that will change the way that we see “ourselves”….for that is what really counts. White People: Stop making excuses for you forebearers and their iniquity; and, if your are going to enjoy the benefits of their iniquitous actions, then “you” have to share in the responsibility of correcting the obvious imbalance. Be either hot or cold…but stop being a politically-correct luke-warm. People, as long as we identify ourselves by race, then there will always be several Americas.

    The very first thing that we should do is identify ourselves as “one” race…..”AMERICAN”.

  18. @ Eddie Mims

    I’m sure you didn’t mean “Ten Little Niggers” was the sole cause of racism, etc. when you spoke of “…the effects the rhyme has had on generations…”. And I didn’t see any comments claiming the origins of this rhyme to be anything other than “white people”. So I’m not sure who was being defensive, and if the claim was made (I may have missed it), how do you know it was a white person making it. That says more about your state of mind than it does anything else. As to your assertions that religion will somehow fix everything, not only is this not accurate, it’s impossible. Do you really expect to convert everyone in the USA to chritianity? Your last paragraph is my favorite, it sounds very nice.
    But how do we accomplish this?

  19. Obviously, this poem meant different things to different people. Prior to the Information Age, slang words could mean different things depending upon when and where you lived at that time.

    Even if the word “nigger” carried the same racial connotations that it carries today, it pales in comparison to the racist filth, that is so prevalent in today’s “hip hop” music.

    If we really want to conquer racism lets focus on the present and the future instead of rehashing the past.

  20. Eddie Mims said,
    >>”The very first thing that we should do is identify ourselves as “one” race…..”AMERICAN”.<<

    I'm sorry, but that doesn't make any sense. As long as America is inhabited by people with different skin colors, how can we be the same race?

    When you fill out a job application, there is usually a question that asks about your race and you must check one of several boxes: 1) White, 2) African-American, 3) Hispanic, 4) Asian, 5) Other. I'm sorry, but I've yet to see an application where one of the choices for race is "American".

    Although "America" is historically a melting pot of different races and nationalities", the word "race" is not synonomous with "nationality".

  21. i.m. wrote,
    >>Honestly, you can buggerize the English language all you want within the US borders but do you have any idea how much impact your politically correct lunacy is having on the rest of the English-speaking world? <<

    Well said!

  22. Hannah,
    It sounds like your teacher is a racist. While I applaud you for taking a stand, you should go even further and report her actions to the state and/or your local newspaper.

    Actually, I find it hard to believe that a school teacher could be so stupid to actively and openly encourage racism.

  23. When I was in school, two of my favorite books were Mark Twain’s “Tom Sawyer” and “Huckleberry Finn”. Although the word “nigger” is used in these books, I never considered it to be “racist”. Tom and Huck were just following the social convention and no malice was directed toward the slave Jim.

    I’m shocked when I hear people talk about Mark Twain as if he was a racist just because he wrote a book that was using language that was perfectly acceptable for his day and time. By banning books like these I think we are teaching our kids the wrong message. I certainly don’t think these books are racist nor do I think most Americans that grew up prior to 1970 were racists.

  24. No black person who has ever been called a nigger and has felt the contempt which is invested into the word has any doubt about the effectiveness of its use, and its power to influence and divide america.

  25. It seems that Eddie Mims may have misinterpreted my earlier post. Eddie said:

    “To those that commented that the accuracy of the origin of this rhyme should be highlighted as not being white people….that is a defensive position that you have taken to shed some of the shame that has been provoked, in your conscious, because of the truth of its effectuality as a racist tool.”

    I object to my post being characterized as defensive. The reason I address the origin of the poem was, I thought, quite clear. The author of this piece, Tiffany M.B. Anderson, seems to have done this as an academic endeavor. If that is the case I would expect accuracy to be desired, if not demanded. The article portrays the poem as being written by white Americans about black Americans. It was not. Several of her points are not valid. Take for instance what she had to say here:

    “The only character who performs labor in the ballad works himself to death:

    Seven little nigger boys chopping up sticks;
    One chopped himself in halves and then there were Six.

    It is significant that he is not doing the work typical of a field slave. If he were to die in a cotton field, the song’s attack against slave emancipation would fail. This stanza demonstrates the dangers of an ignorant, sub-human being with a weapon and operates as warning against hiring blacks and a verification of white people’s fears. The stanza advises against giving small tasks such as wood chopping to freed slaves.”

    This was not written about or in reference to field slaves, freed slaves, or any other type of slave. The issue raised of dying in a cotton field is absurd, there were no cotton fields in England. This wasn’t originally written about, by, or for Americans.

    Was it interpreted by Americans as being about former slaves? Almost certainly.

    My statements don’t address the propriety of the treatment of freed slaves, or any of their generations of descendants, and I certainly don’t defend it. This is purely done as a call to be factually correct.

    If the paper had focused only on the interpretation of the poem by Americans it would be far more accurate, but to ascribe incorrect meaning to the poem calls into question many of the other statements made in the article. If the basis is fallacious, what else may be as well?

  26. Well there is “nigger” and “nigga”. Within the last few decades “nigger” is a rascist word but “nigga” is not. Nigga is used by black people(which I believe I might be politically incorrect by saying black people but I am not sure anymore) to identify each other and when used by black people its not rascist.

  27. I read the entire paper. It was well written if not completely accurate as explained in Riley’s comments. I also read all of the replies. I’m impressed with the life this paper written in 2009 has taken on. My response:

    1. The paper was written to an American audience and should be taken as such..so the offended Australian does not need an apology but might want to invest in that thick skin he or she values so much. I love the American English language…you are free to love whatever language you speak as well.
    I’m not offended by it.

    2. I did enjoy Riley’s comments especially because they were well thought out and factual and not motivated by anger or determination to silence black rage as other comments attempted to do. Hate is hate and the poem was motivated by hate regardless of who the object of the hate was.

    3. As an ‘of age’ black woman in America I no longer give a crap about white people’s ideas of who I am or how I should feel about generations of slavery, rape, oppression, slander, or their hatred for the very fact of my existence. I don’t care if they like hip hop, rap or R&B. I don’t care because they are not factors in my choices. I also no longer care if I am black enough for either side of the American equation. I love country music, Josh Groban, and 50 cent. Anything I don’t enjoy I don’t spend my money on.

    4. If any teacher gave out that poem in my child’s school there would be hell to pay in the form of political action. I don’t care about it’s historical significance I care about my child being told to respect another’s RIGHT to call her nigger. No one has that RIGHT unless I have a right to then inflict bodily harm on that person…which I don’t.

    5. I still love the book ‘And then there were none.’ And I will call it that because I am not a woman born in the late 1800s and raised in ignorance. But I am an avid reader who gloriously read this book under the above title and never knew of its sordid history. Agatha Christie was a white British woman very much affected by the time in which she lived. I could care less about her terminology because I can choose to read the versions of her books with much of her colorful terms weeded out. Or not…again she’s dead and white and she doesn’t define who I am.

    I was actually lead to this page while searching for a list of her titles. Once I saw the original title of the book and the note that it was originally a British nursery rhyme. I had to know more before I made any judgement beyond my initial repulsion. In fact the rhyme IS repulsive and in the end I’m glad to now have a fully formed opinion on that matter.

    6. The fact that we have a black president is wonderful and incredible in light of this countries horrifying history and current racial state. That however, does not indicate we are doing well. The media, the Republican majority and many many Americans find it perfectly acceptable to insult our president by choosing first to call him everything BUT president. Second they have no problem ‘correcting’ him and insulting him in ways no white president has ever been insulted by either party. Third his installation spawned the tea party…a party full of hate and inflated egos. People who believe that whiteness equals American. Guess what people? Change isn’t coming its already here. The election of a black man opened the eyes of all minorities. There is more to life than excepting the status quo. Black, White, Latino, Native American, or Asian – we all have a voice so lets use them to grow our world. Those of us who know our own worth and don’t need to be told – speak up. And remember you have the right to love who you are but you don’t have the right to devalue someone else in the process.

  28. I found this by accident. It is utter tosh.
    When I was little the Black and White Minstrels were on TV. No one was afraid of them and they were very popular.
    When I was very little I had a Golliwog. He was loved. To interpret these scenarios as a continuation of the dislike of dangerous and untrustworthy sub-human savages (to crudely condense the gist of the above paper ) is simply wrong. The paper does express the zeitgeist, but ignores the broad reality of history.
    To decry these things is to elevate paranoia to a virtue and is going beyond marginally insane.
    To over analyse trivia to the nth degree is to result in complete inaccuracy and woeful misinterpretation.
    Nursery rhymes may reflect times and attitudes but they are distorting mirrors, and snapshots not cut from the whole cloth to mix a few metaphors.

  29. When i read some comments i realise that the same brainwashing from the poems, used first in England, it being the seat of the perpetrator, is also prevalent in the “Love conquers all”, and “blacks owned slaves too” mantras spouted by those who just do not get it.
    The love conquers all mantra is just that, a mantra to keep you in check and stop you attacking those who attack you every day since then and now. Do you not see that all our love to those who attack us is keeping them safe? WOW. Arm and battle it where ever it rears it’s head, and you will soon see a change.
    Now to “blacks owned slaves too”. Of course they did. You already know that many followed the practices of the slave master, look at today, what do you see? Many black doing just that. But how can you want to shield the atrocities done by white people to black people across the whole world. You obviously do not know the half of it. At this very moment blacks are being killed by other blacks under the mind control of whites, like you are too, they probably spouted the same thing, blacks killed blacks, so i’m alright.
    The melanin is extracted to make medicines to help protect the Albinos(white) from the SUN, which has increased it’s Magnetic/Electric frequency and is BURNING up the Albino. “hell fire” you could call it if you are religious, and that should be one of the signs you need to see/hear to leave the prison of religion. Wake up please. I can tell you this because i remember with dread when i said exactly the same things you do.

  30. I was brought up in the 50s in England, we used to choose who was going to be ‘it’ for games with the rhyme ‘eeny meeny miney mo, catch a n***** by his toe but I can assure you we had no idea what the word meant and did not associate it with black people or have any racist ideas ‘indoctrinated’ into us, at least not in my world. We also had gollywog toys, again they were just something to do with a doll you got from collecting tokens on jam, we didn’t think they were anything to do with black people, and the word ‘negro’ was just a term of description, just like ‘caucasian’, it only became unacceptable years later.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s