Sure, you can say, “It’s just a stupid ice cream song—quit overreacting.” But that’s exactly the fucking point. It’s the most benign, neutral thing I can think of. And this is part of its history (not even buried particularly deep)
So, this reminds me of a song that I was taught by my grandmother growing up. It was a racist song and I had NO IDEA. In fact, when I’d ask my mother what parts of the song meant, she’d obfuscate to avoid telling me the truth. For example, “Mama, what’s a darkie?” “Oh, honey, that’s just a child who is dirty because they are too poor to have running water.” Or, “Mama, what’s a pickaninny?” “Oh, baby, that’s a child who worked in fields picking cotton.”
Uh-huh. I see.
This all culminated one day in the third grade when our teacher offered us extra credit points to stand up and sing any song we wanted. Oh, yes…oh, yes, I stood up and sang this song. My teacher was HORRIFIED. And when I got to the middle of the chorus and messed up, and asked to start over, she was like, “Uh, no, how about you just sit down now.” I was mortified and thought it was because I can’t sing well (and I can’t). But when I told my mom about it later she just about died of embarrassment. Also, there was a black kid in the front row. LET ME TAKE A BOW NOW.
So, yes, the lesson of this story is, I guess, don’t let your mom teach your kids racist songs because then their teachers are gonna think you’re a racist. Also, for what it’s worth, I’m not teaching this song to my kid, obviously. But I still know every. single. word, and I still wish darkies were just dirty children. But…that’s not what it means and I offer up an apology to everyone offended by my childhood ignorance.
By the way, this is the song I sang, except in the version I learned, we said pickaninny instead of the n-word — apparently my Appalachian family had some limits when it came to racist terminology. POSSIBLE TRIGGER WARNING! THE N-WORD IS USED!:
Speaking of the n-word…my daughter and I were talking about the book Huckleberry Finn the other day and she was asking why some people wanted to ban it. The subject of the n-word came up and I was like, “Well, there’s this word in there that is very offensive, but it was used really regularly back then. What’s interesting, though, is that the book was one of the most important piece of literature for illustrating that humanity is the same no matter a person’s color, and the use of that word in the book was to help illustrate that lesson.”
“What word, Mom?”
“Uh, it’s, the, uh, n-word.”
“What’s the n-word?”
I looked at her little face and couldn’t bring myself to say it. “I can’t say it. It’s just really never okay to say it.”
“But how will I know what it is?”
“I’ll write it down.” I then looked at a piece of paper and the pencil and couldn’t even do that. “I can’t write it down either,” I said. I couldn’t hand a piece of paper to my beautiful seven year old with that word on it.
“But, Mom, how will I know what the word is?”
I almost answered, “That word should be forgotten.” But finally I realized that it’s still pervasive in different parts of our society and culture, she might hear it and repeat it after listening to some rap, for example. So I explained it by saying, “It sounds like the word bigger but has an ‘n’ on the front.”
She said, “Oh. Okay. I’ll never say it, Mom.”
And I was like, “Cool, because it’s worse than the f-word and it’s so insulting to people that it really just shouldn’t be said, okay?”
So…yeah. I couldn’t look into her beautiful face and say such a hurtful, awful word. It sucks so much that there are kids out there who hear it directed at them or their families. I hope some day that stops forever.