[Dixielandjazz] Re: Minstrel Shows

Bill Gunter jazzboard at hotmail.com
Mon Nov 17 17:50:44 PST 2003

Hi Listmates,

It's not correct to assume that any given word carries the same semantic 
load today that it did some given number of generations back.  Just check 
the word "gay" for a perfect example.

The word "nigger" is considered today the most loaded word in our lexicon. 
It's even worse than the usual pantheon of 'bad' words (the sexual "fuck", 
the blasphemous "God Damn" and the excretory "shit). It's also interesting 
to note that the "nigger" word is not among the three categories (sexual, 
blasphemous or excretory) but it is still considered the worst epithet one 
can utter in civilized and polite society today.

Furthermore, it's also interesting to note the word is in widespread and 
general use among blacks, especially young, 'with-it' blacks such as 
gangsta-rappers, etc. Apparently it is not that big a "no-no" among certain 
groups. Even though the big three obscenities (sexual/blasphemous/excretory) 
are semantically loaded wherever one encounters them, not so with the 

I have in my possession a fake book (not that old) in which the song "That's 
Why Darkies Were Born" appears. The text goes as follows:

Someone had to hoe the cotton
Someone had to chop the corn
Shout "halleluja" to all God's children
That's Why Darkies Were Born . . .  etc.

This song was considered sympathetic rather than demeaning at the time of 
publication. Today ain't nobody gonna sing that sucker at a jazz festival!

The prevailing concept in those more innocent times seemed to be a sort of 
benign acceptance of blacks which were worthy of white's protection.

These were innocent attitudes which were not considered to be particularly 
vicious. These attitudes were, of course, racist and they were also, of 
course, major obstacles to blacks achieving full respect and citizenship in 
the contemporary society. BUT . . . please don't think that the "nigger" 
word contained the same knee jerk reaction in 1903 that it does in 2003!

If you look at early 20th century language with early 21st century eyes you 
will be led astray.

Respectfully submitted,

Bill "No Racist" Gunter
jazzboard at hotmail.com

Concerned that messages may bounce because your Hotmail account is over 
limit? Get Hotmail Extra Storage! http://join.msn.com/?PAGE=features/es

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list