White Noise


Auntie Jo came back from gymnastics class yesterday and told me in horror that the background music had included a song with the lyrics:

Mammy’s little baby loves short’nin’, short’nin’,
Mammy’s little baby loves short’nin’ bread.

I told her that I was sure she was wrong. The lyrics are, “Mama’s little baby…” Right? Everyone knows that song. But I googled it just to be certain. Sure enough, “Short’nin’ Bread” is an antebellum slave children’s song, the lyrics of which made my toes curl.

Auntie Jo asked three other mothers if they heard it, too, just to be sure. They all agreed with her. But it’s interesting to me, that Jo was the only one who noticed it in the first place. Tariku’s gymnastics class is in a not-exactly-diverse area of Pasadena and for the rest of the moms there, the song was just white noise. None of them seemed phased by the fact that their kids were learning somersaults while a folk remnant of the atrocity of slavery played in the background. It’s not that they were engaging in active racism, but overlooking can also do damage. How are we to change things if we don’t even notice they’re there? I’m pretty sure that I’m the only mom who called and complained.

More white noise… As you can see above, Tariku’s strong man costume included a shirt that looked like a chest with muscles. Well, I had to transform it by sewing brown stretch nylon over the top of it, lest this go down in history as the Halloween that I dressed T as a strong white man. It’s impossible to find a “flesh” colored costume made for a child of color. Here’s the before pic.


Honestly, I’ve walked through a million costume stores in my life and never noticed that white is the only skin color represented. I’m sure I’ve passed by thousands of worse representations of racism and committed the sin of not being aware, of allowing injustice to be white noise. I’m committed now to turning up the volume on it.

11 thoughts on “White Noise

  1. I appreciate your title of “White Noise.” I also appreciate Auntie Jo not letting the noise block the reality. Also? I appreciate your calling and putting a voice to a problem. And finally? That costume is beautiful- and so is the boy within it. Well done….

  2. The fact that you had to alter T’s strong man suit because they only came in white just sticks in my craw. I love that you did it, but what a sad reality for our kids. I remind myself that the world is changing, and it is, but there is still such a long way to go.

  3. As I was singing shortnin’ bread to my kids as we baked a cake, I decided they needed to hear a version with a real singer, and came across your blog. I am sorry that anyone feels that “mammy” is a bad word or politically incorrect. My mama was born in 1916 and sang me the same songs as a child that her “mammy” sang to her out of love. https://youtu.be/Gru39_DG0Cw

  4. And I s’pose shortnin’ bread is what she called hot water cornbread. There’s nothing but love & good vibes in this song. My mama cooked shortnin’ bread.

  5. If you’ve got a problem with the history of an antebellum song about a sweet bread, you should probably avoid “Ring Around the Rosy,” which is about the black death. Personally, I think it’s just a children’s song about a treat and not really racially charged; children’s music spans a huge amount of history, some of it unsavory, and should be dealt with accordingly.

    • Thank You for the clarity. I get tired of the racial accusations tossed around so freely without knowledge. Everyone, EVERYONE deals with comments and issues which offend them!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *