With summer upon us and as we all look forward to that familiar sound of the friendly neighborhood ice cream man coming by to sell us overpriced dairy products–as we watch our children flock to him to satisfy their appetite for something to offset the blistering heat of the day and as that iconic tune plays…wait, what is that tune called, anyway?
Oh, that’s right–”N*gger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” Wait, what? That’s right, folks–the song we all know and love–the one that signifies that frozen confections are on their way–is one of the most racist songs ever written! Released in 1916 by Columbia Records, the catchy tune plays on the “watermelon-eating” stereotype surrounding African Americans.
The melody itself is nearly as old as the country itself, adding racist lyrics to what was originally a 19th-century melody “Turkey in the Straw,” which was based on the traditional British song, “The Old Rose Tree.” In the late 1820s, lyrics were added and the song was retitled, “Zip Coon” and used in what right-wingers would call “traditional” blackface minstrel shows (because bigotry is a “traditional value, don’tchaknow?).
And thus, “N*gger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!” was born. The ice cream association was born soon after, as ice cream parlors regularly played the popular minstrel tunes of the day.
Does this mean that we should boycott ice cream? Probably not. It’s unlikely that your neighborhood ice cream guy, the children, or very many who encounter the tune even know its origins. Should we raise awareness of the issue? Most definitely! Ask your local ice cream guy to use a different song.
Tell people the origins of the familiar tune that has come to signify the arrival of the ice cream man. It is likely that your local provider of chilly treats will be so horrified that he or she will make a few changes on his or her own.