Anti-Racist Action banner from Art Against Racism
Anti-Racist Action banner from Art Against Racism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I got a song in my head today: “Yes! We have no bananas.” I love the tune, and I thought I loved the song, so I listened to it on YouTube.

I quickly learned that this is a horribly racist song. People argue that it wasn’t racist in its time, or that you just have to understand the context – it’s somehow good-natured. The song deliberately makes fun of people who are different from the person who is singing the song. I can’t see how it’s anything but racist.

Now, I’m stuck with a tune that I enjoy and can’t get out of my head that is obviously racist. Listening to old songs and watching old movies are like that though. I remember a time that I was watching an old movie with my wife, and I hate old movies, but she said they were great, so there we were watching a movie that was 20 years older than us.

The men were terrible to the women. The kept telling them not to think, not to worry, and not to try to make decisions for themselves. The thing is – there was no obvious social justice going on, the women just ended up giving in. The moral of the story was do what the man says and you get a happy ending.

OK, full disclosure here – I’m a white male, but I hate oppressive crap, especially oppressive crap that is disguising itself under the pretense of art or entertainment.

Son of Sappho Diary, Writing for Fun , , , ,

8 Replies

  1. You need to stay home, turn off your tv, stay off the internet, don’t answer your phone or listen to any music. Otherwise, you may risk becoming offended.
    Better yet, why don’t you do something meaningful that probably will offend you for good reason. Volunteer at a homeless or women’s shelter.

    1. It’s pretty difficult to offend me, but based on your comment, you seem like the sensitive type. I’m sorry I somehow hurt your feelings, but I think racism should be called out. I do volunteer. How about you?

  2. Interesting comment and I had been wondering about the song myself. I came to look it up recently when I was looking at some of Nat King Cole’s work and read that it featured in his first public performance at the age of four – and I was really reminded of the melody of this song by Nat King Cole’s later recording of a Chilean folk song Yo vendo los ojos negros- which is problematic for different reasons

    I have seen two versions of the lyrics: one in which the fruit shop is run by “a Greek” and another in which the fruit guy’s name is Mr Peach

    I have only been able to find recordings of the second version by Louis Prima who I believe originally released the song.

    Whilst part of the song does imitate a “foreign” accent I also understand that Prima himself was the son of Sicilian immigrants- so hardly poking fun at people different from himself.

    On balance then I think you were right to ask whether the song was racist- but equally it’s fine to conclude that it isn’t – and so not at all problematic for you to keep humming it

    1. Thanks for your comment Rupert. I appreciate the thought and research that went into it. I definitely don’t want to overthink these things, as I’m never one to fight for political correctness, only for what is right.

      Whether right or wrong in this case, I won’t sing it, as I don’t like the idea of making fun of an accent, even if it did come from a fair and honest place. I also wouldn’t tell others not to sing it, but I think little things like this are always worth talking about.

  3. Back in the 60’s in London, my mum had one of her wedding photos published in the local paper. One of the comments on the photo read “Her mothers coat colour was Negro Brown” That wasn’t classed as being racist back then, probably the same for the lyrics of this song when it was written. Its only been the last 10-15 years people have kicked up a fuss about everything and calling every little minor slur as being racist.

    1. I think people want to be treated fairly, not like they don’t belong. There probably wasn’t a lot of articles referring to something as “blanco white.” I remember a move towards more inclusive language being a big part of the 90s. I would argue it’s been more like 30 years, which is about the average age of a human on planet Earth. I would call that a move towards permanent change and inclusiveness, rather than a fuss.

      1. I would have appreciated you reading the comments before telling me off. It has nothing to do with the bananas. It has everything to do with the potentially racist accent. Don’t tell someone to read when you clearly didn’t.

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