Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The "Nigger Problem"... definitely NOT what you might think!

No, it's actually a fascinating insight into the persistence of memes. You see, the Mau-Mau has been in two separate day-care spots now. And at one of them, somehow, she's picked up an old, old rhyme. I'm sure you know it:

Eenie meanie minie mo
Catch a nigger by the toe
If he squeals let him go
Eenie meanie minie mo

The first time Natalie and I heard that from the Mau-Mau, we both nearly choked. First, of course, neither of us uses the word 'nigger'. But second... it's really not part of the Australian vocabulary to any real extent. We've got plenty of racist terms of our own: "coon", "boong", "abo", "road-patch"... dozens more. 'Nigger' is a very rare part of the vernacular here, and it's never had the same pejorative qualities, the same explosive power that it does in the US. You can go a damned long time without seeing or hearing it here.

So... where the blazes did the Mau-Mau get it?

Of course, that wasn't our first thought. The first reaction was: how can we get her to change that without making a big fuss? She's three years old. She doesn't have any ability to understand the sort of thing she's saying, so innocently. But she's a cranky, rebellious three - and if we make a big to-do out of the word, she will save it up and start using it when she's angry, and wants to insult someone... and that's exactly what we don't want.

We've been gently urging her towards the "tiger" version of the rhyme -- simply interrupting her when she says "nigger", and telling her she got it wrong. Of course, she's been trying to tell us that we've got it wrong, and that her friend Xxxxxx who taught it to her (and who happens to be about six years old) definitely said "nigger". So we're telling her that Xxxxxx and the others have got it wrong too... and we'll keep on with that tactic until the Mau-Mau is old enough to understand concepts like racism.

But in the meantime... isn't it amazing that a thing like this rhyme lives on? It's not a rhyme adults teach their kids. It's a thing that goes from kid to kid to kid, sidling between generations a year at a time in schoolyards and kindergartens and playgroups. I've heard both my sons bring home from school stupid little rhymes that I recall from my childhood, and it continues to amaze and surprise me. The implication is that there's this... culture of childhood, this collection of verbal and somatic artifacts that travels between children, and pretty much only children, and it can persist more or less unchanged for decades. Maybe even longer.

Nat and I will eventually convince the Mau-Mau that there's no good in using the word "nigger" in her little rhyme. But by that time, more kids will have heard it, and memorised it, and passed it on to still more... and I suppose there will probably be small children trying to "catch a nigger by the toe" long after I'm dead.

Which is a weird thought.

Now... if you've noticed that posts around here are a bit infrequent these days, just take it that I'm flat out. Because it's true. I'm stealing time right now... should be cleaning, laundering, working with the boys, reading to the Mau-Mau, prepping dinner, practicing sword technique... Oh, yes, that last one: I've been upgraded to a live sword now. No more iaito work for me. I'm practising with a full length, full-weight, viciously sharp battlefield-style sword. Scary, but good fun as long as I stay well away from the kids and the dog. Zombies, beware!

Where was I? Oh yes. Sword practice. Writing -- half a dozen projects on the boil. And other stuff. Exercise. Paperwork. Endless. No time for much of anything. So I post here when I can.

In other news? Admire this cute image:

Note the hyper-trendy footwear. I found some cheap-ass dinosaur slippers at the local crapola store. Bought 'em, brought 'em home, told the Mau-Mau they were her new Godzilla Slippers. Instant response = one superdelighted child. She's been stomping around, roaring and destroying Tokyo ever since. Best four or five bucks I've spent in months...