At this point, it feels like these people are just messing with us.
But they’re not.
It’s a cultural revolution and the whole entire culture is going to be pulled apart.
Back in June, Good Humor ice cream’s Instagram account made an unusual departure from the normal items about new frozen treats. Instead, viewers saw a post about the racist history of popular ice cream truck jingles. Notably, “Turkey in the Straw,” a melody that — despite a long, racist past — has piped through the speakers of ice cream trucks and into American neighborhoods for decades.
And, Good Humor said, it wanted to do something about it.
That “something” has taken the form of a collaboration between Good Humor and Wu-Tang Clan’s singer, musician and producer RZA to create a new jingle. The brand, owned by Unilever, made the announcement on Thursday that it’s helping drivers learn about the racist roots of “Turkey in the Straw” and how to replace the music box in the truck that plays it.
Good Humor hasn’t actually operated any trucks since 1976, explains Russell Lilly, a senior director at the company, but wanted to be “part of the solution.”
Code Switch dove into the song’s racist history in a blog post by Theodore R. Johnson III back in 2014. As he explained, “Turkey in the Straw” is a 19th century folk song that riffs on an Irish fiddle song, “The (Old) Rose Tree.” Depending on the version you listen to, the lyrics change a little bit every time, but are generally nonsensical.
But it wasn’t until the advent of traveling minstrel shows that the melody really lodged itself into American pop culture — and the tune acquired racist lyrics. In the 1830s, the minstrel performer George Washington Dixon popularized a song called “Zip C**n,” set to the familiar tune and referencing a blackface character who, as Johnson wrote, was “the city-slicker counterpart to the dimwitted, rural blackface character whose name became infamous in 20th century America: Jim Crow.”
And as those lyrics make clear, it’s a cruel caricature of a free Black man trying to join white society by “dressing in fine clothes and using big words,” Johnson wrote. (We won’t write out the exact lyrics; you can find them for yourself here.)
In 1916, Columbia Records released an even more racist version, called “N*gger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!,” written by vaudeville actor Harry C. Browne. You can listen to it here, if you must, but be warned — it uses the n-word a lot.)
If we analyzed this beyond “destroy everything,” we’d come to the conclusion that they believe that “racism” has a kind of magic power. No one knew that the ice cream song has a “racist history,” but playing it hurt black people, subliminally.
That’s probably too deep.
Really, they are just on the march, looking for any aspect of the traditional American culture they can tear down, and they’re digging up any excuse they can find.
After this stuff is gone, it won’t ever come back. If you take the ice cream song from kids, and give them the Rza version, they will grow up with that instead.
But hey – kids aren’t going to be eating any ice cream from a truck in Virus World anyway.
Might be a good thing.