Innocent Hand Clap or Racist Song?

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“Mom! Want to see something?” my eight-year old asks. She gets off the counter stool and stands, waiting.

I finish unscrewing the vitamin lid, “Okay, what?”

“It goes, ‘I went to a Chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread . . .'”

Her hands clap and pat her legs as she continues singing.

“’. . . punch you in the body, oops I’m sorry, don’t tell my mommy, Chinese, Japanese.’”

She stops for a second. “This is the part I can’t really do. You’re supposed to do this to your eyes,” she explains as she pulls the skin at the outside corner of her eyes. She looks at me expectantly.

I’m stunned.What the heck do I say?

“Umm . . .,” I say, stalling for time.

More silence. Be calm. Do not get mad. Breathe.

I try a question. “So, what do you think about that eye thing? What if you were a Chinese or Japanese person? What would you think about that?”

My daughter looks confused. “Uh, . . . it’s mean?” she asks.

“Well, probably,” I answer. “I think you’re right about that. So, what do you think about that song?”

She looks away and mumbles, “It’s not nice”  and sits down to finish breakfast.

After she leaves for school, I still have the image of my white daughter trying to make her eyes slanty, singing a song she learned at school.

Honestly, I thought we were good on this – I mean we have tons of friends from other countries and other ethnic groups.

But, no excuses.

And, no we aren’t “good”like we could ever be complacent when it comes to educating our children to be sensitive, compassionate and kind.

And no way is a child of mine growing up singing this song, thinking it’s okay.

. . .

I easily find the rhyme on YouTube and numerous websites, including a homeschool website. Little white girls from all over the United States singing “I Went to a Chinese Restaurant” without any mention of what a child of Asian descent might think, or might feel.

Surely I’m not the only person who thinks this song is unkind?

How will I teach them to recognize this unkindness before I point it out?

I email my friend, YA author Mitali Perkins http://mitaliblog.com in my panic, “I am so troubled, and I don’t know what to do. I’m thinking about books, dolls, movies, field trips . . . all the ways we learn about others. What do you think I should do?

Perkins wisely writes, “Melissa, develop intentional relationships with your kids along cultural / class lines.” She shares how she drove her kids to play dates with friends in different neighborhoods, invited international students into her home, and visited homeless shelters, hanging out to listen and talk to the people there.”

Perkins adds, “These days refugees and immigrant communities are within driving distance almost anywhere in the US these days, but the bottom line is that it’s relationships across borders is the key to keeping suburban kids’ hearts open to diversity.”

Of course she’s right. But, what really strikes me is that somehow with our relationships (her best friend for four years was Ethiopian), I must, must, must have lots of intentional dialogs with her about prejudice, diversity, and stereotypes.

For example, “Honey, we just had dinner at Shin and Aik’s house – they are from Malaysia, you would not ever want to hurt their feelings by making fun of the shape of their eyes!”

It was my mistake to think that at eight, she would automatically recognize stereotyping without my facilitation, without conversation.

Later, I tell my friend, author and blogger of White Readers Meet Black Authors, Carlen Brice, and she says, “You know what’s sad? I remember learning that hand-clapping song 40 years ago!

That is sad.

Brice agrees with Perkins, “Relationships are key. Dolls and books will only do so much.”

I have smart friends.

. . .

I think my work is cut out for me.

What about you?

. . .

Do you think this is a racist song?

What do you talk about at home with your kids when it comes to stereotypes and racism?

What intentional relationships to you have with people who are different than you?

 

cc icon attribution small Everyday Math Makes Me Want to SCREAM Some rights reserved by Pink Sherbet Photography

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19 Responses

  1. I used to sing a similar version of this when I was in elementary school… it was pretty popular at the time. I never knew it was racist and I actually liked it because I thought it was catchy. I still sing it sometimes whenever I think of it. And I’m Chinese.

    I don’t think it’s racist if someone says Chinese have small eyes or anything, because tbh it’s just a stereotype. Not all Chinese people have small eyes, just like not all Chinese people are good at math, it’s just a stereotype.

    But that’s just my opinion.

  2. Wow,…My very first very best friend who
    happened to be Chinese and I loved dearly spent a while teaching me I went to a Chinese restaurant to buy a loaf of bread bread bread, he wrapped it up in a 5 pound note and this is what he said said said as clapping. Then we held hands whilst tapping the back of our held hand and high fived above and below whilst singing my name is kay i kipple i kipple i kay i humble charlie big chief how.
    We did it for hours in the garden along with Alice the camel.

  3. My daughter sang this song tonight at bedtime. We are South Asian. I was gobsmacked. Apparently the teacher has told them never to sing it, but the children in her class have understood that to mean “Never sing it IN FRONT OF *** (a child of East Asian origin in their class). Big wow. Something has not computed. It’s great for us to have intentional dialogues with them as parents, but the teachers need to be digging a little deeper with this too.

  4. I sing this song in the playground at my school but I have never heard this version..
    the only version I had ever heard was this one and it does completely different actions:
    I went into a bakers restraunt
    to buy a loaf of bread,bread,bread
    I wrapped it up in a five pound note and this is what she said,said,said
    my…. (really fast) name is andy pandy sugar and candy drinking pepsi
    in the back yard
    mom had a baby called it daisy dorve it crazy and that was the end of that,that,that!
    the actions are bread,bread,bread you pattercake
    said said said do the same
    drinking pepsi mime drinking out of a can
    mom had a baby rock baby in your arms
    drove it crazy put your thumbs by your ears and make a funny face
    that,that,that pattercake
    if you want your kid to learn somthing like this instead of the other song she can still have fun but will stop doing the other one
    so if you say somthing like: I have found a better song and show her it then it would probably work out!:p this is from the point of veiw of a child.

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    Hi! I’m Melissa Taylor, mom, writer, & former elementary teacher & literacy trainer. I love sharing good books & fun learning resources.

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