After reading through another thread on this forum started by @katie_UPS about FIRST Messaging & #BlackLivesMatter (link here) and thinking more critically about all of the work that still needs to be done, I remembered part of the FRC experience that doesn’t sit well with me. Specifically, I’m talking about the song Cotton Eye Joe, remixed by Rednex, that has been a staple DJ play at FRC events for as long as I can remember.
The history of the song pre-dates the Civil War and is believed to be associated with a caricature depiction of slaves forced to pick cotton on southern plantations. You can read a bit more about the history of the song on Wikipedia here and where it’s believed the title name comes from.
Note that music history is not my area of expertise, so I decided to ask my wife (a music teacher) her thoughts on the prevalence of this song, and others like it, in modern-day music. She pointed me to an article written for Medium called Dinah, Put Down Your Horn: Blackface Minstrel Songs Don’t Belong in Music Class (link here) that has been circulating in her educator groups over the last few weeks. Cotton Eye Joe isn’t called out specifically in the article, but it is part of this group of “American folk songs” which were born out of American slavery and written/popularized by Blackface Minstrelsy in the late 1800s.
That all being said, I think it’s time to move Cotton Eye Joe to FIRST HQ’s “Do Not Play” list going forward. In all reality, I think it’s been long overdue.
Can we add Apache (Jump on it) to this list as well? Like check out this music video. I shouldn’t have to explain why.
You have to remember that FIRST bans 100’s of popular songs out of fear of offending people due to language and content (drugs, sex, violence and breakups?). Songs like Bruno Mars’ “24K magic” and Taylor Swift’s “We are Never Ever Getting Back Together” are banned. Why not these song as well?
“Cancel culture” is just a way of saying “we are stopping support of ideas and things that are inherently problematic.” We learn, we grow, we change. I hope when you build robots, you fix broken mechanisms instead of just letting them be.
I actually can understand getting rid of eeny meeny miny moe, but you realize that And Then There Were None is the 7th best selling novel of all time? I don’t think we should get rid of an extremely umportant piece of literature just because of an older, now unused book title.
For what its worth…things can be considered on a case by case basis when they are brought up in the right context and come from a place of education. The book you are citing is different from a DJ playing music with potentially racist origins to a crowd of kids.
I didn’t even know about that past, but now that I do, I don’t think I’d want kids hearing it without fully understanding what its about. Which can’t exactly happen at a robotics competition. Books taught in school are brought forward with proper context with the mission of education.
I honestly don’t see a problem with the continuation of cotton eye Joe being played. Things meanings change over time and the song is a definite example of that. Every time it comes on you see people of all backgrounds dancing together and thoroughly enjoying themselves. Nothing about the lyrics say anything negative. As opposed to running away from it because of its origins we should hold onto it and take it in as our own.
As a privileged white guy it’s not my place to decide what is and isn’t offensive so I would say asking people of color would be the best way to move forward.
I would just question if it is offensive because I don’t know how many people look into or notice the origin of the song. Which brings up a deeper question I’m not prepared to answer, if something has a problematic origin does that make it problematic no matter how far removed it is. The money isn’t be going to the original writers in the pre civil war south so it doesn’t directly support racism by playing it. However if it is tainted by its origins it could be said to indirectly be racist