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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
Joe Offer Song Req: 'There was China Man...' (109* d) RE: Song Req: 'There was China Man...' 08 Dec 20


There's a classic book titled Songs of the American West, by Richard E. Lingenfelter and Richard A. Dwyer (University of California Press, 1968). It has a chapter titled "John Chinaman" songs that has these songs about Chinese immigrants:

    John Chinaman
    Josh, John
    John Chinaman, My Jo
    John Chinaman's Appeal
    Hay Sing, Come from China
    Twelve Hundred More
    Long John, Chineeman
    Since the Chinese Ruint the Thrade
    Get Out, Yellow-Skins, Get Out!

Most of these songs seem quite benign, and we get a steady stream of posts from visitors who come in and say how cute these songs are. And they ARE cute, just like Stephen Foster songs with "negro dialect" about pickaninnies and such, and the depictions of Native Americans on the logos of sports teams like the Washington Redskins.

But real people don't want to be regarded as "cute," because it's demeaning. And when you demean other people, even if you are well-intentioned, you're racist.

I belong to a book club that discusses books that are mostly about social justice or religious issues. One book we read recently was Ghosts of Gold Mountain, about the Chinese workers who built the California part of the Transcontinental Railroad. I took out my Lingenfelter-Dwyer book and read a couple verses of some "John Chinaman" songs to illustrate the demeaning attitudes that people in this area had about Chinese workers. One member of the club called me the next day to complain that he was offended by my even reading those lyrics. I disagreed, and I hope that by this time he has forgotten the bitterness of our disagreement. I think we need to know about these songs so that we can understand the culture and racism of our ancestors in the "good old days," but I think it's important that we don't regard these songs as "cute" or in any way benign. They're racist, plain and simple.


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