Tag Archives: african american

“Bread and Butter” (Splitting the Pole)

• saying/banisher of bad luck

Many people subscribe to the superstition that “splitting the pole,” or in other words, walking on two different sides of a (usually tall and inanimate) object, i.e. a pole, is bad luck–sometimes promising a split in the pair’s relationship, poor fortune, or even death for one or both parties, according to different beliefs. 

Of course, for various reasons, sometimes it is impossible for two people to avoid splitting the pole, in which case one of them must say “bread and butter” to undo the bad luck. This is presumably tied to the idea that splitting the pole will cause the two to separate in some way, and butter can’t really be separated from bread once spread. 

While there is limited written documentation/proof, because the superstition around splitting the pole seems to have originated among Black Americans, many point to the context of slavery, the life-or-death need for enslaved people to stay together and seek protection in numbers, and the ever-present threat of external parties dividing them from loved ones. 

However, “bread and butter” makes even physical separation powerless, restoring the protective powers of community, especially in travel. 

Bathtime Song

Text: “When I was little my grandma used to sing this song when we would get out of the bathtub ‘Jump down turn around, pick a bale of cotton, now jump down turn around, pick a bale of hay’ and she would do it while she would wrap us in a towel… it’s one of my core memories with her.’”

Context: The tune that C sings to is simple and easy to remember. C first heard the song from her grandmother, who spent the majority of her life in San Francisco, but recently passed away in San Diego, California at the age of 87

Analysis: Although C doesn’t recognize the song outside of the context of her grandmother, the following website: http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-real-history-of-song-pick-bale-of.html walks through the history of the song. The original lyrics are much longer and include a chorus that rotates from person to person, beginning with ‘me and my buddy pick a bale of cotton,’ to ‘me and my papa pick a bale of cotton.’ Originally recorded as an African American work song the earliest records of the song is from 1933. The song continued to be passed down with several different versions throughout the 1930s, and eventually recordings in 1945 by Lead Belly:(https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=pd5ViH_5598&embeds_euri=http%3A%2F%2Fpancocojams.blogspot.com%2F&source_ve_path=MjM4NTE&feature=emb_title). and in 1956 by Harry Belafonte https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eQc2hgdAqGU&t=7s are also available. The 1956 version is more similar to the tune which C sings to, and potentially how C’s grandmother first heard the song. Although it uses the words “spin around” rather than C’s “turn around” in its lyrics. C’s grandmother likely sung her the song because the lyric “spin around” relates to twirling her grandchildren in the towel after their baths. It’s interesting how a song’s context and meaning for each person can change over time.

Crawfish Festival

Text (festival/traditional food)

“The Crawfish festival is a classic festival we’ve all been to growing up since it has carnival rides, games, and good food you can only really find in the south.”

Context 

My informant was born and raised in Texas and has been to the festival with family and friends numerous times since they were a child.

Q: “What is the crawfish festival?”

A: “The crawfish festival is a festival usually celebrated in southern states and includes carnival games, vendors, crawfish, and other southern comfort foods. It’s basically a celebration of southern culture and hospitality where people come together and appreciate community and popular southern delicacies.

Analysis 

The Crawfish Festival is popular in Louisiana, Texas, and other southern states for both locals and visitors to come together, enjoy, and commemorate southern culinary traditions not typically found in regions outside of the south. Crawfish isn’t the only traditional culinary form available at the festival, there also includes crawfish, étouffée, jambalaya, and more. These traditional foods are all part of Cajun and Creole cuisine. Crawfish are popular in Creole cuisine as they are abundantly found in the south, étouffée is a roux including crawfish and other seafood topped over rice, and jambalaya is another rice-based dish including sausage, chicken, and seafood typically served at large gatherings. People of all backgrounds and cultures travel to the south to participate in the Crawfish Festival as this is a way for cultural heritage and culinary lore to be spread and enjoyed across various communities. Seafood and dark meat products were major food sources for enslaved African Americans. This cuisine is a reflection of various influences and factors representative of a larger cultural identity in African American communities. Appadurai discusses the cultural significance of cultural cuisines in asserting cultural identity and representations of class hierarchies. These southern foods commonly eaten by enslaved African Americans, is an acknowledgment of African American resistance to slavery while embracing cultural customs predominately seen in the southern United States. This is representative of how culinary lore and recipes move where people don’t as they assert a cultural identity and exemplify resistance to the impacts of colonialism.

Gesture – “Black Lives Matter”

Text: The above image depicts the gesture, which is essentially a fist.

Context: One of my roommates who is of African American and Puerto Rican descent shed some more light on this gesture. She mentioned that the gesture is a fist and then went into the background of this gesture and how it came to be. She started off by saying, “for years in the African American community…[they] have always used a fist as a significance of saying power to the people, it’s a way to show allyship with each other, like to say I’m with you brother, I’m with you sister…it eventually became the logo of the Black Lives Matter movement”. Overall she said that “it’s always had the same meaning…it was to better the circumstances and oppression that black people face”. I then went on to ask about the importance of this gesture to her and she said that “as a child [she] would watch movies about the black panthers and [she] grew up meeting people that was part of the black panther party or that marched with Martin Luther King or Malcolm X because [her] mom immersed [she] in that stuff…they would tell [her] the significance of the fist and how it was like a signal to each other…like peace be with you brothers”. She went on to talk about how “the gesture took on a different meaning once the Black Lives Matter movement started to gain traction”. Overall, when asked of its importance she said, “it’s important because it shows allyship with each other in the community…it means community and I’m a black woman and I don’t want to be oppressed”.

Analysis: While to others this might look like a simple fist or a sign of victory (like you see in the movies), this hand gesture has so much more meaning to the African American community. Looking back through history they have experienced so much hardship, which is why this gesture has become so important to this community. It could have stood as a sign that one is not alone. Through the struggles, this gesture reminds those within this community to stay strong and that there are people who stand together. We can see this strong sense of community in the African American community during the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the support from other communities.

“I put my foot in it”

Text: I put my foot in it.

Context: My informant, an African American female from Texas, heard this metaphor from her father after he made a peach cobbler that he considered outstanding. In simple terms, the phrase means to have put in effort and have greatly succeeded, similar to saying “I crushed it.” My informant remembers this phrase in particular because she was so confused by it initially, having taken it literally, but ultimately found it comical following her father’s explanation of the phrase. Since then, she has used the phrase in the same context her father would: following an earned achievement. 

Analysis: Hearing my informant’s explanation of this song surprised me, as, in my experience, to put one’s foot into something is typically a negative situation having to do with embarrassment or blunders. However, obviously, in folklore, the same phrase can have any number of meanings depending on contextual elements, including but not limited to location, race, and time period. I speculate that her father’s use of the term stems from the pride associated with his identities as a male, a Texan, and a minority, in which, broadly speaking, what you have is what you earn. Along these lines, the term “I put my foot in it” harkens to the labor involved in creating something good, specifically acknowledging the intentional and personal effort he has put into the creation process.