Tag Archives: Black

“God don’t like ugly, and he’s not too fond of pretty, either,”

“God don’t like ugly, and he’s not too fond of pretty, either,”

Willie: Here- here- here’s another one. God don’t like ugly, and he’s not too fond of pretty, either.

Me: What’s that mean?

Willie: Okay, God doesn’t like people that do bad things, um…and he’s not too fond of people that wanna be perfect, or picture perfect.

My dad heard this from a couple of different places growing up, most namely his grandmother, in preachers’ sermons, and from the little old ladies after church service. It means God isn’t fond of people who are bad and sin often, but he also isn’t fond of people who try to be perfect. Honestly, I’m a big fan of this saying in particular, even though I’ve never personally heard it in context. In my opinion, sometimes, people can misunderstand what their religion asks of them in terms of morals, and try too hard to be the perfect person. Oftentimes, that can be more detrimental.

Don’t Sweep Over Someone’s Feet

Context

This proverb is collected during a conversation I had with a friend when she came over for dinner at my house.

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Performance

The following is a proverb told to me by the interviewee.

I: Don’t sweep over someone’s feet or else they will go to jail

M: Who shared this proverb to you?

I: My mom and my dad. So I guess it’s from both Louisiana and Georgia. It’s a very much Southern African-American thing. I’m sure African-Americans from the west or east have never heard this saying.

M: That’s interesting I’ve never heard that one before.

I: Yeah I honestly hate telling white people this one, because then they’ll joke around and like sweep over my feet. And like why would you do that? I’m like a very superstitious person, just don’t.

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Analysis

What is interesting about this proverb is the latter half of it. I have heard from people that if you sweep over someone’s feet that you will have a bad love life, coming from the phrase “getting swept off your feet” as a way to say falling in love. It seems that this proverb takes that same concept but the latter half being about jail. As the interviewee comes from the African-American community in the South, where the incarceration rates for the African-American community are disproportionately higher than their white counterparts, it shows that the zeitgeist has made going to jail a part of their proverbs that they tell younger children. The interviewee also mentioned that this proverb tends not to be respected by her peers, showing that people’s level of superstition can vary even amongst similar age groups.

Black Joy Parade

Context: The informant is my sister (LC) who lives in Oakland and has become an active participant in the community.

Main Text: “A celebration that I attended was this one in Oakland called ‘The Black Joy Parade’ in February. The celebration uses joy as a form of resistance to celebrate all the achievements and culture of the Black community, despite all the years of suffering and injustice. It’s this parade with cars, dancers, and different marching groups of black cultural groups. There are black entertainers and different artists who promote their work. It was an awesome experience and I really liked the idea that the black community was fighting their oppression through self-expression.”

Analysis: This celebration is interesting because it shows how the black community has created its own culture in the United States, undeterred by the oppression they have faced for centuries. By overcoming their disadvantages through joy, they change the narrative and empower themselves.

“Black and White” Chinese Children’s Game

[The subject is MW. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: MW is my grandmother, who was born in Shanghai and then lived in Hong Kong later on in her youth. She moved to San Francisco as a young adult and has lived in the Bay Area for the last six decades. She is a native Mandarin speaker, but is also fluent in English. I sat down with her and asked her to talk about some stories from her childhood. Before this, she had mentioned a “black and white” game that she played with the other kids, and I asked her to return to that subject and explain it to me.

ME: You mentioned a “black and white” game earlier that you play with your palm.

MW: Yeah, yeah.

ME: Could you explain to me what that is?

MW: Nothing. Oh this? [Holds out hand, palm facing up] Just, we play…

ME: How do you play it?

MW: So we say… and then it’s like, [holds hand behind back, then moves to hold it out in front of her, palm facing up]. You play, it’s the game, right? And then we play game like everybody go, [holds hand behind her back] and only you [holds out hand, palm facing up] is white, is good. Right?

It’s like, we always go like this [holds hand behind back], and then sometimes I go like this [holds hand out, palm up]. Right? That means… I won.

ME: Could you explain why that means you won?

MW: It’s like, we play, who will do okay? If the game, if you throw the ball. Who will be the first one to do it. So we don’t let them know [moves hand back behind her back], and ‘one, two, THREE!’[brings hand back out, palm facing up], right? And with three people, then it’s like we all white, and then this one, this [turns hand over so that palm is facing down], is black.

ME: So ‘white’ is your palm facing up and ‘black’ is your palm facing down?

MW: Yeah.

ME: So how many people do you play it with?

MW: You play it about three people.

ME: If everyone has their palm like this [I have my palm facing down], what does that mean?

MW: Then it’s nothing. But if it’s ‘one, two, three’ and one is out [puts out palm facing up], then he won.

ME: Then why can’t you do this [palm facing up] every time to win?

MW: Because one can start, and then the other ones can follow you, I don’t know. So it’s everybody, like this [palm facing up], then that’s fine, but it should be [flips palm, facing down].

Thoughts: This game stood out to me when MW first mentioned it in passing because I had never heard of a hand game like this, and she called it “Black and White,” which was interesting because the two opposing colors seem to appear a lot in folklore. From what I gathered by my grandma’s description/demonstration, three children play the game and they start with their hands behind their backs. Then, on the count of three, they all put out their hand with it either facing palm up (white), or palm down (black). This part I am the most unsure of, but I think that the goal of the game is to be the only person of the three to have the “white” hand or the “black” hand. Thus, neither “black” or “white” is better, instead, the winner would be the person who chooses how they place their hand uniquely. This is surprising to me, because typically in children’s stories with the colors black and white, one signifies good and the other evil, but in this game they are only meant to signify opposites.

Black Cats Superstition

Main Piece:

“Black cats are bad luck.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 19-year-old female. I asked my informant if she knew of any superstitions people live by.  To this, she responded,  “black cats are bad luck.” My informant does not remember when she first heard this superstition, but she thinks it was around the time of Halloween. She claims she also saw it in a tv show she watched as a child called, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. In the show, the black cat was friends with the witch. The informant states that a black cat is a sign that something bad is going to happen. For example, if you are going somewhere and you see a black cat it means something bad will happen in the near future. The informant recalls,

“One time I was driving in the car with a friend and her dad, can’t remember who it was, but we saw a black cat crossing the road and my friend’s dad turned around and drove the other way. My friend says that every time her dad is driving, and he sees a black cat he has to turn around and take an alternate route.”

The informant says she does not believe this is true and feels bad for black cats because everyone thinks they are evil.

I too have heard this superstition that black cats are bad luck. It is interesting to note the association with color. The color black is often used when referencing fear, mystery, evil and death. All of these themes are common around the time of Halloween, so it makes sense the informant believes to have heard this superstition around that time. One also wears black to a funeral to represent the mourning of a loved one. Therefore, seeing a black cat by the color alone can imply death. Death is a mysterious subject terrifying for many people. The black cats’ color can be enough to make people fear the superstition. Cats are also animals that hold a lot of mystery. Often it is said cats have nine lives. This makes the superstition that black cats are bad luck even more fascinating because if the color black is associated with death, and cats have nine lives, could this have some sort of implication that cats can take lives? An intriguing relationship to note.  When looking into this superstition I also found a reference to it in the book Fearful, Spirits, reasoned follies the boundaries of superstition in the late medieval Europe by Michael David Bailey. He also speaks of the association cats have with demonic beings and magical connections.

Bailey, Michael David. Fearful Spirits, Reasoned Follies the Boundaries of Superstition in Late Medieval Europe. Cornell University Press, 2013.