Tag Archives: race

The “nod”

KS is a 56 year old father of five who grew up in and resides in Southern Maryland. He is African American and has had his fair share of struggles as a black man.

Context: Black men have always been disregarded in society as less than. Throughout history, black men have been ostracized and discriminated against. The nod developed over time in communities and became a universal gesture in America. This was collected over dinner.

Transcript:

Collector: So what exactly is the “nod”?

KS: The nod is of huge significance between us black men. It is essentially a shared gesture among black men in which when we see each other in passing or see each other in the same space, we subtly nod at each other to indicate that we “see each other”. It’s more significant than it seems. It is a gesture of respect and recognition of each other, especially if we are in a space where we are the only black men.

Collector: Where did you learn to do this?

KS: Hmmm…. *silence* I’m honestly not quite sure. I think I just picked it up over the years and as I watched my brothers and father practice it and as I experienced more racial problems, I understood and just started doing it. It was not until I was in my teens that I realized the full meaning of the gesture. I do it to almost every black man I see, even if they don’t do it back.

Thoughts/Analysis: This is something that is both culturally and emotionally significant.
With the BLM movement very much alive and the abuse of power against black men by police officers, mutual recognition of each other’s presence and a sign of respect is necessary. This exchange reflects unity between black men and defines them closely as a folk group.

For other variations and information about the “nod”, see:

WUWM 89.7 FM | By LaToya Dennis. “The Head Nod & How It’s Used to Communicate Safety between Black Men.” WUWM 89.7 FM – Milwaukee’s NPR, February 23, 2021. https://www.wuwm.com/arts-culture/2021-02-19/the-head-nod-how-its-used-to-communicate-safety-between-black-men.

3 6 9 the goose drank wine

BACKGROUND: My informant, AC, was born in the US and attended boarding school in NH. AC was very active in theater and this rhyme was something that the drama department would chant before a few other students brought to their attention that it was less light-hearted than it seemed.

CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend where we talked about our time at boarding school.

THE RHYME: Three, six, nine, the goose drank wine. The monkey chewed tobacco on the streetcar line. The line broke. The monkey got choked. And they all went to heaven in a little rowboat!

AC: Yeah — we used to chant it like, before every show for good luck. I don’t really know where we got that from but like basically I was taught it from all the older [theater] kids and I guess they got it from the people before. But I think it might be a song or something, like there’s more words.

Me: And when did you stop [the chant]?

AC: Well um, I know you already know, some people pointed out the chant might have some racist undertones. Like the monkey that got choked on the line could be — it’s almost representative of a lynching of a black person. So yeah, we don’t use that chant anymore.

THOUGHTS: This rhyme is interesting to me because as someone who also briefly did theater in high school, I would watch other students chant this backstage before a show to get pumped up. I never really knew why this was what they chanted, it seemed completely unrelated to theater, but people seemed to really like its bouncy quality. The interpretation of the song as a slave allegory makes some sense to me. “The monkey” being a racist term for a black man and the rest of the rhyme details how the man minds his business on a streetcar until he is lynched and sent to Heaven. Some students disputed the racial interpretation of the rhyme, dismissing it as harmless. But based on the tumultuous history of the school — having been built from slave labor — I wouldn’t be surprised if that interpretation held some truth.

Mertz til it Hurtz – Loyola University

Main Piece:

TF, a freshman at Loyola University Chicago, stays in Mertz Hall, a dorm at Loyola Chicago. One tradition they have there is “Mertz til it Hurtz”. TF explains: “There is a Freshman tradition called Mertz til it Hurts. This is named after the freshman dorm Mertz. The floors compete against each other in various challenges. The competition is where students climb the 18 flights of stairs of Mertz tower as quickly as possible. The “Hurtz” comes from your shins hurting. ”

Context:

TF is a freshman at Loyola University Chicago. She is a relative of mine and is in her first year in college. As a freshman she would have participated in the Green Door tradition very recently.

Thoughts:

At USC, due to zoning codes and safety, we do not have very tall dormitories. The dorm I stayed in, Marks Tower, only had 8 floors, so this idea of a competition to get to the top floor was not an idea that we had. What this shows is the spirits and effort that Loyola Chicago students have towards their dorm’s competition. Since TF mentioned how people are very competitive at it, it shows how even over a small things like climbing 18 flights of stairs, Loyola students are very competitive and devoted to their craft, even in times of stress on them.

The Race Around the World with Kartikeya and Lord Ganesha

Context:

My informant is a 18 year old student from the University of Southern California (USC). This conversation took place one night at Cafe 84, a place where many students at USC go to study at night. The informant and I sat alone at our own table, but were in an open space where there was a lot of background noise. In this account, she tells a traditional Hindi story about a race between Kartikeya, the god of war, and Lord Ganesha, the lord of obstacles, learning, and the people. She learned this story from her mother, who told this story to my informant and my informant’s sister to “make sure we respect her, cause’ parents are our world.” In this transcription of her folklore, she is identified as P and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

P: So this is the folklore of Ganesha and his brother, um Kartikeya’s, race around the world. So basically, [laughs], ok, so basically, um, one day, his parents were like, “We want you to race for this mango!” And, um, there was two songs and one mango, so they decided to have a race for that one mango. So both boys really wanted to win this mango [giggles], but they had to race around the world and be the first one to finish, so, so Ganesha picked his trusty steed of a mouse. And, his brother, Kartikeya, picked a peacock. So, Ganesha was a little chubby boy, and he had a mouse, which isn’t the fastest… And… well aren’t elephants scared of mice? Is that a thing?

 

K: Yeah, I’ve heard that before too.

 

P: So maybe that’s like also a thing, I don’t know. Um, so people were like “Eh, he’s not gonna win.” And his brother had the peacock, which is a lot faster, and he’s like a slim boy [laughs]. So anyways, the race starts, Kartikeya books it on his peacock, circling the world, but Lord Ganesha, smart boy, he doesn’t start. Instead, he goes to his parents, sits them down, and then goes on his mouse and circles them, because to him, his parents are his world.

 

K: Awwwww!

 

P: So he got the mango! [laughs]

 

K: Where did you learn that story?

 

P: Um, my mother told me that story. I think it’s also to make sure we respect her, cause parents are our world.

 

K: Ok that’s fair. Did it teach you that? Did it actually serve its purpose?

 

P: Um, I don’t it taught me to respect my parents because it’s just some thing you do as a human being… as a good person, but I think it like, was a cute way to look at it. Does that make sense?

 

K: Do you plan on continuing telling this story?

 

P: Okay, honestly, I don’t know, just because it’s a religious story and I’m not very religious. But, it’s like a good moral story, I mean aside from the whole parent thing, it just shows that like, you don’t need to be the fastest or the slimmest to win a race, you need your wits and intelligence! You don’t need a peacock, you just need a mouse to get your mango. The mango of life.

Thoughts:

This story is particularly interesting because melds to forms of folklore together: a cultural story with the concept or phrase of “you are my world.” My informant told me that a large part of Indian culture is respecting your parents and recognizing that you’re parents have done so much for you. By having Ganesha express that his parents are his whole world, this story is ultimately a very endearing and wholesome way to teach children that their parents should be the center of their love because they are where they are because of their parents. The mango also seems to represent the idea that if you give your parents your love and respect, they will always reward you in return with theirs.

For another version of this story, please refer to the citation below:

Krithika, R. “Race around the World.” The Hindu, The Hindu, 17 Dec. 2015, www.thehindu.com/features/kids/why-were-ganesha-and-karthikeya-keen-on-winning-the-race/article8000267.ece.

 

Pre-Race Breakfast

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about some of his experiences at USC; particularly, I asked him if he knew of any strong traditions at USC (aside from the obvious ‘Fight On’!). The subject is a member of the USC Triathlon team and is very active and involved on the team. He described one of the strong pre-race traditions as having a regular breakfast before the grueling, hours-long race. Different teammates have different foods that they eat, but each individual on the team always eats the exact same thing before every race. Though I’ve categorized this as a tradition, this ritual also has elements of folk superstition as well—even though the athletes might not necessarily personally believe that eating the same pre-race food is lucky, it implies that it is a special ritual for them.

Main Piece

“Traditional foods that we’ll have for, like, breakfast, like, it’s not really routine as in like more traditional and meaningful. My food is pretty lame—it’s just oatmeal—but it’s sort of a comfort, like a pre-race food. And like everyone has that. Some people have like PB and J.”