Monday, February 27, 2017

Eeny Meeny Mini Moe!

Quick! What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the title of this post?
I think of a kid's chant used to randomly pick someone for a team or decide who must perform a certain task. The common second part of the couplet is "Catch a tiger by his toe/If he hollers let him go". This rhyme also happens to be the chant used by the fictional character Negan played by the actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan on the cable show The Walking Dead. Negan is to put it mildly not a nice man. He is the undisputed leader of a community of survivors of the zombie apocalypse. Some might even find the villainous Negan to be an anti-hero of sorts. He does keep his people safe. I say he's the undisputed leader of his group because Negan is prone to using his baseball bat to beat the brains out of anyone who displeases him or challenges him. And sometimes just to make sure people don't forget just who is the Big Dog, Negan will randomly pick among disfavored people to set an example. And wouldn't you know it he uses the rhyme "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe" to choose. As with most popular shows merchandising becomes an important revenue source. The Walking Dead has licensed T-shirts with Negan's baseball bat and the "Eeny Meeny Miny Moe" phrase depicted. But in the UK, a customer was apparently so offended by the phrase that he wrote to the offending clothing store's CEO. Ultimately the store decided to remove the shirt from circulation. The customer thought the shirt was racist. Outraged Ian Lucraft was so offended by the "explicit" t-shirt that he complained directly to the discount clothing store's chief executive - and Primark has now apologised and removed the men's t-shirt from its branches. Mr Lucraft and his wife Gwen had visited the firm's recently opened branch in The Moor in Sheffield city centre to buy a present for their grandson when they spotted the white t-shirt with the message "eeny meeny miny moe" and a picture of a bloodied baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire. 

The phrase and bat are both used by a character in the hit show. He said: "We were shocked when we came face to face with a new t-shirt with a racially explicit graphic and text. "It was fantastically offensive and I can only assume that no-one in the process of ordering it knew what they were doing or were aware of its subliminal messages.

He said: "The slogan is “Eeeny meenie miny moe…..” It stops there, but of course we all know what the original said: “catch a n***** by his toe." "The graphic has a large American baseball bat, wrapped round with barbed wire, and covered with blood. This image relates directly to the practice of assaulting black people in America. "It is directly threatening of a racist assault, and if I were black and were faced by a wearer I would know just where I stood." The slogan comes from the final episode of the sixth series of the critically acclaimed horror drama in which zombies have overrrun a post-apocalyptic world.

A spokesman for Primark said the t-shirt had now been withdrawn and added: “The t-shirt in question is licensed merchandise for the U.S. television series, The Walking Dead, and the quote and image are taken directly from the show. "Any offence caused by its design was wholly unintentional and Primark sincerely apologises for this. “Primark is currently removing the product from sale.”

Now a couple of things come to mind here. It is true that some versions of that rhyme have racial slurs included. It's also true that there are very few traditional rhymes or poems or limericks that haven't been altered or changed at some point, sometimes in unpleasant ways. Once something is in the public square it's fair game for everyone. Just ask Andrew Dice Clay. But for what it's worth the original version of eeny meeny miny moe likely predates the United States and didn't include racial slurs. The version I heard growing up used "tiger" instead of "n*****". I can't speak for what other people's experiences were, either in the US or the UK. It may be a question of age here. I do think it's a bit over the top to think that chanting eeny meeny miny moe automatically means that you are a violent racist who is on the verge of initiating beatdowns and organizing pogroms against any black people in the near vicinity. That's the sort of paranoid thinking that was lampooned pretty accurately in the film Undercover Brotha.

In 2003 two (American) black women sued Southwest Airlines for intentional infliction of emotional distress because the (white) flight attendant announced "Eenie meenie mini mo! Pick a seat! We gotta go!" The women lost their case. So obviously there are some people who have heard racist versions of the rhyme. I have no issue with black people or well meaning non-black allies being on the lookout for racism. Racism is real. As the saying goes just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. But in this case I think that Lucraft overreacted. Stuff like this only feeds the arguments of those who believe that anti-racists are censorious snowflakes who cry wolf every time they see a chihuahua. The gear of the LA Dodgers, the Oakland Raiders and Fresno State Bulldogs has been popular with certain gangs. But we certainly can't say that the only possible reason for someone to wear such clothing is to show their gang affiliations. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a t-shirt is just a t-shirt. Jeffrey Dean Morgan put it more bluntly.

What do you think?

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