The appalling racist children’s songs you won’t believe ever existed

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published Sep 9, 2023 at 09:10 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

If you don’t mind, I’d like to take you on a trip down memory lane, specifically in search of a specific discovery I recently made, involving a trove of songs that, when re-evaluated through a modern-day lens, shockingly reveal their underlying racism. Yep, you read that right, those innocent tunes from your childhood are, in fact, teeming with racial insensitivity.

As I reflect on my early years in Italy during the early 2000s, a vivid memory emerges. It was during those formative years in primary school that I found myself grappling with a confounding question: Why were we compelled to sing songs of such a dubious nature? And why was I faced with the unsettling choice of either joining in or facing the ominous prospect of a ‘time out’?

My quest for answers led me into a deep dive focusing on the racist songs we sang in primary education. Brace yourselves, for the roster of these deeply disturbing tunes, is nothing short of staggering.

Il Pianto di Zambo

One of the first songs I delved into was ‘Il Pianto di Zambo’, which repeatedly uses a racial slur like the N word while describing the “tukul,” which is a typical house in East Africa with a circular floor plan and a conical thatched roof. The song plays on the assonance of “your behind”  along with the proverbial “physical attributes”—the “big finger”—of African men.

I Watussi

The song ‘Siamo I Watussi’ is often criticised for its racist and stereotypical portrayal of the Watusi people, an ethnic group primarily living in the Great Lakes region of Africa, including parts of Rwanda and Burundi. The controversy surrounding the song stems from several factors.

First off is a stereotypical depiction. The song perpetuates harmful stereotypes about African people, portraying them in a simplistic and derogatory manner. It reduces an entire diverse group of people to a caricature, reinforcing harmful prejudices.

Next is the persistent cultural appropriation. The song uses African culture and imagery in a way that is seen as appropriative and disrespectful. It takes elements of Watusi culture out of context and uses them for entertainment without understanding or respect for their cultural significance.

While writing this article, I sat down with Corrine, a 55-year-old Black woman from the Caribbean, nurse, and mother of three residing in London. Corrine has never left her hometown and during our conversation, we delved into the topic of whether she had ever encountered any form of racism during her childhood at school, particularly through seemingly “innocent” childhood songs. Her response was quite clear.

“Absolutely!” she told me. “My mother used to get quite upset with my siblings and me when we returned from school. We lived near Croydon back then, and my primary school was still separated by gender, with opposite entrances for boys and girls. Our teachers would frequently have us sing ‘Ten Little Monkeys’, and I couldn’t quite grasp why it was problematic until one day, my mother explained it to us.”

Corrine explained that the original song depicted ten little Black boys who, by the end of the song, were all portrayed as deceased. Over the years, the song underwent a name change to ‘Ten Little Monkeys’, but the dark origin stayed with it. “From that day on, my siblings and I never sang that song again, and I have passed on that knowledge to my own children, even to this day.”

Eenie Meenie Miney Moe

Oh, the beloved game of ‘Eenie Meenie Miney Moe’. It was all fun and games until you discovered that the original version included a racial slur. Yep, it wasn’t “catch a tiger by the toe” but something far more offensive. Now, when you reminisce about those playground days, you’ll look back on this particular rhyme less fondly.


How not to raise a racist “Eenie meenie miney moe” THIS NURSERY RHYME IT NEEDS TO GO #racistcheck #blackhistory #outside #nurseryrhymes #educate #blm

♬ original sound - Aaryn Elan Doyle

Jamaican Farewell

‘Jamaican Farewell’ is a ditty that romanticises the notion of a tropical island getaway. But beneath the steel drums and swaying palm trees, it perpetuates cultural appropriation with lines like “Miss-a one mango from de tree.” Again, another example of deeply rooted power dynamics and exploitation in which kids are taught to imitate a culture in a superficial and thoughtless manner.

In hindsight, it’s mind-boggling how these songs ever made their way into the innocent realm of childhood education. But let’s not forget that acknowledging our past mistakes is the first step toward progress. So, as we cringe and shake our heads at these racist relics, let’s ensure that the next generation grows up with songs that celebrate diversity and promote understanding instead.

Keep On Reading

By Alex Harris

11 of the most shocking school punishments ever given

By Sam Wareing

Alaskan elementary school accidentally served floor sealant instead of milk to a dozen children

By Shira Jeczmien

Ben & Jerry’s schooled Priti Patel in what it means to be humane when it comes to immigration

By Abby Amoakuh

Ryan Gosling confesses that playing Ken in Barbie was his hardest role ever

By Charlie Sawyer

Megan Fox accused of xenophobia after comparing bad photo of herself to Ukrainian blowup doll

By Charlie Sawyer

Miley Cyrus fans convinced that her bodyguard was hiding something shocking at Grammys 2024

By Charlie Sawyer

Donald Trump warns of chaos and bedlam if his name is kept off the US presidential election ballot

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Move aside Tube Girl, Mumbai’s Train Girl Seema Kanojiya is here to slay

By Jack Ramage

The age of loud quitting and why everyone’s filming themselves getting fired or resigning on TikTok

By Abby Amoakuh

Kieran Culkin cringes as co-star Julie Delpy says she wishes she was African American

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Mom breaks into school and brutally assaults daughter’s teacher in front of 25 children

By Charlie Sawyer

Golden Globes 2024: Kylie Jenner forbids Timothée Chalamet from taking picture with Selena Gomez

By Abby Amoakuh

Heckled mercilessly about Ariana Grande, Pete Davidson abruptly leaves comedy show

By Abby Amoakuh

Drake calls for release of Tory Lanez, proving once more that he’s a rapper for the manosphere

By Abby Amoakuh

What One Direction fans should expect from The Idea of You, a movie based on a Harry Styles fanfic

By Emma O'Regan-Reidy

Do you watch or listen to content at 1.5x speed? Here’s what it actually does to you

By Charlie Sawyer

Australian journalist slams viewer who said her outfit was inappropriate for reading the news

By Charlie Sawyer

A guide on how to save on your energy bills after CEO of British Gas owner admits he can’t justify his £4.5M salary

By Abby Amoakuh

Kanye West announces launch of Yeezy Porn, an adult entertainment business

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Andrew Tate says MrBeast’s support of trans friend Kris Tyson is fake and a psyop