baa baa black sheep
So, the other day Myles came home from nursery singing. It was a nursery rhyme I’m familiar with from my childhood- it’s amazing just how many nursery rhymes I don’t/didn’t know.
Baa baa white sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes sir, yes sir,
Three bags full,
One for the master, one for the dame
And one for the little boy who lives down the lane.
Wait a minute.
Myles what was that song? He sings it again, this time with a blue sheep.
Seriously? I’d heard the rumours over the years that the use of the word black in the rhyme had been deemed offensive and so would be changed but ignored it as Daily Mail fearmomgering. Apparently I was wrong; a quick google revealed its now considered to be baa baa rainbow sheep with the colour changing from song to song with little importance. Now, on the face of it it isn’t that big a deal, it exposes children to more expression and helps with colours etc etc (plus adds a little variety- a godsend when singing nursery rhymes with children).
Further googling (and a little Wikipedia reading) revealed that the links between the rhyme and slavery are largely imagined by retrospective analysis- the taxation within the wool trade in the 1700s seemingly more likely. This was a revelation to me, I’d always been under the impression that it was a slavery related rhyme (I may have to check some other rhymes of dubious content) but that simply makes the whole idea of changing the word black to alternates.
When the suggestion was that the word black was changed to remove the slavery connotations it was at least suggestive of some consideration by someone somewhere (misguided though it may have been). Having said that, I don’t feel there’s any reason for a black person to be ashamed of slavery (as a white person with no links to slavery that’s probably easy to say). On top of that surely it’s more offensive to pretend it never happene by opening up a full spectrum of colours of sheep- made all the more ridiculous by the fact sheep are white, brown or black (I’m not aware of blue, pink or yellow).
Removing the innacurate slavery links it’s simply a black sheep- it happens to be black. Should the word ‘black’ be removed from everyday usage? No of course it shouldn’t. The rhyme has been around along time (with many evolutions along the way) and when it originated I doubt any thought was put into colour- certainly not bright rainbow colours.