Politically Correct or Censorship?

 Posted by on Oct 1, 2014 at 1:17 PM
Oct 012014
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~ Politically Correct or Censorship? ~

by Tam Francis


After posting a link to reddit (scary over there–talk about an odd form of censorship or bullying), it was brought to my attention that a song I had chosen for one of my chapter titles and listed on my Soundtrack page contained very offensive, racist lyrics. I had no idea. I had been listening to the song for years. My kids loved it, I loved it, and it had a nice simple, swing rhythm that was easy to dance to. The song is Ella Fitzgerald’s Sing Song Swing.


Choppity chop chop, chop chopsticks
Choppity chop chop, chop till six
Choppity chop chop, chops the thing
When Charlie Chingee make his sing song swing

Charlie Ching
Make his sing song swing
With a tingaling
On the ding dong ding

With a tingaling on the ding dong ding
Makee plenty sing song swing

Choppity chop chop, chop chopsticks
Choppity chop chop, chop till six
Choppity chop chop, chops the thing
When Charlie Chingee make his sing song swing

Foo Yung Foo
Makee doodle-doo
With a toot or two
On the flute bamboo

And the doodle-doo and the tingaling
Makee plenty sing song swing

Choppity chop chop, chop chopsticks
Choppity chop chop, chop till six
Choppity chop chop, chops the thing
When Charlie Chingee make his sing song swing

And a tingaling on the ding dong ding
Makee plenty sing song swing

Chop chop choppity, chop chopsticks
Chop chop choppity, chop till six
Choppity chop chop, chops the thing
When Charlie Chingee make his sing song swing

Choppa choppa choppity, chop chopsticks
Choppity choppity, chop till six
Choppity chop chop, chops the thing
When Charlie Chingee make his swing

censor ad 1916 THE OUTCRY

I was graciously informed, “Sing Song Swing is an extremely offensive song making fun of Asians. The song “Sing Song Swing” is making fun of “ching chong” languages. It is extremely offensive.”

I was completely freaked out.

So, of course, being the lover of history and not wanting to give up on the fun song. I did some research. I read all the comments under Ella’s you tube video and found support for the idea of this song being racist.

nauort23 Jul 17, 2012
I must not be alone: 12 thumbs up and counting. I studied Mandarin for 2 semesters in college, and I learned some Cantonese when I was in California. I have friends who speak Tai Nua and Taiwanese, but I’d call them all Chinese–not Chinamen (which was a politically incorrect catch-all phrase for anyone of East Asian ancestry at the time this song was popular. Don’t for a MINUTE try to assert that this song isn’t just a little racist. Cartoons have been removed from television for less.
I’m Chinese. This song is a tiny bit racist, but I’d rather a racist song where Chinese people are “cool” and playing jazz than a politically correct vision of Chinese people as quiet, obedient, and good at math. I personally love this song.
I continued on.


In an NPR article that I found on The Cutting Edge of Music (.com) an article How Ching Chong Became the Go-to Slur for Mocking Asians. I found this alarming, to say the least.
On Brand Channel I found this excerpt from an article by Abe Sauer which sites two other swing bands I enjoy:

“GM’s ad, which ran only in Canada and online in Europe, follows a swinging dude as he dances to a hip new tune with the lyrics “Now, in the land of Fu Manchu / The girls all now do the Suzie-Q / Clap their hands in the center of the floor / Saying ching-ching chop suey swing some more.” The song’s offensive lyrics have been credited to Austrian “electroswing” musician Parov Stelar’s song “
Booty Swing.” But, not surprisingly when it comes to deeply entrenched Asian stereotypes, the lyrics are actually sampled from the 1938 song “ Oriental Swing ” by Louis Armstrong’s wife Lil Hardon Armstrong.”

I also found the term in an online Etymology Dictionary site which says Charlie (used when referring to an Asian person) may have gained popularity from Charlie Chan movies. I was sad to read this and wondered if this meant I should not watch the Charlie Chan movies or share them with my children. I used to love those when I was a kid. 

Interestingly, I also came across a positive reference to the slang name Charlie on Urban Dictionary:

“He is sweet, sensitive, caring, outgoing, courageous, funny, sexy, gorgeous, everything that a girl would want him to be. He is an extremely sexy man, with a hot ass body. He knows the right things to say to a girl whenever she is feeling sad, and he will stick with her no matter what. He fights for the people he cares about, and he doesn’t back down. He is the sweetest guy you will EVER meet in your life.”
Girl: Who’s that man?
Girl#2 : My Charlie
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  13 Responses to “Politically Correct or Censorship?”

Comments (13)
  1. I find this whole discussion upsetting. Political correctness is trying to change history and make everyone homogenous. We have a rich history in this country – good and bad – and writing out whole portions of it because some little snowflake is offended by it is ridiculous. Should we throw away all of our books? Should we re-write all of our songs and plays? Should we burn all of our movies and cartoons? How about magazines and newspapers? Do we get rid of all of them, too, because we don’t like what they said?

    Now days you are called a racist because you can tell the difference between a black person, a white person, and an asian person. The word has lost all of its meaning and become a political weapon.

    Should we not play “Strange Fruit” by Billie Holiday, or read “Uncle Remus” by Joel Chandler Harris, or “Little Black Sambo” by Helen Bannerman, or read Native American stories and legends, or read about Paul Bunyan and his Blue Ox? How about “My Antonia”, or “Little House on the Prairie”, or “A Christmas Carol”? All of them depict the thinking of the day about other ethnic groups and socio-economic groups.

    The most disturbing thing about all of this banning and shaming, is that the ones doing it listen to rap – the most racist and hateful type of “entertainment” there is, and adulate the purveyors of it.

    I just ignore all the liberal thinkers and haters and listen to and read what interests ME. If something offends me, I suck it up and go on with my life. I don’t need to go to a safe space to listen to soft music and play with Play-Doh with my pajamas on and a vegan soy mocha latte.

    • I think that’s what upset me, too. I didn’t feel like highlighting a song was a statement on racism now or in the past. Thanks for weighing in on your opinion and stopping by.

  2. Hi Tam – caught this over at Google+ — this topic is a question I face in my “day job” every day. I teach college history: Western Civ, World Hist, and American. I get to cover all sorts of truly terrible aspects of history–so much of it dealing with racism/ethnocentrism, and oh, joy, ethnic cleansing and genocide (and yes, I have nightmares). When covering events and people — especially those closer to us in history, like African American slavery, treatment of Native Americans, and the fight for Civil Rights, it gets really hairy. My goal is to get my students to *understand* why people thought the way they did, in the context of the times those thoughts were formed, to understand why they *acted* the way they did.

    That means I have to use the language of the era, which can be really …uncomfortable.

    I was talking one day about the pre-Civil War pro-slavery arguments, and how antebellum slaveholders had convinced themselves that slavery was a “positive good” — going over their arguments, “evidence,” etc. The next day I received a complaint from an anonymous person on campus who had been passing by the classroom and wanted to report me for being racist. If she’d heard the entire lecture, *in context* she would have understood that I was not saying this was *right,* I was saying this was how those people thought and what they believed. Should I just say, “By our standards those people were racist” and move on? How does that foster understanding?

    Was there terrible racism against the Chinese (and Japanese, and most other Asians) in this country in the 1920s and 1930s? Sure, although it had actually mellowed out a little bit from how bad it was around the 1860s-1890s! Is a “positive” stereotype still a stereotype? Yes, yes, it is and can be as damaging as a negative one, in its own way.

    Yes, in a way, the lyrics are racist. Yes, cartoons would be removed today for those lyrics. No, that song probably shouldn’t be on a major radio station …if it were a new song! But it’s not—it’s historical.

    Even if it had originally been intended to be a slur, it’s *historical!*

    (Note: I don’t believe it was meant to be a slur — Fitzgerald may have been trying to combat a negative image of Asians with a positive one. A little bit like the great PR campaign which made Americans want to be “Irish for a Day,” after decades of “No Irish Need Apply…”)

    Your book, and the images and music in it, are about or from *another era!* It’s historical — if historical people were just like us, what would there be to make them interesting?

    Ok, that was my (twenty) two cents… :-)

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    • What a fun subject to teach. i run into the same problems when trying to explain to my own children. I love your illustration and comparison. The concept of positive stereotypes being damaging as well is an interesting one. It will be fun to think on that and explore it. Thank you for your well-thought, articulated comment and for taking the time to come over here and post it! I’ll take your twenty (two) cents and put it in my pocket.


  3. Oh it’s a minefield .. I have just completed a theatre script set in 30’s Harlem with Lindy/swing as a backdrop, it has an extensive song list and I think I must have Googled every lyric in my paranoia not to offend. I had NO IDEA Chattanooga Choo Choo was considered racist, I’m not sure I agree either.
    I have many DVD clips of black dancers and variety artists from the 30’s & 40’s and plenty of dance movies that I love – I have found myself feeling uncomfortable watching these with friends and family who don’t share my passion for this dance era and find myself trying to justify why I enjoy watching Dorothy Dandridge and Paul White singing Zoot Suit so much …

    • It is a minefield, nice way to put it. I don’t want to be culturally or ethnically insensitive and or shoot myself in the foot, but the idea of said songs being racist didn’t sit right with me. It compelled me to do a blog and seek other’s opinions. They’re pretty varied, for sure.

      I would LOVE to hear more about your script. I work with a regional theatre here and am always on the lookout for period pieces. Please feel free to post a link to your script (where it can be purchased), or your website?

      I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a play based on my novel, but I’m too busy writing the sequel and finishing the ghost story collection!

      Thanks for you input and stopping by :)


  4. Very few people make allowance for the fact that the world is a constantly changing place. It’s very hard for us to view things through the eyes of past generations. I study Roman history but I can’t see things through the eyes of a Roman as hard as I might try, making moral judgements next to impossible. Just enjoy the songs of the swing age and have fun. As for not playing Chattanooga Choo Choo, it’s political correctness gone mad and if people are offended by the past you have to question their thinking. Cutting things out in case you offend them could be construed as patronising. So much angst over nothing. Viva the swing age.

    • Another interesting viewpoint. My sentiments seem to align more with yours, but I’m always up for hearing different perspectives and having me mind changed or my eyes opened. Thanks for taking the time to stop by Malcolm. This may sound trite, but I cannot think of Romans anymore without thinking of Rory as the Last Centurion. ;)

  5. Tam ..the song is fun and I am sure never meant to be a racist slur. I know for a fact that Ella would be shocked by this ridiculous accusation as she always supported any anti racial cause..I
    I remember Frankie Manning in a question and answer session saying how Ella always fought to have his group of dancers ,Whitey’s Lindyhoppers included in an otherwise white audience..others may have heard the same tale..if so let’s hear from you !
    I am a practising sculptor and figurative artist with a longstanding history as a tutor for both subjects , with a passion for Lindy Hop. Songwriting is an art and lyrics come under the big umbrella of The Arts, but whilst I feel strongly that we need to respect others sensitivities, our self expression as artists has to also be respected. There is a minefield of narrow opinion and blinkered vision out there. I too have been subjected to having my artwork banned, so I empathise with you.
    I hope you get enough support from fellow artists who will encourage you to stick with your decision and hopefully no more sleepless nights .!!!
    P.s. Have you seen the life size 3-D portrait sculpture I made of Frankie ? I am looking forward to someone in the Lindy community maybe buying it for display at an event ,museum, or even their own home !!

    • WOW! Your sculpture sounds amazing. Please feel free to link it here. I love that! Maybe after Halloween when I take a break from promoting Ghostoria we can do an interview and talk about it? And I love exploring new ideas and new ways to look a the same problem. It really threw me for a loop and I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I was curious as to what others would make of the song and my use as a chapter title.

      Oh and you know that story about Frankie you’re talking about. I do remember, vividly. I have a scene in The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress where he talks about it. I can’t wait to share the novel, it’s fun, sometimes reverent and always hopping :)

  6. This song, like the Oriental swing from Lil Armstrong, or some songs from Slim Gaillard make fun of some racial steteotypes or use those stereotypes to make a song funny. Black musicians knew what racism was so I think they were not being mean but wanted to be funny. Wanting to be funny is not excuse to offend someone, but Let’s face it, all nations have stereotypes about other nations. In this case the sound of chinese way of speeking english is being used to make rhythm and rhymes that paint the certain acoustic picture. This is not really racist. Racism is not when you say someone is of different race, or when you make of someone. Racism is when you say that someone of different race is as a consequence less worthy as a human being.

  7. Tam, I think the naysayers carried it too far – especially for a song that was written back in 1938, and I am guessing many of the words were chosen because they rhyme and are just plain fun to say/sing! It’s a fun song. No way was it meant to be insulting. (If that’s the case, they better start censoring RAP artists… bleeeeeep.)

    BTW, if you only want to hear from “folks wiser and more experienced” then #1 that rules out my comment and #2, you may be missing out on some good and varied opinions ;-)

    I think I’ll share this with my friend Richard, and get his opinion. Perhaps he will comment here… ?

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