'Anti-racist journey' prompts UNR lecturer to apologize for teaching 'Jingle Bells,’ ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep'

After discovering "anti-racism," one University of Nevada-Reno lecturer will stop teaching songs like “Jingle Bells” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”

The professor directed Campus Reform toward a list of “crowd sourced insensitive songs.” Among the problematic songs were “Buffalo Gals,” “Do Your Ears Hang Low,” “Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo,” “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” and the “Hokey Pokey.”

After discovering the tenets of what is referred to as “anti-racism,” one University of Nevada-Reno professor will stop teaching songs like “Jingle Bells” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep.”

Kate Pollard — a senior music lecturer at the University of Nevada-Reno — wrote about her “anti-racist journey” in music education for Nevada Today, the school’s news outlet.

Referring to her first days as a middle school teacher in the late 1990s, Pollard wrote that “I don’t think I even knew what these songs were about, and I am fairly certain that none of my middle school students asked about their historical context.” However, when she “learned what authenticity and appropriateness meant in the mid-2000s,” she began to dive into “culturally relevant pedagogy.”

Between that time period and the present day, Pollard has had “many conversations and read a lot of literature on anti-racist curriculums and appropriation.” She realized that “many of the songs I taught as a middle school educator and even as a college educator are not appropriate and even potentially harmful to certain peoples.”

Examples include “Jingle Bells,” “Shortnin’ Bread,” and “Polly Wolly Doodle” — all of which, according to Pollard, have links to “blackface minstrelsy.”

Pollard told Campus Reform that “Jingle Bells” is problematic because she read that “slave owners used to put bells on slaves to keep track of them, which the jingle bells are referencing.”

“Out of all the songs I mentioned in my article, Jingle Bells is probably the most divisive,” she explained. “Maybe it’s a ubiquitous familiarity; maybe it’s associated with Christmas. Either way, many teachers don’t want to remove it.”

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She also wrote that white Americans used the songs “5 Little Monkeys” and “Baa Baa Black Sheep” to “stereotype and degrade Black Americans.”

Pollard asserted to Campus Reform that “5 Little Monkeys seems innocuous enough especially when sung to toddlers. However, it used to be sung with the n word in place of monkeys. And as you probably know, Black Americans have been called and referred to as ‘monkeys.’”

“Therefore, I have made the difficult decision to acknowledge my ignorance,” continued Pollard in her article. “I have made strides to change the repertoire I use and pass on to future and current music educators.”

She will also refrain from teaching songs like “Oh, Susanna!” and “America,” which also goes by the name “My Country Tis of Thee.”

The song “is a different issue in which it is sung from the white colonizer perspective,” Pollard told Campus Reform. “Most Native Americans who know the song find it hurtful as it erases their stories entirely.”

“Some educators defend using these songs, stating they have historical value,” admitted Pollard. “I don’t feel the need to preserve the music. I would rather promote songs that are inclusive than promote songs that although may have been popular also marginalize and degrade a population.”

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“Also, I don’t feel the need to use these songs as a vehicle to address racism. I don’t want my students of color to bear the burden of explaining why these songs are racist, potentially requiring them to defend themselves in class,” she added. “In fact, some may argue that having these kinds of conversations in class is centering a white perspective, making the assumption there is no harm or trauma in opening “academic” conversations about these songs.”

“I apologize to my students to whom I taught these songs and even more, I apologize to those who quietly knew these things about the songs I taught, but never felt comfortable speaking up,” she concluded.

“I can do better. I will continue to do better.”

In that interest, Pollard directed Campus Reform toward a list of “crowd sourced insensitive songs.” Among the 78 songs that users condemned were “Buffalo Gals,” “Do Your Ears Hang Low,” “Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Mo,” “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah,” and the “Hokey Pokey.”

Campus Reform reached out to the University of Nevada-Reno for comment; this article will be updated accordingly.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft