Decolonize This! is our attempt to diversify the viewpoints shown on The Thinker’s Right. Columnist Michael Eric Hymen discusses racism, diversity, inclusivity, and other ways we can make people feel a little bit better about themselves.
You might remember the song ‘the Itsy-Bitsy Spider’ from your childhood. Odds are, especially if you’re white, that you remember it as a cute and inconsequential ditty about a little spider having a tough time climbing a water spout.
But further analysis proves the song is much more than that. It has a rich and complex history behind it, and was written to help marginalized children find the hope to keep fighting against the struggles they will face in society.
Contrary to popular belief, the song was written in 1825 by a teenage black slave girl working on a plantation in Tennessee. One day, she was performing her regular duties when she spotted a spider trying to climb a drain pipe to reach the roof of the house on a rainy day.
Being terrified of spiders, young Abigail Harriet Dillinger first tried to swat it and kill it. But then she felt an odd twinge of sympathy for the spider. She, too, had been a victim of prejudice and racial stereotypes in her life. And here she was, trying to corrupt the dreams of this little spider, without knowing anything about his backstory and identity. She realized she didn’t even know what breed of spider he was.
She watched the spider in awe as he persevered up the slippery drain pipe. Alas, he lost his struggle, and slipped and fell. But instead of lying around, he jumped up, shook himself up, and started up the drainpipe again.
Dillinger was so inspired by the events of the afternoon she secretly taught herself how to play the violin at night, while her masters were asleep, so that she could compose a song honouring his struggle. Years later, she was tragically shot and wounded while trying to escape from her life on the plantation, but made a miraculous recovery and was eventually successful in fleeing her former life and leaving the racist South behind.
So how did this important story become lost in history? Why has the song been reduced to all but a children’s nursery rhyme, with even Wikipedia whitewashing the song’s origins?
It goes so far to mention alternate interpretations of the title from other white countries like Australia and Great Britain, but makes no reference to marginalized folks. The only explanation could be the whites are scared of us learning how to think for ourselves and fight for our rights, and fierce heroes like the Itsy-Bitsy Spider and Abigail Harriet Dillinger will inspire and empower us to do just that.
Please click on this link to sign my petition to replace Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with one honouring our spider compatriot.
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