Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stop saying you don't know where 'Who dat?" came from: Vintage Video of Who Dat When Saints Go Marching In

I may be writing more on the whole Who Dat controversy with the NFL claiming it owns the phrase, which it now says was a misunderstanding. And I may comment more at a later date on various non-colored people yelling "Stop stealing our culture," but I'm not up to it today, and I don't want to distract our hearts from this joyous time of the Saints going to the Super Bowl. However, I must say that I'm annoyed at journalists who play along with the whole "We don't know where Who Dat came from" misinformation.

White Cajuns and white Creoles, like Africans, have had trouble with saying the "th" sound of the English language and so have said "d" in place of "th." That's true, but give me a break, ya'll.

There's no mystery about "Who dat." Read a slave narrative or old novels from the Harlem Renaissance. If you don't want to take a dead black author's word for it, then ask Sen. Harry Reid to give you an example of what he means by "Negro dialect" and ask a historian of grammar which group is known more for dropping linking verbs. Journalists need to quit frontin' ignorance!

But should you, reader, conjure the spirit of Paul Laurence Dunbar or Zora Neale Hurston, then they'll tell you that they were criticized for using phrases like "who dat" when describing black speech. Cultured black people didn't approve of any use of "Negro dialect" aka Ebonics for my uppity Negroes, which was one of the many reasons Amos 'n Andy went down the drain, that and the insult that in the beginning it was white men making fun of black people, including how uneducated black people spoke.

Amos 'n Andy creators Godsen and Correll, both white, thought they could do "black dialect" better than they could do the dialect of poor whites. Hmm. Eventually the white actors were replaced by black actors but black people still found the comedy offensive.

Nevertheless, suddenly everybody in New Orleans, both white and black, wants to claim they've always said "Who dat." They grew up saying "who dat" they claim. Yes, maybe, well, perhaps they did ... at a Saints game, but they know doggone well who the people were who said "who dat" in everyday language such as, "Who dat at de doh?" meaning "Who is that at the door?" or "Who dat gal you be walking wid?" Or from black vaudeville, "Who dat say who dat when I say who dat?"

Please, stop saying you don't know where "who dat" came from!

And one more thing, I was disappointed by Karen Dalton Beninato's piece about the Who Dat controversy. Can't believe she didn't mention Saint Augustine high school football or the saying's black roots!

The video up top features Steve Monistere's band, the Top Cats, with Aaron Neville and Saints defensive linemen doing the song "When the Saints Go Marching In" with a sample of the "Who Dat" chant. The video's speaker says clearly that you don't really hear "Who dat" unless you're talking to someone from the lower 9th Ward or the Irish Channel, which I suspect was a euphemistic way of saying the St. Thomas project, which is in the Irish Channel because I grew up in NOLA and I don't recall white people on Magazine Street saying "Who dat," but I wouldn't put it past a Cajun.

Apparently Monistere was smart enough to go off and trademark the phrase under Who Dat Inc. back in the day, and that's part of the NFL controversy over ownership. However he was not smart enough to renew his registration. Personally, I don't think he should own the phrase either unless it's directly related to the his version of When the Saints Go Marching in with the chant. It would be like the Paul McCartney trademarking the word "hello" and "good-bye" because the Beatles sang it in a song or how about The Who saying they own the rights to the phrase "Who are you?" because of their song "Who Are You?"

A local TV station contacted a trademark attorney to discuss this nonsense. She said the federal courts may have to decide its ownership and the trademark issue is strictly about who first used the phrase in trade. Too bad so much was lost in Katrina flooding. I'd bet money some high school had shirts made once with the phrase on it or somebody sold a cake with something on it like "Who dat say dey go'n beat St. Aug."

Yes, I am tired of white folks appropriating parts black culture for profit and then behaving as though they don't know the origin. However, I'm behind anyone who protests the NFL claiming to own "Who Dat" or the fleur-de-lis for that matter.

Don't even get me started on the Bengals and Who Dey! Finally, credit to Sen. David Vitter for acknowledging in his letter to the NFL the older origins of Who Dat. Maybe I'll answer his people the next time they call my house.

1 comment:

Good and plenty said...

You tell them, sister. In the 'Lou - we used to say, "Who dat is?" Congratulations on the Super Bowl. I know y'all gonna win.