Jason Haap is a lifelong educator, and he lives in Mt. Airy with his wife and two sons.
Who Dey! As recently pointed out by an Enquirer feature (“Who Dey?” Dec. 6), the phrase is an adjective, a noun, a pronoun, a verb, an adverb, and even a beer! What a lot of people don’t like to discuss, however, is that the phrase might also be just a little bit racist – a detail made even more burdensome given the context of our current culture wars (where even attempting to have such a conversation can lead to ideologically loaded accusations of “political correctness” gone awry).
To really get at the origins of Who Dey, one needs to think of the whole Who Dey chant, paying close attention to the other words: “Who dey think gonna beat dem Bengals?” Do you see what words I’m talking about? Maybe this becomes more obvious when we consider the nearly identical chant from the New Orleans Saints: “Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints?”
Look for the d-words: “dey,” “dat,” “dem.” What are they doing in there? The words should actually be “they,” “that,” and “them” (though, admittedly, “Who They” doesn’t quite have the same appeal). Though I studied linguistics and African American literature in college, I’m pretty sure most of us need no background in either of those things to see the relationship here: dey, dat, and dem are versions of they, that, and them typically found in Black English, or Gullah, or Creole English, or Ebonics, or any number of English dialects tracing their roots back to African language. Our beloved chant imitates Black English.
The history is easier to trace in New Orleans, where the phrase “Who Dat” was a mainstay of minstrel shows since at least 1898. In fact, when the Saints won the Super Bowl in 2010, the New Yorker ran an article entitled “The Strange Case of Who Dat,” addressing the issue head-on, acknowledging the phrase’s history in minstrel shows while also concluding it’s not racist to say at football games. I’ll leave those kinds of conclusions for the reader to decide.
Even the Enquirer’s story seems subconsciously to dance around the edge of this issue – once again as demonstrated through interesting word choice – even if we (as collective Cincinnatians) are not ready to address the topic straight away. In her feature, reporter Carol Motsinger wrote that the phrase “would fit right into the pews of a church. It’s call-and-response.”
“Call-and-response,” for those who remember their history (especially their music history), comes from African culture and was brought to the New World during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. “Who Dey” does invoke a sense of call-and-response, and that’s because it is a phrase that approximates Black English, likely tracing it’s roots back to New Orleans and minstrel shows at the turn of the 20th century.
That minstrel shows were an embodiment of racism is obvious to everyone these days. But is it appropriate for a stadium filled with mostly white people (some of whom consume lots of alcohol and paint their bodies black and orange) to chant “Who Dey”? I’ll leave that for readers to consider. Whatever your conclusions, history is history, and we should remember it when we can – which is what disappoints me the most in The Enquirer’s recent feature on this piece of potentially troublesome Bengals trivia.
Nice try, Jason Haap, but even the most gullible of Internet rabble rousers can see that this is all a cry for attention. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, though. I’m a firm believer in the old, no such thing as bad press approach. Go on the record and say you don’t think Muslims should be allowed in this country and you appear on al four major television networks the next day, write an editorial about a “racist” NFL chant and have Bengals fans from here to California up in arms. Guess what? It works. I mean, you got my read. This morning I hadn’t the slightest clue who Jason Happ even was, but here we are several hours later and he’s getting a shout out in one my personal blogs. In a world where clicks and pageviews and social media are everything, it doesn’t really matter what you say or how many people actually agree with you, as long as they’re talking about you and what you stand for, then it’s mission accomplished.
By the way, in no way, shape, or form is “Who Dey” a racist chant. If anything, it’s the polar opposite. The Who Dey cry serves as a calling card that unifies fans and an entire community on NFL Sundays regardless of creed or color. That’s one of the many great things about sport and football here in America. It unites us all. Doesn’t matter if you’re white or black, young or old, the Who Dey chant is as much a part of the fabric of the Cincinnati sports scene as Skyline Chili or losing records. Unfortunately we live in a society where it’s easy to claim just about anything as being racist and people will listen because the Internet and social media provides an easy outlet with which to broadcast opinions. It sucks because there still is a racism problem here in our country. There really are ignorant bigots out there who still think it’s OK to persecute and prey on other people because of the color of their skin, but every time someone cries wolf like we see here with this Who Dey scenario, I feel like that minimizes the legitimate complaints of folks who are trying there best to speak out against real instances of racism here in America.
PS- Have you seen this picture of
Tony Gonzalez I mean Rob Gronkowski I mean Tyler Eifert yet?
I’m not gonna lie, when that popped up on my timeline last night I legit think it moved a little bit. I’m convinced we really are going to win a Super Bowl now. It’s not just that tweet. It’s the attitude behind the tweet. Our team is as good as anybody right now and it’s pretty evident seeing shit like this that these dudes legitimately believe they have a chance to win the whole fuckin’ thing.