How the shifting tides of acceptable language have transformed a plea for racial harmony into a racist tract.
Recorded in 1969, Blue Mink’s Melting Pot is an idealistic plea for social harmony and a wish that racism and religious differences could be made a thing of the past by making everyone the same. You might argue that it is as much an attack on individualism as on racism, perhaps, but its heart is in the right place, especially given the conflicts and disharmony of the end of the 1960s. A mildly funky duet between a black woman (Madeline Bell, who still performs the song live and unedited to this day) and a white man (Roger Cook), it reached Number 3 on the UK charts, and clearly it struck a chord with people at the time. Liking the song was probably a good way of showing just how progressive you were. Of course, nothing ages faster than the social justice of yesterday, and by modern standards, some of the lyrics to Melting Pot have – to say the least – not aged well:
Take a pinch of white man
Wrap him up in black skin
Add a touch of blue blood
And a little bitty bit of red Indian boy
Oh like a Curly Latin kinkies
Oh Lordy, Lordy, mixed with yellow Chinkees, yeah
You know you lump it all together
And you got a recipe for a get along scene
Oh what a beautiful dream
If it could only come true, you know, you know
What we need is a great big melting pot
Big enough enough enough to take
The world and all its got and keep it stirring for a hundred years or more
And turn out coffee coloured people by the score
I’m sure I don’t need to point out where in that first verse that the song’s message of racial harmony might be lost to modern listeners. But unless you’ve kicked in your radio – or at least switched off in disgust – before that verse has finished, then the context for this list of racial stereotypes becomes clear, and I’m assuming (perhaps naively, I’ll admit) that Blue Mink were making a specific point by using racially insulting phrases that even in 1969 might have raised eyebrows. Indeed, the dubious nature of the song is nothing new – when Boyzone covered the song in 1996, they changed “yellow chinkees” to “Oriental and sexy” and “curly Latin kinkies” to “curly black and kinky” both of which of course would now be seen as just as bad, while the “red” from “Red Indian boy” was dropped.
Even in 2015, the song was seen as beyond the pale for airplay – BBC presenter Iain Lee went out of his way to present his right-on credentials by playing the song after saying “I think it might be a little bit racist now” and then dramatically pulling it off the air after the “chinkees” lyric – a rather contrived stunt, you might think.
So the song is definitely ‘problematic’, and if you play Melting Pot on your radio station today – even if your station’s demographics are people who think that music stopped being any good in 1970 and and have never even heard of intersectionality – then you’d better precede it (and, just to safe, follow it) with an earnest discussion of the context of the song and perhaps some finger-wagging disapproval of the lyrics, or you’re going to get into trouble. This fate has befallen two UK radio stations so far, and unless golden oldie radio stations across the country suddenly start pouring over the lyrics of every record that they have been playing for years (and let’s assume that Melting Pot has not suddenly been dusted off to upset modern listeners, but has been part of station playlists for a long, long time) then it’ll probably happen again.
Some might argue that the message of Melting Pot surely overrides any dated language – the currently unpopular argument that it’s better to say the right thing using the wrong words than to spew hatred while carefully clinging to the currently sanctioned ‘correct’ descriptions – that dated language is less important than the overriding message of acceptance and harmony. But brodcasting censors OFCOM are having none of it, and have demanded that radio stations agree not to play the song again after receiving just one complaint.
It’s possible, of course, that even if someone were to take a further stab at reworking the offensive lyrics and re-recorded the song, the very nature of Melting Pot will grate with the current intersectionalist movement, which seems almost as keen on dismantling integration as the old Apartheid government in South Africa was, with identity politics being all – the idea of us all blending together to be one equal version of humanity is against everything that they believe in. When we are told that people of one culture should not appreciate and enjoy another culture, the idea of us all being stirred together will seem less a call for social harmony, and more an attempt to eliminate minority groups – less social cohension and more social darwinism, perhaps. As it stands, the song seems to be a provovation against both the far left and the far right, both of whom are far more likely to skwark and complain than the normal people stuck in the middle. It doesn’t take much to unite apparently dispirate groups in outrage. So perhaps the song has helped create a melting pot after all, albeit one that, rather than “coffee coloured people”, instead churns out hate-spewing offence seekers by the score.
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