20 Historical Children’s Songs That Are Now Considered Offensive for Their Themes

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Songs or rhymes made for children have been passed down as knowledge and entertainment for generations. However, what seemed innocent and playful back then may seem offensive and problematic now, thanks to evolving societal values. Here are 20 such songs that might seem offensive to today’s generation.

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Jack & Jill

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This is one of the most popular nursery rhymes worldwide. In it, two children go up the hill to fetch a pail of water and subsequently suffer injuries from falling. While the rhyme is often recited playfully and rhythmically, its depiction of physical accidents and injuries can disturb children. Some interpretations also suggest that this rhyme may have historical references to events or figures associated with scandal or controversy.

Eenie Meenie Miney Mo

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This popular children’s counting rhyme has been sung along through generations. But here’s a fun fact: The original version had a racial slur. The line, ‘Catch a tiger by the toe,’ had the ‘n’ word. Modern versions have deleted it, but many parents today are against this rhyme for its historical context.

Cotton Needs Pickin’

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A traditional work song that originated in the United States, it used to be included in children’s songbooks. Enslaved workers sang it and also became popular later on. However, the lyrics glorify the slavery of the laborer picking cotton while overshadowing the harsh realities. They also hide the exploitation inherent in slavery and are criticized for this.

Old Black Joe

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A song by Stephen Foster in the mid-19th century tells the story of the past from an African American perspective. The lyrics and the portrayal hint at the racism present back then. The whole depiction of the music video has led to criticism of the song. No parents would want to teach their children to reinforce harmful racial narratives, and hence, it is no longer mentioned in any children’s song collections.

Polly Wolly Doodle

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Another folk song from the 19th century, this one has had many versions. While the song is considered to be light-hearted, many versions’ lyrics contain racial stereotypes and derogatory language, particularly the portrayal of African Americans. People exclude it from children’s song lists as it underlies issues of racial mockery and insensitivity.

Rock-a-bye Baby

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This is a lullaby that has been sung to infants for centuries. It describes an incident involving a baby in a cradle who eventually falls from a tree, leading to an unsettling conclusion. Even though it is sung to children to soothe them to sleep, its lyrics depict a scenario that can be seen as frightening and potentially traumatic for young listeners. According to parents, this lullaby calls for promoting a sense of safety and security rather than fear.


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This was written back in the early 19th century by George Gershwin and gained its fame through its association with minstrel shows and a demeaning performance by Al Johnson. Al Johnson would have a blackface on when he would perform, and this might be linked to the perpetuation of racial stereotypes in today’s time. The lyrics have a stereotypical portrayal of African Americans, and it is racist. It’s not taught to children to avoid demeaning reinforcements.

Jimmy Crack Corn

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This was a popular folk song in the United States in the 19th century, also called ‘Blue Tail Fly.’ It tells a story about an enslaved person whose master has died and why it’s not sung by children anymore because of the casual tone towards the master’s death. The insensitivity is criticized because of the portrayal of slavery and the response to the master’s death.

My Old Kentucky Home

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Another one, written by Stephen Foster in the 19th century, has the same issues as a few others. It glorifies the antebellum South’s way of life while depicting enslaved people poorly. People backlash against it for romanticizing slavery and associating the racial past while perpetuating a nostalgic view of the unjust period.

Three Blind Mice

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As the title indicates, it’s a nursery rhyme about three blind mice pursued and harmed by a farmer’s wife. Today’s parents might not like the depiction of violent imagery and disability’s portrayal negatively. They believe that rhymes have the potential to perpetuate harmful stereotypes about disability through the casual treatment of violence. Rather than problematic messages, they want their children to learn empathy, respect, and non-violence.


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Released in the mid-19th century during the American Civil War, it became synonymous with the Confederacy. It glorified the Southern way of living and favored the Confederacy. Daniel Decatur Emmette wrote it, and what makes this song so offensive is its portrayal of the antebellum South while promoting a racist agenda. This song is no longer taught to kids because of the belief that it romanticizes the moments of racial injustice and human suffering.

Ten Little Indians

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This was originally a minstrel song that portrayed Native Americans as ‘Indians.’ Even though it was a traditional children’s song, it used reductive stereotypes, which would be unacceptable today. It shows an entire culture in a bad light while narrowing down the diverse cultural heritage to demeaning characters. It would be considered racially insensitive and not included in children’s songbooks.

Baa Baa Black Sheep

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One of the most famous nursery rhymes around the world is interpreted to be ‘racist’ by some people. Though it doesn’t have any direct race reference, some people believe that the term ‘black sheep’ has racial undertones. Additionally, the historical context writing included exploitative and inhumane treatment of black people. These potential offensive reasons led some parents to reconsider its uses.

Ring around the Rosie

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A nursery rhyme that is sung while playing has been interpreted by some people as a reference to the black plague. Many people believe that the lyric, “ashes, ashes, we all fall down,” refers to the symptoms and fatalities of the plague. Though the topic is debatable among historians, the song’s potential links with a tragic historical event have led people to raise concerns. It’s a great example of how seemingly innocent songs can have darker undertones.

Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me

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This was famous among children in the mid-19th century. Its lyrics had a phrase, ‘I belong to somebody,’ interpreted as having associations with ownership and slavery. What makes the beliefs stronger is that it was written at a time when slavery was a prominent practice to be done in the United States. Now, it’s seen as problematic due to the historical context and potential implications.

Miss Susie Had a Steamboat

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It was a song turned into a clapping game for the children! While the song is enjoyed for its playful and rhythmic beats and melody, its suggestive content can be seen as inappropriate for children. The wordplay skirts the edge of vulgarity, and such content is now more carefully monitored to ensure that its potentially offensive content isn’t exposed to children.


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A French-Canadian song about plucking the feathers from a lark is now criticized for its advocacy for animal welfare. It has a light-hearted tune, and the lyrics portray the systematic tearing and cutting of a bird wide open. Its cheerful nature underlies the violent content, which often goes unnoticed, making it a questionable choice for young audiences. Though it’s a tradition, parents would not want their children to know such heart-wrenching things at a tender age.

Old Dan Tucker

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Another one to receive its fame through blackface minstrel performances, this one dates back to the mid-19th century. And yes, the reason is similar because it portrayed African Americans in a demeaning manner. People don’t include this one in children’s song collections because of the offensive it has due to the minstrel show origins and perpetuation of racial stereotypes.

Uncle Ned

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Here is another rhyme by Stephen Foster, who wrote this one in the mid-19th century. And yes, just like the other ones, it tells the story of an African American elderly man and reflects the racial stereotypes of that time. The portrayal is patronizing and sentimental, which might lead to criticism in today’s time. 

Alabama Bound

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is a traditional folk song of America that originated in the early 20th century. It was sung with pride once. However, upon a thorough examination, today’s generation feels that the song’s lyrics have references to African American racial stereotypes and dialects, which reflects the discrimination at the time. The lyrics show the life of an African American living in the South and trivialize the struggles faced by him and black communities.

Author: Ali Van Straten

Title: Journalist

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