has my back

Wendalyn Nichols wnichols at RANDOMHOUSE.COM
Wed May 5 18:30:08 UTC 1999

It's dangerous to speculate rather than looking for specific citations,
especially for those of us who are not part of the community from which the
term comes. Highly erroneous assumptions tend to be the result. My fiance
is black, and uses the expression "I('ve) got your back" frequently.  It's
used most often in its broadest sense, meaning "I'm looking out for
you/I'll always support you."  I've been reading _Harlem On My Mind_ (The
New Press, 1995) which is the text of a book originally published along
with an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1968.  It has
collections of writings by and about Harlem, mostly taken from local press
articles, grouped by decade.  I've been trying to re-read the 1920s section
to find the place where "I've got your back" was used - thought it was in a
very interesting article in the Sunday News of November 3, 1929 where the
white writer gives a glossary of terms that "slummers" from downtown need
to know if they go to Harlem speakeasies. It's not in that article, but I'm
certain I saw the term in an article dated between 1900 and 1929.  The
point is that the term has nothing to do with movies or TV ; its
taken-for-granted occurrence in an article of the period probably means the
expression itself is older still.

))))))))) Previous Notes Mail
cc:     (bcc: Discuss/MailBox/RandomHouse)
From:  Steve Geiger <srgeiger @ STUDENTS.WISC.EDU>
Date:  04/29/99 01:19 AM
Subject:  Re: has my back

I haven't looked it up for a true citation, but I would think that it comes
from the action/drama television and movie circuit.  It would be a parallel
phrase to "I've got you covered," as in when someone is running out into a
stream of bullets or something.

>This afternoon I heard a Virginia student in an NPR interview say that who
>or what has his back is God. This was in response to a question about
>kids get their sense of appropriate behavior.
>Familar to anyone?  I suppose it may have its roots in "monkey on my back"
>or "my mother is on my back" etc.

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