porch monkey

Wilson Gray hwgray at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 21 22:33:16 UTC 2011

On Fri, Jan 21, 2011 at 3:30 AM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at gmail.com> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: Â  Â  Â  American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster: Â  Â  Â  Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject: Â  Â  Â porch monkey
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Not in OED in /any/ sense--ethnic slur, the (original?) functional term,
> or "statuette" house accessory derived from it. Wiki has an odd
> suggestion under Ethnic slurs:
>> Porch monkey
>> Â  Â  a black person referring to perceived common behavior of groups
>> hanging out on front porches or steps of urban apartment complexes in
>> U.S. cities.
> This is the sentiment shared by most posts under "porch monkey" in UD,
> but it sounds like backwards derivation, suggesting a rational
> explanation to an older term.

> Besides, front steps or stoops are /not/ porches.

Quite so. But they're sufficiently porch-like for government work.

OTOH, hanging out on the front porch *is* a Southern thing. But it's
common among both
the black poor and the white poor. (That it's common among the white poor I
know only from pictures of the poor-white lifestyles. It goes without
saying that I avoid being around any white people of any class, unless
some aspect of life, like having to get an education, to work for a
living, to buy food or clothing, etc.. Hence, I have no first-person
experience at all of the lives of poor whites and only the most
trivial experience of the lives of the white non-poor, having noted
primarily only that the white non-poor are under the
absolutely-mistaken impression that the lives and lifestyles of the
black non-poor parallel their own, except that the colored "have"
their own neighborhood. There's no reason to regard porch-sitting as
peculiar to blacks. And, even if it was, it's not likely that any
white person of any class would be aware of it, there usually being no
motivation for a white person to be in Darktown or for one to give a
flying fuck at a rolling doughnut about the lifestyles of the poor and
black, if he did.

> GB is horrific on the subject--there is nothing before 1970, when
> Mississippi Folklore Register picks up the term as one used by white
> troops in reference to black troops in WWII.
> http://goo.gl/wM9qz
> The snippet shows irrelevant text, but the preview is more forthcoming:
>> A more mundane reliance on the monkey-image to express racist
>> attitudes can be seen in terms such as "porch monkey," much in use by
>> white American servicemen during World War II to describe

_Negro comrades-in-arms_.

Har! Har! Whoa! That's a real thigh-slapper! Even as recently as the
Viet-Nam War,
white soldiers didn't regard black GI's and marines as their
"comrades-in-arms." They regarded the colored as "niggers," just as
they had back in the "Land of the Big PX." Read any novel or see any
movie ever made about war as carried on by white America. Or, better still,
read the Army's own, surprisingly
not-censored-to-the-extent-that-one-might-expect official history of
U.S. wars, in conjunction with reading the novels and seeing the

> There are 11 other GB hits that may have some relevance through 1990,
> none between 1970 and 1982, with only a handful with snippet view of the
> relevant text. There are no hits in AHN at all--not one! There are no
> GNA hits either prior to 1983 (and the earliest one is
> here--http://goo.gl/LyheO ). This is highly puzzling to me, as I heard
> the term /explained/ to me in 1983 by a college classmate (from Long
> Island). At that point, I was already aware of the term referring to the
> half-size lamp-posts carved (or molded--wooden, metal, ceramic or
> plastic) in the shape of a human (white or black) or an actual monkey
> (also sometimes pitch-black, dressed in lackey uniform)--this is
> actually why I asked for an explanation in the first place. The
> explanation I got, at that point, was that it originally referred to
> actual people (often children--hence half-size post) who held the lamps
> or other accoutrements at Southern mansions (and, occasionally, in
> Northern ones too, although the subjects would not have been slaves).
> Finally, the term was also a general racial slur derived from those two
> uses.

Well, I'll be John Brown! I had absolutely *no* idea that there was
any actual entity that is referred to *literally* as a "porch monkey"!


> But if this is the case, I find no evidence of this anywhere. Slang
> dictionaries appear to ignore the phrase. Contemporary "common wisdom"
> (such as Wiki and UD--the only links offered by OneLook) ascribes it to
> the "perceived habit" of African-Americans (Wiki adds "urban") to sit on
> the porch (and, as one UD posts suggests, to "throw back 40s", which is
> a reference to 40-oz malt liquor).

That's just pure, updated, racist bullshit of the kind that no longer
exists in contemporary, post-racial America. The people who consider
themselves so sufficiently knowledgeable of black America that they
feel qualified to define obscure aspects of it in support of their
racism gross me out.

The Black Muslims do the same thing, WRT white people. But, of course,
even in the black community, they're a sad joke.

> Nowhere do I find the explanation in
> any shape or form similar to the one I got by word of mouth back in
> 1983. I've seen the lamps (and just posts that were meant to resemble
> them--without the actual lamps) in stores, sometimes labeled as "porch
> monkeys". I did not imagine these--they really were there, and not in
> the Deep South, but in an Allston/Brighton, MA, "Antiques" store (among
> several). There is also no doubt that there is a corresponding ethnic slur.
> So what gives? This is the kind of stuff that, for the first time, makes
> /me/ feel old (with apologies to Jon, Wilson and others). I also recall
> someone suggesting, at one point--without evidence--that the same
> terminology was used in Colonial India to refer to boys with fans who
> accompanied rich locals or Brits. In this case, the claim seems more
> doubtful, in light of complete absence from recorded literature--and I
> would have expected fewer reservation in using such terminology in
> British and Indian texts. In US, on the other hand, it is quite obvious
> that there was significant /awareness/ of "porch monkey" as an ethnic
> slur between 1970-1983, yet there is no record of that either, except
> for singular publications at either end. And this awareness might have
> contributed to keeping the term /out/ of printed sources. Still, if the
> term is older, why the mystery?
> The 1983 piece in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette places it in a sentence
> right next to

"jungle bunny"

This one has probably been around since 1619. It's traditional,
regardless of whatever difficulty there may be in locating occurrences
of it in print.

> --which, to my mind, is more modern (OED has
> quotations from 1966 to 1974 from US, Australia and South Africa--GNA
> has the earliest appearance in NYT on May 11, 1969). But, although
> printed accounts portray "porch monkey" going back at least to WWII,
> there are no printed accounts that I found that actually use it! Still,
> "jungle bunny" appearing in print in the late 60s and "porch monkey" in
> 1970 is suggestive.
> So, there you have it.

> It's a ghost racial epithet

IMO, this is the correct analysis. I've never heard this term spoken
by anyone of whatever race or ethnicity and I've seen it in print only
from time to time, so rarely that even *I* choose not to hazard a
guess as to whether it was in some random work of literature, in the
newspaper, or whereTF.

> that may or may not
> have origin in slavery, but one that has existed nearly invisible for at
> least 30 years--or, possibly, 130 years or even longer. And the non-slur
> usage is also invisible, even today.
> Â  Â  VS-)

FWIW, Victor, an excellent analysis, IMO. "Those who know don't say.
Those who say don't know." So to speak. ;-)

All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
–Mark Twain

Once that we recognize that we do not err out of laziness, stupidity,
or evil intent, we can uncumber ourselves of the impossible burden of
trying to be permanently right. We can take seriously the proposition
that we could be in error, without necessarily deeming ourselves
idiotic or unworthy.
–Kathryn Schulz

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