[Ads-l] banana

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at NETSCAPE.COM
Wed Oct 30 16:02:22 UTC 2019

I found time to do a, well, snippet of research in Google Books.

Ben Zimmer reports that the OED has cites for "banana=yellow on the outside, white on the inside" back to 1970.  GB's earliest cite for this metaphor appears to be 1971.

GB's first cite for the Oreo Cookie metaphor is


The Congressional Record for September 23, 1969, page 26784, column 2, 3rd paragraph, in Extention of Remarks by Hon. John R. Rarick of Louisiana in the House of Representatives

[referring to African-American soldiers in Vietnam] "...the pantheon of black heroes has changed.  The N.A.A.C.P's Roy Wilkins is a "uniform tango"---military phonetics for U.T. or Uncle Tom and Massachusett's Senator Edward Brooke is an "Oreo" cookie---black on the outside, white on the inside."

Rarick is citing an expression already in use.

Oreo cookies (the bakery product) date back to 1912, so there was plenty of time before 1969 for this metaphor to have originated.

"Uncle Tom" as a metaphor for a subservient African-American goes back at least to 1945, in the play "Deep Are The Roots" by Arnaud D'Usseau and James Gow:


BRETT. Honey, you're a nice girl; act that way.  Be a little more proud of yourself.
HONEY.  You mean act uppity like you, and play Uncle Tom for white folks?
BRETT. (Grabbing her wrist, coldly.) Listen, you! I'm no Uncle Tom.  Don't you ever say so again!

and in what appears to be an introduction to the play: "Our literature in general has depicted the Negro in American life in one of two ways.  Either he is the subservient stereotype, the "Uncle Tom," with all that odious phrase implies; or he's of a sort best represented by Bigger Thomas, the tragic hero of Richard Wright's _Native Son_."

Both of these quotes imply that the Uncle-Tom-as-subservient metaphor antedates 1945, but I was not able to find any earlier usages.

- Jim Landau

Netscape.  Just the Net You Need.

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list