This Popular Handclapping Game Wasn’t Just For Fun - It Was A Warning

boy and girl running beside a gray wall
Zain Murdock
April 11, 2024

“I don’t wanna go to county jail no more, more, more / It’s a big fat policeman at my door, door, door / He’ll snatch you by yo collar, make you pay a dollar / I don’t wanna go to county jail no more, more, more.” 

 These 2002 lyrics from Project Pat’s “County Jail” ring familiar for generations of Black children. 

 Because the handclapping game they’re based on, “Shame,” has an extensive history.

It perhaps begins with Macy’s Doggerel, where, in response to cops routinely harassing women at Macy’s, early-1900s New York City children chanted, “I won’t go to Macy’s any more, more, more.”

Over time, Black girls nationwide evolved the lyrics to their regions and vernacular language. But why?

Ethnomusicologist Kyra Gaunt says it’s kinetic orality. They’re responding to institutionalized anti-Blackness through everyday playground phenomena. 

 “When their parents share the latest news, or talk about how they are being treated, kids are overhearing,” she explains. “One way to alleviate the anxiety … is to make games about them.”

Play will always reflect the times. Over the past several generations, the violence of policing has intermingled with expressions of childhood joy. But in a liberated future, Black children won’t have to warn each other through games. Shame’s “policeman” will no longer be a pressing threat.

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