Just the other day, my girlfriend and I was discussing superstition and it’s impact on Black African Americans. A few days later, I was reviewing some of my ancient emails on my external hard drive and came upon this one and decided to share it with my readers. Initially I did not know the origin of this information, only that a friend shared it with me many years ago. However, once I decided to use it as a post, I let my fingers do the walking and Googled “Top 20 Black Superstitions,” (All underlined words are links.) and found a probable source. I am posting the entire e-mail, with only one modification.
The modification I have made is the term of identify used for people of my race as evidenced by italics. As you have noticed in my posts, I choose to identify myself and my race as “Black African Americans.” Now to the email.
“Black African American superstitions originate from a mixture of ancient African religion, Native American traditions, and European folklore.
Growing up do you remember hearing that an itchy palm means you are going to receive money soon? Or stepping on a crack can break your mother’s back? Or dreaming of fish means someone you know is pregnant?
In our technologically savvy times some of these are regarded as foolish wives tales, but superstition was part of a legitimate belief system during slavery. There are many recorded instances of slave masters who stated they saw Black magical conjurers that healed the sick, performed spells and curses, and taught others these superstitions.
Although many typically won’t admit they are superstitious, there are many superstitions Black African Americans believe in because of how deeply ingrained they are in Black African American culture.
I have compiled a list of 20 superstitions that many Black African Americans pass on generation upon generation.
- Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.
I remember learning this rhyme as a child, and always thought of it as an innocent childish game, but feared the repercussions of stepping on that infamous crack in the pavement. I recently learned that the original rhyme was far from innocent: “Step on a crack and your mother will turn black.” It is believed to come from the late 19th century racism. Who would have known?!
- If your ear is ringing someone is talking about you.
I know many people who believe this one. This superstition creates paranoia in many because nobody wants to find out someone is talking about them behind their back.
- Don’t cut a baby’s hair before his/her first birthday.
If you do so they will have “bad hair” or bad luck. This wives tale may hold valid reasoning. African American hair naturally changes consistency and texture many times throughout their lifetimes, and methods of hair cuts can affect the look or texture. This old wives tale originates from the fear of coarse, “harder to manage” hair many refer to as “bad hair,” along with a recorded history of babies who have gotten sick because they did not have hair to help in keeping them warm. I’d probably research more before I tried it on my child.
4. Sunshine, Raining, and Thunder at the same time: The devil is beating his wife.
This is called a Sunshower when the sun is shining and it is raining and/or thunder and lightning at the same time. Sun showers are very rare occurrences. Does that mean that the devil keeps his wife happy typically?
- If you keep making funny faces, one day it will get stuck that way.
As a child I always believed this one. I remember seeing a man with very big eyes, and believed that the condition was self-inflicted. It is a humorous superstition, although we all know that your face will not really get stuck.
6. If your palm is itching that means that you are coming into some money.
An itching in the right palm means coming gain; in the left, coming loss. Whenever my mom’s right palm would itch, we would go buy lottery tickets. We have yet to win, but the itchy palm superstition is one of my favorites to this day.
- Don’t talk on the phone or turn on the TV while it is thundering and lightning.
Apparently you can get struck by lightning. I always thought of this as a superstition, but recently found out that this one was true. If you are using a landline telephone, you can be shocked by a lightning bolt. There have been lightening related deaths, due to the lightning hitting a home and the current passing through wires. Preventative measures have been implemented into most home appliances, but the risk still exists.
- Don’t put your purse on the floor or you’ll stay broke.
I think this superstition is used to teach people accountability. A magic curse may not be the reason you’re broke if you put your purse on the floor, but it might be the issue if you’re not paying attention to your purse and the valuables inside of it. Although I don’t believe this superstition, I avoid removing a woman’s purse off of the floor at all costs. It would be disrespectful on one hand, and I wouldn’t want to be blamed for “cursing” someone to be broke.
- Don’t go to the zoo when you are pregnant.
Your baby will come out looking like an animal, particularly a monkey. This superstition sounds like it was also created from racist notions. I was unable to find the origin of this superstition, while there has yet to be a baby who has transformed into an animal. I am sure this superstition keeps pregnant women away from the zoo.
10. Fish dreams means that someone is having a baby.
A friend from college once received a call from her grandmother, asking her if she was pregnant. Her grandmother had a dream of fish. Believe it or not, my friend was pregnant. Call it mothers intuition, or mysticism, it is a very interesting superstition.
11. Animals know when you are pregnant.
This superstition is somewhat true. Some scientists believe that a dog’s keen sense of smell allows it to notice a hormonal difference in a woman when she’s pregnant. This phenomena is not completely explainable, but does happen.
12. If you break a mirror, you will have 7 years of bad luck.
Luck is a funny thing. We avoid things that can create bad luck, and believe that we can use lucky items to change our bad luck to good luck. I’ve broken a few mirrors in my life, possibly the reason I have yet to win the lottery.
13. It’s bad luck to cross a black cat’s path.
This is a timeless myth that originates from multiple cultures. Black cats seem to be mystical, sneaky, and even evil. It is always creepy to cross paths with a black cat at night when you are walking alone. It kind of makes you wonder what might happen next.
14. Never buy your boyfriend or husband shoes as a gift. Because he’ll walk out of your life with them.
I know many women who believe this superstition. I never heard of anyone who this has happened to, but I can imagine there are people who can lay claim to this.
15. You will catch a death of cold by walking around with wet hair.
This one is true. Your head releases most of the heat in your body. If your hair is wet and you are in cold temperatures, you are putting your body at risk of getting a cold.
16. Girls are carried high; boys are carried low.
This is a myth about predicting the gender of a baby during pregnancy. Doctors have proven that this superstition is not true. In fact the way the baby is carried depends on muscle tone or the way the baby has positioned itself in the uterus. It is fun to speculate or guess the gender, but this one isn’t scientifically true.
17. If you allow children to sweep the floor, they will sweep up unwanted guests.
I have heard this one before and believe there is some truth to it. Children typically take a long time to do mundane tasks like cleaning, so I can imagine that any guests who arrive during your cleaning process are “unwanted.”
18. When you cross the railroad tracks you touch a screw for safe crossings.
I never listened to this superstition as a child. I always thought it was better luck to get across the tracks as fast as you could.
19. Never put your hat on a bed, or you will have bad luck (or worse die).
I have been guilty numerous times of putting a hat on a bed, and never thought twice about it until I saw a superstitious friends’ reaction. The worst consequence I can remember was when someone laid down on my hat. Poor hat.
20. Splitting the Pole Gives you bad luck.
If you are walking with someone, never let a pole, sign, or scaffold, break the plane between the both of you. After a bad experience, I always take heed to this superstition. One day during the winter I was walking down the street with a group of friends towards a pole. My friends warned me not to split the pole, and said I should walk on the same side of the pole they were walking on. I ignored them, and after a few steps, slipped and fell on black ice. From now on, I don’t split poles at all, or I say “bread and butter” to protect myself from the ensuing bad luck.
Oh, what a blessing it is that my people do not read, think, or use common sense says the Pastors, Pimps, and Politicians.