Urban Legends

Black and White Baby

The Legend

Found on the Internet in 1997

At Sirindale College in Toronto, one of the secretaries was engaged to be married. A group of Dale's friends, her name was Dale, decided to give her a swinging "doe" party, sort of a female "stag" party. They invited a stripper to perform and he did, both for the gathered group and for Dale "in private."

Now, Dale was white and the stripper was black. Why is this important? Because nine months later, Dale's new husband asked her for a divorce because she wanted to buy a zebra. Believe me, when that happened she was red all over.

Behind the Legend

This is an interesting case of a legend that has been significantly modified by the process folklorists call "telephone transmission," named for the "telephone" party game, in which a group of friends sits in a circle, one of them whispers a message to the next, who whispers it to the next, etc., until it reaches the original speaker, who passes it back to the next person, again etc., until it's time to go home.

The actual occurrence behind this legend was a bachelorette party that resulted in the birth of a black baby to a white woman at a Erindale college in 1997. As the story was passed along, it changed subtly. The first variation had the woman giving birth to twins, one black and one white. The next had her child being of mixed race, half black and half white. There are a few stories after that in which the phrase "mixed race" is left out and the baby is described simply as being "half black and half white" from which the versions with the baby being "like a zebra" apparently come. The story that had the woman birthing an actual zebra didn't last long before mutating again, probably because of its improbability. The penultimate version has the woman buying a zebra, and on to that was tacked a punch line from the folklorically ancient joke, "What's black and white and red all over? A sunburned zebra."

As it is now told, the story makes less literal sense, but it has a certain moral harmony to it that, like much folklore, resonates with the audience. There is a feeling of someone wronged and the wrong being punished, and the woman's "unnatural" desire for a man not of her race leading to another unnatural desire (to buy a zebra) evokes the spirit of sympathetic magic so common in orally transmitted tales.

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