The names Rastus and Liza were often used in 19th and 20th
century America as generic references to black men and women
originally perhaps as innocent, 'non-loaded' nominals for blacks one
encountered whose names one didn't know, but often also to crudely
stereotype blacks as sexually-charged and simple-minded.
While one can also find in the U.S. population many non-black "Lizas"
(a deriviative of "Elizabeth" in most cases) and a few non-black males
named "Rastus" (not a common U.S. male name), in popular language the
connotations carried by the names, especially when used together, are
overwhelmingly of black characters who are being satirized. Needless to
say, in recent years such usage has not been considered "politically
correct," and there is now relatively limited use (apart from crude jokes)
of the names, though references remain common in folk stories or folk
histories of the 19th and early-to-mid 20th centuries.
Following are several examples of how the names of Rastus alone (see
also a Wikipedia
Rastus and Liza together, have been used in the past. The first is a
passage from a personal memoir by Emile R. Paillou of life in Boonville,
Missouri titled Home Town Sketches, originally published in 1926 by
The Stratford Company, Boston, Massachusetts.
In Paillou's writing, referring to a period earlier than the 1926 year of
publication, the word "negro" was probably not intended to be pejorative;
there is no indication that Rastus indicates anything more than a name of
convenience for an unknown man. Clearly, though, Rastus is black; equally
clearly he is not portrayed as being very bright. Thus an association of
"inferiority" or "caricature" is associated with Rastus, whether intended
How childlike is the primitive mind! Perhaps it would be more exact to say
how primitive is the childish mind, for as the child is the inheritor of
all the ages that have gone before, so he must pass through, in our brief
lifetime, all the stages of development that has taken perhaps a million
years in actual time!
We can better understand this since Einstein's law of Relativity has been
promulgated. But most of us stop on the way and so have childish,
primitive minds in adult bodies. What is this all about, you ask?
Well, there was once a Boonville man who, looking for a "hand"
along the river bank, saw a likely negro industriously fishing driftwood
out of the water.
He hailed; "Rastus, you want a job?"
"I done got me a job, boss man."
"What's your job and what do you get?"
"Well, sah, Capt. Faris he done hired me for to ketch driftwood, and
he gibs me haff o' whut I ketches."
And do you think that Rastus could be convinced that there was anything
wrong in the bargain? He could not, for Rastus' mind struck a snag when he
was about five years old. Some folks are like that.
Similarly, in the 1907 photo below, one may question whether the boy's
name was really "Rastus" or whether the name was again a "generic
labelling" for the black male. Note also the handwritten caption implying
that Rastus might be cheating. Might this reflect a common stereotype, or
contribute to one; or was it only coincidental?
A different usage of Rastus as an "anonymous" black male name is found
in advertisements for the well-known American breakfast cereal Cream of
Wheat (cf. Finnish puuro). Pictured on the front of each
Cream of Wheat package from 1900 (see below) through the present
has been a tall, smiling black chef named Rastus, who is shown serving the
product to smiling children. As such there is no loading to the portrayal
However, Rastus was one of several black American advertising symbols
for food products; the portrayal of blacks as cooks or waiters in such
advertising has been claimed to reinforce past stereotypes of blacks as
obedient servants an image hardly popular among either blacks or
politically-correct whites from the 60s onward (although there
are also food products portraying whites similarly, Betty Crocker
and Sara Lee, for example). (For more detail on the Cream of
Wheat Rastus see Ross Kendrix' The Advertiser's Holy
Trinity: Aunt Jemima, Rastus, and Uncle Ben .)
(L) From Adam Micklea's "Life and Times of the 1st Half of the
20th Century Real People: 'Comic' Portrayal of Black Kids"
(originally at <home.arkansasusa.com/amicklea/people.htm>)
and (R) Cream of Wheat Original Magazine Art, 1900-1926, originally in
the "Chosen Reflections" website
While the examples above are relatively innocent, the two below typify
crude sexual humor references to Rastus and Liza. It is evident what
image of Rastus and Liza and by extension all blacks? is
conveyed by such humor, and equally why such references are now
Rastus and Liza on Their Honeymoon
Rastus and Liza are on their honeymoon. Liza is lying on the bed waiting.
"Liza honey, is you ready for me?" asks Rastus.
"Yes Rastus, honey, I'm ready."
The nob of a huge black member appears around the door.
"Is you scared Liza?"
"No Rastus, I ain't scared"
Six inches of cock comes round the door.
"Is you scared now Liza?"
"No Rastus, I ain't scared."
He pushes twelve inches of throbbing black meat round the door.
"Is you scared and trembling now Liza?"
"No Rastus I ain't scared, I'm just here a-waitin' for you."
"Ok then Liza, ah's gonna come up de stairs now . . . "
Rastus and the Train
Liza sees Rastus walkin' across a railroad trestle.
She sez, "Rastus, you best
git off there b'fore a train comes and sucks you off!"
Rastus replies: "Cum 'on, train!"