Flame wars have now introduced millions of privileged people from around the world to the struggle of the black community through a beautiful piece of our tortured history. But as off-putting as the Harlem Shake phenomenon might be, it’s certainly not racially provocative.
I don’t usually follow Internet memes, but every now and then a controversial one will plaster my Facebook with flame wars, and I get hooked on the trend. This week, at the end of a Black History Month that was barely noticed by many Emporia State students and organizations, virtual race wars have broken out over what’s being called the “Harlem Shake.”
In the video trend, 30 seconds of a new-age synth track of the same name is played while costumed participants, who are usually identified as white, flail uncontrollably with props when the beat drops. The participants’ willingness to embarrass themselves is one thing, but that is not as controversial as the fact that the Harlem Shake is already a famous dance move from the African-American community.
Now, as a self-proclaimed critical race theory scholar, my first thought was to consider a growing consensus that this is another case of white America’s history of cultural misappropriation before taking my own stance on the issue. Surprisingly, I don’t think this is a racial issue, but it is a very widespread one that even ESU students have made themselves a part of with their own 30 second shake vids.
I don’t take issue with the naming of the track, so I guess I can’t take issue with the rest of it. A pretty cool DJ named a song after a pretty awesome dance, and it exploded into something silly white people have taken the time to participate in.
I can see why someone could think that it is messed up that the name “Harlem Shake” is an international craze known for something other than what it originally represented, but it does not take away from the brilliance of the black community. We will always be able to say, “We did it first. You’re welcome for our style, our music, and you can add more. Thanks for the inspiration!”