See what Harlem residents have to say about the internet’s latest meme.
(The video contains harsh language.)
It all started with one video … and then the behemoth consciousness of the internet was hooked. The meme started with the song in the video that was written by a DJ-producer named Baauer. A fan-made video using the song was uploaded in early February and became almost an overnight sensation. There have been hundreds of other versions created since then.
Residents of Harlem react by saying things like, “It seems like they are making fun of us,” “That’s not the Harlem Shake! The Harlem Shake has rhythm,” “Living in Harlem’s not like that,” and more.
Darkening the door of this internet fad are questions about cultural appropriation and racism. Why? Because the Harlem Shake that’s been flooding your social media streams has nothing to do with the original hip hop Harlem Shake (also referred to as “albee”) dance that originated in the 1980’s in Harlem.
Jamie Utt of Change From Within says:
Though you wouldn’t know it from the meme, the actual dance known as the Harlem Shake is not where one shakes around as if she or he is having a seizure while humping things and wearing a silly costume. It is part of the rich tradition of dance and the arts in Harlem. Dating back to 1981 and drawing upon an Ethiopian dance called the Eskista, the Harlem Shake has long been a staple of hip hop dance in this predominantly African American section of New York.
He goes onto explain that had the videos had been named something different it would be just fine, and why a video like this plays into the much deeper, much more sinister systemic kind of racism:
The reason that White cultural appropriation is so insidious is that it is not an intentionally racist, but it plays into a system of racism where White people believe that everything is ours, everything is in-bounds to us, so we can take whatever we want, and in doing so, divorce it from its history and meaning.
You can read Jamie’s full piece here.
So what do you think? Are the “Harlem Shake” videos racist? Is this latest internet meme bastardizing the name of an important cultural item? Or is it much ado about nothing?
Photo credit: YouTube, “Harlem Reacts to ‘Harlem Shake’ Videos”