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Letter to the editor: Harlem Shake offensive

24 February 2013 By Robert Kamp, Academic Adviser 12 Comments

I will be the first to admit it, when I initially saw the videos of the Harlem Shake I thought they were great. I showed them to friends and jumped on the bandwagon.
When Towson began to organize its own Harlem Shake I immediately wanted to take part. It was, after all, done in good and harmless fun.
Then I saw a video a friend had posted on Facebook about how those in Harlem were reacting to the videos and it hit me. I once again let my own ignorance to the history and to the voices of others affect my reactions and actions.
The white male in me had once again reared its apathetic head. So I took a step back and actually read about the roots of the Harlem Shake and listened to the voices of those who were affected by the videos, not in a positive way but in a painful way, in an angry way and those voices deserve as much air time as do the countless videos.
“Let me just start off by saying that this so called new Harlem Shake is a complete mockery, insult to the originator Al B and a slap in the face to hip-hop culture … It’s surprising to see how the current viral video craze called the Harlem Shake has managed to almost completely replace a vibrant form of African-American dance that was born and bloomed in Harlem, N.Y.”  – Mamba, Boy-Cott Magazine, February 2013.
Some might say that this is all done in good fun and just because the videos are called the Harlem Shake, that does not imply any disrespect towards the city, people or culture of Harlem or hip-hop.
But that’s the point. Because it is much easier to go with the flow as opposed to paddling against the current. It is why the message of the effects of these videos has not been heard.
When millions of people, 4.6 million views on one video alone, are caught up in the hysteria of something new, the term viral becomes exceedingly more apropos.
It is my opinion that those of us in this society who have the privilege of not needing to paddle against the current are much more easily affected and infected by these viral moments and therefore need to become that much more aware of the nature of the affect that they have on the “other” whomever that may be.
I will not be attending the Towson University Harlem Shake and will instead spend my time reading and hearing from those on both sides of the spectrum.
Until then my opinion remains uneducated yet evolved from its original infected form.


12 Comments »

  • Dom P said:

    Ummmmmmmm the Towerlight did a Harlem Shake before the official Towson one??? What the hell are you talking about? Sorry our video has over 10,000 views in 8 hours and we’re just normal students trying to bring our school together. You have too much time your hands pal.

  • Mike said:

    ‘Al B is quoted saying that the dance is “a drunken shake anyway, it’s an alcoholic shake, but it’s fantastic, everybody appreciates it.” He said it comes from the ancient Egyptians and describes it as what the mummies used to do.”

    There isn’t much to offend.

  • Phylicia said:

    Why can’t white people just accept the fact that a) it’s appropriation b) it’s offensive?

    Please listen to what information is being given to you, and reflect on how your privilege has undermined a part of black culture.

  • KneeJerk said:

    No one can do anything any more without someone getting upset. This country is going to hell in a handbasket.

  • SoWhat said:

    Here is the problem with current culture. So what if it offends someone? There is no “right” to never be offended. Do what you want and I will do what I want. If you want to feel guilty for being white and enjoying an internet craze then go ahead. I will continue to be white, watch these videos and not give a damn that “drunk shakers” in harlem are upset the dance might make fun of them. Dont want to have a dance made after the shakes? Dont be an addict. If we go through life worrying if our every action is going to offend someone we will live dull, sterilized, insignificant lives. Offense doesnt kill people, give it a rest.

  • Mac Hines said:

    WTF? Haven’t you ever heard the phrase “Imitation is the greatest form of flattery?” Besides, America is the great melting pot. African-American, Italian-American, Cuban-American, Latino, Irish-Ameican, etc, etc, all form American culture.

    Besides, this is the way cultural aspects evolve, by being interpreted and adopted.

    Lighten-up and enjoy instead of being offended by every little thing someone does!

  • Robert said:

    I appreciate all the comments. I guess my article was not that I didn’t enjoy the good nature vibe of the videos which I did, I just felt like I needed to become more aware. I know this country is very PC sensitive and it can go overboard sometimes, but I also think it’s important to understand that if a group is offended, it’s worth taking the time to acknowledge and respect that viewpoint and learn why.

  • Mac Hines said:

    Do you know of anyone offended? You can’t please everyone all the time?

    What if I take offense to commercials that make white guys look stupid? What if I feel offended that the Smyth’s sign where Natty Boh is proposing to the Utz girl only depicts marriage between two straight white people??

    I am offended because people are not offended by this!

    Whine, whine, whine!!!

  • Sean said:

    IMAGINE HOW MUCH BETTER THE WORLD WOULD BE IF WE TOOK OUR INTEREST AND PASSION FOR AND DISGUST WITH

    STUPID. STUFF.

    …AND PUT OUR EFFORTS INTO SOMETHING THAT MATTERS?

  • Mike said:

    Shoosh that’s pretty racist
    I’ve seen plenty of black people and other minorities doing the dance too.

  • Ron Vibbentrop said:

    @Shoosh….monkeys, hah!

  • Amy said:

    Mac Hines, imitation isn’t flattery when the “imitation” isn’t correctly “imitated” and they are making fun of something that has meaning and roots. I’m not saying those who made these videos intended to offend the people of Harlem, however, you cannot deny the fact that people are offended. The people who are bashing this article are probably people who have never been discriminated against because of their race or sex and you just live your life watching funny Youtube videos and don’t really have any other interests outside of that, come on, you can’t even recognize that these videos are offensive to some people? You all should take a step outside of your arrogant lives and look at it from someone else’s point of view, as Kamp has done. This article needed to be written, so if you don’t like it, then keep making your idiotic dubstep “harlem shake” videos.

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