Wednesday, February 20, 2013

On racism and the Harlem Shake

T: (this is a link to a grumpy cat Harlem Shake meme)
me: AHHH the fucking harlem shake
except NOT.
T: NO.
me: I'm so over people being all "harlem shake!" NO IT'S NOT, EDUCATE YOURSELF AND STOP IT.
that said, hahahaa to that video
T: as far as memes go it's a pretty shit meme
me: it's also slightly racist and more than a little ignorant
but, you know, america.
how've you been?
T: uh, how is it racist?
i don't know anything about the song. it just sounds like a shitty trap song to me.
me: the original harlem shake is...actually you know what, there's someone who makes this argument way better than I could
hold please
T: eh i mean whatever the backstory is, i'm sure Baauer is just some EDM idiot who just snagged a sample. either way the song itself is dumb as all hell
me: it's not the song, it's the whole "white people co-opting what is a historically and REALLY OBVIOUSLY black dance, not bothering to learn the actual dance itself, turning into something idiotic, while still attributing it to its original name."
T: well isn't that a problem with people and not the song?
me: and by really obviously, I mean the name, not the dance. which is not obviously black
absolutely. I was talking about the dance, not the song. I wasn't even aware that the song itself was called harlem shake. I've just seen people doing that dance
T: i don't know, something about the phrase "black dance" doesn't sit well with me
me: I'm not dissing on the song, though admittedly, it sucks
that's cool. there are a lot of black people out there who'd disagree
and, I'm sure, others who would not
I will err on the side of maybe white people shouldn't co-opt and corrupt shit they know nothing about
T: so it'd be ok if black people corrupted it?
it's a dumb sample loaded in by a guy who probably never even heard of the original. i doubt anyone who knows about this meme knows it originates from anywhere. i don't really think there's anything more to read into it than that.
just because it happened to come from a black source doesn't mean it's the intentional obliteration of a piece of black culture...
i mean, i see your point, but it's pretty much just the next Move it Like Bernie.
me: 1) those are two very different topics, but for what it's worth, I don't think it would carry the same baggage if it was changed by black people
2) I'll agree to disagree, though I think people are being willfully ignorant.
T: i mean, no one says dubstep is racist, even though it completely co-opts the genre of dub and turns it into something absolutely different.
by: whites!
maybe... dubstep IS racist
me: actually, there are plenty of people who think dubstep is racist and reductionist.
when I say "racist," I don't mean that people are intentionally out there, like "WE'RE GOING TO CHANGE THIS FROM THAT NEGRO MUSIC AND MAKE IT BETTER AND WHITER!"
T: well, racism carries that connotation. i don't disagree that both the Harlem Shake and dubstep are very derivitive things, and that most people are too stupid/don't care enough to ever look into the origin of anything.
but, i don't think that just because the Harlem Shake happens to be a black source and Baauer is a white guy makes it an inherently racist song is all.
me: I mean, a cultural blindness and ignorance (that I'd argue is willful, but perhaps not in every case), as well as a sense of privilege toward culture
I don't think racism carries that specific connotation (the former, not the latter) and that's not specifically how it's defined, but connotation is subjective
and again, I wasn't saying the song was racist (though others have), but the dance
T: it's a pretty charged word. for most people, racism carries the connotation of racial hatred
even if that isn't really the academic definition
me: I think for many groups who have experienced racism (at least to people I've talked to, read their words, etc.), racism isn't always or even mostly explicit racial hatred, but a dismissiveness, an lack of acknowledgement of equality or importance, an obfuscation of contributions to society
T: i can see your point, and i'd agree to that
me: and I think many white people define it explicitly as racial hatred for the exact purpose that generally, mainstream society does not engage in explicit racial hatred and defining racism as such allows us to continually engage in the ways that we do
which are, in their way, more destructive
T:  i just don't think that you can really charge anyone/thing with that unless that's intentional. Baauer used that sample because he probably just needed something to initiate the drop. and people caught on with the meme completely not knowing about the history of the dance, etc.
so, i do see your point, but i don't think there's really any malice to it, just stupidity.
me: I certainly don't think there's malice at all. I think the stupidity and ignorance of it is the racist part.
T: you can't really fault people for not knowing something. if i see a dumb meme on the internet, i don't go out and look up to make sure i'm not co-opting some other culture.
me: that's where we disagree. maybe we can't fault each individual (though, c'mon, I'm pretty white and I knew what the Harlem Shake was. It's not crazy obscure), but you can fault a culture that chooses to promote something under that name when surely a handful of black people and me were not the only ones who knew that wasn't the harlem shake. you can fault people for obscuring black culture in favor of something else. and you can fault people for both promoting stupidity and ignoring the facts when they have them.

No comments:

Post a Comment