Melissa Harris Perry on the Real Harlem Shake and Cultural Appropriation

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4 thoughts on “Melissa Harris Perry on the Real Harlem Shake and Cultural Appropriation

  1. Brittany Suarez

    “Just don’t call it the Harlem Shake”.
    But really, its that simple. Personally I actually like the song, but as I have begun to learn more about cultural appropriation I have gotten very turned off by everyone on the internet making videos of them doing that dance to the song. I am even more disappointed by people who I try to educate on the matter and their response is to “just get over it.”

    I guess its very easy to get over it if you are the one appropriating it aren’t you?

    “When communities create original art they have a right to some creative control over its definition.”
    Learning what we have been learning, it is obvious that the the privilege and power that comes with being white is now what is enabling Bauuer to redefine what the “Harlem Shake” is in the minds of the masses. Had the actual Harlem Shake been the one to go viral this would be a different story.

    My only hope is that maybe some people will begin to learn the origins of the Harlem Shake through this false one and that maybe some people will begin to learn about cultural appropriation- that people should have the decency to “respect certain boundaries”.

    Reply
  2. Alice McKusick

    I really like the way this video explains what is going on around this instance of cultural appropriation. The Harlem shake has a history that is being completely ignored when these people run around humping the air (which is just weird already). Calling it the “Harlem shake” has at least two major negative aspects: it ignores the history of the actual dance, and it teaches those who don’t know the real dance (many young folks) that this air humping is the “Harlem shake” which then perpetuates the cultural appropriation cycle.

    I agree with Brittany that it really is that simple to not call it the “Harlem shake” and then we would not be having this problem. Over spring break I saw a young kid wearing a t-shirt (see link below) with “do the Harlem shake” written on it and then stick-figure people swirling around in no order beneath the words. At first, this was shocking. But it’s not the surprising that these YouTube videos have created a market for literally selling cultural appropriation masked in a light-hearted manor. With these shirts, capitalism is making money off of ignoring a history of resistance of a historically marginalized group. Unfortunately it’s not the first time, nor will it be the last.

    https://www.google.com/search?hl=en&rlz=1C1TSND_enUS403US403&q=harlem+shake+t+shirts&bav=on.2,or.r_qf.&bvm=bv.44158598,d.cGE&biw=1241&bih=606&um=1&ie=UTF-8&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&authuser=0&ei=PAFOUa-UFszpiQL_3oGgDQ

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  3. Laura Tully

    I share the anger that Alice and Brittney have both expressed at the blatant cultural appropriation of the “Harlem Shake.” Brittney- I too have found myself turned off and disappointed that this is literally all over the internet, but then I was thinking about how its not a coincidence and it’s also not new. Perhaps we have to look at this through a historical lens. This has happened before, over and over in different ways.
    Last semester in History of Gender and Sexuality we watched the move “Paris is Burning” which depicts the ball culture in New York in the 80’s and 90’s. It documents the coming together of African American, Latino, Queer and Trans community culture- the culture that created Voguing- a dance that is also difficult, performative and meaningful within this culture. Surprise, Madonna made millions off of her music video where she attempts to “vogue.” Now Voguing is largely credited to Madonna, the rich white lady, who stole this cultural piece from the Queer/Trans community of Color. It’s essentially the same story- an amazing, difficult dance co-opted by mainstream white folks, stripped of meaning and profited from. As Alice stated the “Harlem Shake” is now also profitable and the creators of the real Harlem Shake are seeing none of it.
    It was really easy for me at first to get mad at the individuals posting the videos- it’s always easier to place the blame on the individuals rather than see the larger systems at work. This is not a few “bad people” posting these videos- I’m sure many of them have no idea that they are perpetuating a system of oppression and cultural appropriation. And honestly, before coming to Prescott College I would have had no idea that anything was wrong with these videos- and that’s what I’m excited about. I have the privilege to go to this school where we have these conversations and I also have the opportunity to educate my friends when they are posting the “Harlem Shake” online and it’s been a good way for me to practice talking about race with people that are not exposed to this on a daily basis.

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  4. Charlii Smith

    IT’S ABOUT CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!!!
    I find this new “Harlem Shake” very freakin repulsive! It goes way deeper than just a dance. She’s correct! It is a line of history that people need to realize sticks with the REAL Harlem Shake. I literally walk out of the room or change the radio station comes on. I asked my sister to do the Harlem shake and she simply shook her body around the room. So frustrating. The least they could have done is incorporate the harlem shake with this new dance faze. Essentially it is a slap in the face to see this and be exposed to un educated people….

    Reply

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