Last week’s lesson was so DOPE. Dope is the only word I can use to describe the level of engagement, curiosity and connection my students had with the material on the cultural appropriation. It was AMAZING. To give context, we are currently reading is Walter Dean Myer’s memoir, “Bad Boy”, which takes place in Harlem. I wanted my students to connect to the text so I spent a great deal of time talking about the new viral online craze so terribly and incorrectly named the “Harlem Shake”.
“Does anyone know what the Harlem shake is?” I asked.
Their responses pretty much summarized the foolishness you see in the video below.
Well, everyone…I’ve been sent to spread the truth.
Students (and to any others this applies to), what you see in that video IS NOT THE HARLEM SHAKE! This no-rhythm, off-beat, tasteless humping would get POUNDED by the REAL Harlem Shake. Diddy is in his private suite somewhere in the Superbowl rounding up the team for the revival of the Harlem Shake (Just kidding, but he should).
Anyway, many of my students were surprised and confused when I revealed to them that the ORIGINAL Harlem Shake was something totally different. To further solidify my point, I showed my students a video of Harlem residents reacting to this new version of the “Harlem Shake”.
The videos helped them realize that people, specifically Harlem residents, are truly angry about this new version of the Harlem Shake. They find this new viral online craze to be disrespectful and a false representation of what Harlem is about. Thus, my students learned that the original Harlem Shake is more than just a dance; it’s a representation of culture, art and unity amongst a marginalized group of people.
The original Harlem Shake was used as a form of expression when words weren’t enough. It was about staying on beat, and simply having a good time. It was about being with your cousins and playing G-Dep’s “Special Delivery” while making sure your shoulder shake is coordinated with your other body movements. Rather than using violence to solve issues, Harlem youth would be encouraged to battle it out in the form of a dance competition. The Harlem Shake was a part of a lifestyle.
The biggest takeaway from the lesson is that Black culture is rarely ever acknowledged and/or celebrated. It is stolen, recreated, and given a whole different meaning without giving proper recognition or citation to the originators, subsequently erasing our history. This is what’s going to become of the Harlem Shake if this online craze continues and if we fail to educate the younger generations of its originality.
While my students were attempting to imitate the original Harlem Shake, I urged them to use this knowledge to educate others the next time the “Harlem Shake” comes up in real-time or conversation. I urged them to recognize the importance of digging deep into our history and not accepting information at face-value. ALWAYS GO BENEATH THE SURFACE.
Black is beautiful. Our art, culture, and intellect is beautiful. Thousands of years ago, our history was stolen. Our legacy was stolen. And thousands of years later, things haven’t seemed to change.
the angry public school teacher
P.S. I hope to one day gain the courage to do the Harlem Shake for my students since they request it ten times a day.