Racism, Appropriation, and The Harlem Shake

If you aren’t familiar with the Harlem Shake craze that is sweeping the internet, you may have been under a rock for the past week or two.

I’ll let Know Your Meme explain it to you:

Harlem Shake

“Harlem Shake”, not to be confused with the hip hop dance style, is the title of a 2012 heavy bass instrumental track produced by Baauer. In February 2013, the song spawned a series of dance videos that begin with a masked individual dancing alone in a group before suddenly cutting to a wild dance party featuring the entire group.

It all started with this video:

Now there are countless takes on the meme:

The strange thing about this meme is that not a single person in any of the videos seems to actually be doing the Harlem Shake:

And while it all seems like just a bunch of bizarre fun, not everyone feels that way.

The REAL Harlem Shake

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.

And some of the folks in Harlem aren’t too happy about the meme:

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