Category Archives: cultural appropriation

Race + Comics: On Alex Summers, Apologies, And Assimilation

By Arturo R. García

Alex Summers, a.k.a. Havoc, delivers his team’s mission statement in Marvel Comics’ Uncanny Avengers. Image via ComicsAlliance.com

As a fan of both the X-Men franchise and some of his past work, I’d like to believe the best from writer Rick Remender’s online apology over his mishandling of the recent criticism surrounding his latest issue of Uncanny Avengers.

Unfortunately, regardless of intentions, “sorry” needs to be the first word in these discussions, not the last. And his statements both before and after apologizing don’t engender any more trust in his ability to properly explore the theme his story introduced. Which is a shame.
Continue reading

The Problematics Of The Fake Harlem Shake

[Editor's note: We know...we know...enough with the Harlem Shake! This dissection by Sezin Koehler was just too good not to share. Consider this a coda to our discussion of the controversy.]

by Guest Contributor Sezin Koehler; originally published at Sociological Images

1

 The Harlem Shake is a syncopated dance form that first appeared on the New York hip-hop scene in the early 1980s.  Here is what it looks like:

In 2012 music producer Baueer created an electronic dance tune, unfortunately calling it The Harlem Shake. Baueer’s song inspired an Internet meme in which people rhythmlessly shake their upper bodies and grind their hips in a tasteless perversion of the original dance.  For example:

This fake Harlem Shake meme has become so ubiquitous that it has been “performed” by the English National Ballet and gone further globally with a video from the Norwegian army, and in Tunisia and Egypt, where the song and imitation dance has become a protest anthem.

The irony of an African-American cultural relic being whitewashed to the point where other people of color perform its bastardized version is not lost, and this takes on a whole new level as teams with majority African-American members such as the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets add to the fake Shake canon. Personally, I’ve been “video-bombing” anyone I see incorrectly referring to the new version as the Harlem Shake with this:

A major problematic of this meme is that it takes an already marginalized group in America–one whose history and culture has often been appropriated and co-opted in fetishistic ways by the white majority–and makes a mockery of not just them, but an entire dance tradition.  This is not lost on residents of Harlem, many of whom recognize cultural appropriation and malrepresentation when they see it:

In spite of a number of calls online from African-American writers, artists, scholars, and supporters like myself to bring attention to the real Harlem Shake, every day there is instead a new group adding to the misappropriated dance. When you Google “The Harlem Shake” you must scroll through pages before you reach any posts about the actual hip-hop tradition.

This literal erasure of black culture and its replacement with an absurdist movement and meme needs to be considered in light of African-American oppression and institutionalized racism in the United States. Supplanting the sinuous artistry of the Harlem Shake with frenetic styleless arm-flailing and hip-thrusting is yet another brick in a grand wall of symbolic and structural violence that further relegates an entire culture to the margins, both on and offline.

As the Harlem residents said in response to the meme: “Stop that shit.”

P.S. Here’s how to actually do the Harlem Shake. 

Sezin Koehler is a half-American half-Sri Lankan informal ethnographer and novelist living in Lighthouse Point, FL.

Meet The Chiefs

By Guest Contributor Caleb Borchers, cross-posted from Uni Watch

Over the last few months, the issue of Native American imagery in US sports has been a hot topic in the Uni Watch community. Sadly, that discussion often devolves into heavily stereotyped positions and name calling. I often feel for writers like Paul, because his fascinating and nuanced position quickly is flattened out. What follows is my attempt to add another data point or scenario to the discussion.

Some Uni Watch readers may recognize my name in connection with rugby, particularly New Zealand rugby. That nation and sport have a special place in my heart. New Zealand is a nation with a fascinating history when it comes to the indigenous people, the Maori. The relationship between European settlers and the Maori people has often been sad and tragic. Still, there are ways in which New Zealand has better handled the issue than other places. A treaty between settlers and Maori chiefs, the Treaty of Waitangi, serves as the founding document of the country.
Continue reading

Monday Video Roundup

By Arturo R. García

In lieu of a regular roundup, something a little different, with all sorts of video goodies.

Rise of The “Harlem Shake”: First off, compare this:

To this:

The one up top, as The Root pointed out last week, is the actual Harlem Shake.
Continue reading

The Gun Lobby’s Attempt To Claim The Civil Rights Movement’s Legacy

By Arturo R. García

Seemingly not content to argue against new gun safety standards on their own merits, advocates for the firearms industry have taken to likening their beliefs to both the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King himself.
Continue reading

Race + Fashion: Life, Labels, And The Pursuit Of Happiness

Michael Kors bag.

By Guest Contributor Cheryl Lynn Eaton, cross-posted from Digital Femme

“Cheryl Lynn, you will have your first and last dollar.” My mother says it with blend of mirth, surprise, and exasperation–as if she cannot believe she produced a child who behaves in such a practical manner, a child who would dare complain that she had to spend twenty-four dollars on a purse due to the old one falling apart at the seams. My mother possesses a walk-in closet full of purses. Not one could be purchased for twenty-four dollars. The glint of a gold circle surrounding a bold M and K–the lack of one separating my leather satchel from her assortment–costs a great deal more.

Yet, my mother is a child of poverty; I am a child of the working-class struggle. She needs her talismans, her high-end upmarket logos, to make her feel as if she is of worth. I was taught to fear them, to believe that obtaining them would bring about financial ruin. I’ve jokingly told many friends that I’m glad I grew up working-class instead of rich, middle class, or poor because it has made me so paranoid about money that I’ll never purchase designer labels. Black working-class kids are raised to believe that one wrong move will have you back in the ghetto where your parents came from. Working-class kids are raised on fear.
Continue reading

Nothing Says Native American Heritage Month Like White Girls In Headdresses

By Guest Contributor Sasha Houston Brown

Gwen Stefani in No Doubt’s “Looking Hot” video. Via theinsider.com

There is something insidiously ironic about being American Indian during the fall of the 21st century. It all starts with Columbus Day to mark our “discovery,” then moves right into the “it’s totally not racist to dress up as a hypersexualized Indian” awkward Halloween party, and goes out with a bang on Thanksgiving when we celebrate the survival of the Pilgrims and that harmonious, mutually beneficial relationship forged between colonizers and Indigenous peoples everywhere! However romanticized or factually inaccurate, these holidays happen to be the three days when Native peoples actually enter the mass psyche of American culture.

I don’t know about you, but I usually spend this time of year parading around in my Navajo Hipster panties, feather headdress (on loan from Karlie Kloss and Gwen Stefani), Manifest Destiny T-Shirt and knee-high fringed moccasins made in Taiwan while watching a Redskins game, smoking a pack of American Spirits, and eating genetically modified Butter Ball turkey, because I’m just that traditional.
Continue reading