Sunday, February 17, 2013

Harlem Shake: The Bastardization of a Culture Already Lost

            YouTube has done it again. It seems that every month there is some new mindless trend that takes over everyone’s computers. Even if you don’t want to or don’t care to see this new craze, it comes on the news and other shows that could be platforms for much better things than YouTube sensations. We currently live in an age where anyone with a YouTube channel is an expert, from beauticians to fitness experts. There are good things about this site. They do have strong copyright laws and will rip down your video in a minute if you don’t own the rights to it. Unfortunately, that same luxury is not afforded when it comes to those mindless trends. That is how we have come upon the latest, most offensive craze to date: “The Harlem Shake.”
            A little over a decade ago, there was a dance called the Harlem Shake that had people going crazy on the dance floors at clubs everywhere. It wasn’t a secret handshake or some clandestine act that was only done behind closed doors. It was in music videos, and in fact there were YouTube instructional videos on how to do it. Recently there has been a rash of videos with this same name. This is not the Harlem Shake. It actually looks like a mass anxiety attack or a group seizure. Some blow this off and say it’s a trend. You know what else is a trend? Having things stolen from us and called by the same name. It’s been happening to times going back even farther than slavery, starting with Jesus Christ. In the Bible he is described as having skin of bronze and hair of lamb’s wool. In paintings he looks like Ashton Kutcher on the latest season of Two and a Half Men. For some reason we continue to encourage the ripping of our babies from our arms and glorify the new idiotic form they take once the mainstream gets its hands on it. We don’t even reclaim our baby or demand that it be renamed as an act of courtesy toward those from whom it was stolen.
            Some call my distaste for this “reaching,” but I ask that those people take a look at history. Some of Elvis Presley’s greatest hits were Ain’t Nothing But a Houndog and My Babe, two songs written and performed by African-American artists who were already on the R&B charts. These artists were not credited by Elvis, nor were they compensated by his covers of their songs. Elvis has the Graceland memorial in his name. The artists whose songs he and his record label stole, however, don’t even have accurate Wikipedia pages. The same happened with Chuck Berry and his song Surfing USA, which went on to be a smash hit for The Beach Boys. Most people did not find out about this until watching the movie Cadillac Records some decades later. Many African-American artists died before being recognized for greatness that Caucasian performers were allowed to become rich and famous for.  
            I cringe every time I see this rebirth of the Harlem Shake being laughed at and glorified, especially when an African-American does it and shrugs it off as a trend. How a person can take something that already had a name, do something completely different with it, and then rebrand it is totally beyond me. I actually see it as a mockery toward the original dance. Since it is a YouTube sensation, the sheep will follow and laugh at it. The question why they couldn’t give this a different name is posed. It is simply because calling it the Harlem Shake will get people to watch the infinite number of videos that have stemmed from this “trend.” In the end the origin is erased, and now it is replaced with foolishness. The original artist[s] who created the dance will not be remembered, just as Little Walter’s voice was erased from My Babe. As an artist myself, I truly feel disgusted by this. People are posting these videos and can’t even point out Harlem on a map.
            Going even deeper, I find it interesting that it is the Harlem Shake that they chose to do this to; Harlem, home of the Harlem Renaissance, a pivotal movement in the history of Black art and culture. It is a time and a place that isn’t mentioned in many of today’s textbooks. The time period when Black intellectuals rose and created a name for themselves outside of the sharecropping stereotypes of the south and the cleaning the homes of rich white families of the north coincides with The World Wars and The Great Depression. In modern times Harlem, a borough of a city most closely identified by drug wars, police shoot-outs, and robbery, is still very rich in dance culture and other forms of artistry. Now that gentrification is slowly making its way through the city, their art is being stolen and dying. It is heartbreaking to say the least. It is my wish that the African-American community not contribute to and encourage the stealing of our culture any longer. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A Boy Named Tommy

            Currently I am partaking in a discussion on whether or not a woman with children can ask for a “good” man. Good in this context means a man with no kids and a good job. As a woman with children, this conversation always leaves me baffled. The former portion of the description is silly to me, but it is a personal preference. There are many reasons – selfish and unselfish alike – why a woman with children wouldn’t want to date a man with children. A good job though? I can’t want a man with a good job because I have children? That’s just stupid. It’s probably my experiences that make me think this way, because I’ve been the breadwinner in every relationship I’ve been in until my current one. In the past I’ve always had two “good” jobs most of the time. Why shouldn’t I have had a man who didn’t have the same? The response has been that children are baggage, and the fact that a woman has children means that she’s bringing less to the table. I don’t get this at all, but the assumptions that generated this debate reminded me of a boy I used to know whose name was Tommy.
            Let me begin by saying that I should have changed Tommy’s name to protect the innocent, but Tommy wasn’t innocent. And I question whether or not Tommy was this dude’s real name anyway. Now onto my story.
            Many years ago, when I was a hot little eighteen year old on my first major in college, I worked at a department store in hopes of either becoming a buyer or a marketing executive. As a bonus, I worked in the men’s department. I had the advantage of being around all the handsome employees as well as customers. One day, two young men were added to the sales team. Of the two, one of them was Tommy. He was completely smitten with me from first sight. It could have had something to do with my boot cut pants made of a material that made my booty look like Heaven on Earth, but whatever it was had him staring at me for the duration of our shift. I didn’t feel the same way about Tommy, though. Physically he wasn’t my type. Verbally, I couldn’t deal with him. I was looking for someone who could carry a stimulating conversation, but the first thing he said to me was, “I bet I could change your life with my tongue.” Yeah. He said that. And he was serious. And I threatened his life.
            The next time I encountered Tommy he wasn’t as abrasive. He asked if we could start from scratch and introduced himself as Kalif, explaining to me that he was converting to a religion that embraces black men. I guessed that meant either Muslim or 5 percenter, which confused me because he was eating a bacon cheeseburger. Someone asked me something about my son, and Tommy’s ginger colored skin turned bright red. Later that same day I received news that I could move into my first apartment. I couldn’t stop talking about it, asking my co-workers for decorating ideas. Kalif/Tommy asked me what side of town my apartment was on. I told him, and the look on his face was almost heartbreaking.
            “You’ll be off my list when you move to that side of town,” he told me.
            I didn’t really want to know what list that was, but I figured I had to know in order to find out how to get off of it. Tommy/Kalif explained to me that I carried myself like a wife. At first sight he said he could see himself with a woman like me on his arm. Then he found out that I had a child at my young age, and that sent up a red flag. After that when he found out that I was moving to a “rough” side of town, he knew he couldn’t have anything to do with me. Nothing but gold-digging chickenheads came from that side of town, according to him. He was utterly disgusted by the thought of having to be a father to my son and dodging bullets when he came to see me. The problem with black women, he pointed out, was that they were looking for a sponsor rather than just enjoying the company of a man and being with him because they enjoyed spending time with him.
            When Tommy was done with his tirade, I held in my laugh and asked him what college he attended, where else he worked, where he lived, and if he could beat my son’s father. You see, [at the time] my son’s father was [fairly] active in his life. I wasn’t looking for a replacement father. My own childhood turned me against forcing such a notion on either a man or the child. And he could forget even knowing my address, let alone coming to my house to see me. I could sit in my house by myself. I wanted to go on dates. That was supposed to be one of the perks of being an adult woman with her own apartment, in my mind. Tommy didn’t know that, because Tommy was twenty-five year old man who lived in his mother’s house. He only had one job and was still at part-time status. He wasn’t someone I’d want my son to know I even dealt with on a day to day basis, let alone someone I’d choose as a role model for him. Tommy was insulted to find out that he wasn’t on my list.
            A week later, Tommy was fired from the store for stealing merchandise. His mom kicked him out of her house because he couldn’t help her pay the utility bill. He went to jail for the amount of merchandise he stole and the method he used to steal it.
            The moral of the story is this: Check yourself before you start complaining about baggage and who’s not bringing something to the table. Children are not baggage. Everyone with children isn’t looking for someone else to take care of them. Some people truly just want to have fun with another person. A man can deal with a woman without ever meeting her children. I’ve done it. It is possible. Having children shouldn’t disqualify a woman from being in a relationship with a “good man.” Good is a subjective term. Having no children doesn’t automatically make you good. Tommy/Kalif wasn’t good at all. His pompous attitude and ridiculous assumptions made him worse. Stop judging basing what you feel a woman deserves on what she has.