On White People Doing Black Dances

Last week, a video of a bunch of white kids doing a choral version of Silento's Whip/Nae Nae in their (virtually all-white) middle school music classroom made its rounds across the Interwebs. A lot of Black folk reposted this video with some variation of “WTF” as the caption, and I, as a gesture of emotional and psychological preservation, dismissed it as another highlight from the neverending virtual archive of "white-people-doing-white-people-shit." 

Despite my initial refusal to indulge my curiosity; I couldn’t shake the feeling thatsomething about this video was off.  I gave in to the clickbait and watched it.

There was something about the video that confused and disturbed. Something about it that made me sad. A kind of sadness whose source I couldn't name. The kind that sits with you for a few days until it forces you to deal with it.

So here we are.

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This video was yet another reminder of how Black culture— and, by virtue: Black people— are only seen as valuable when that value is accessible to  and benefits white people. You know that saying, “Everyone wants to be Black ‘til the cops show up?” This is a prime example.  For decades, Black culture has been universally disseminated, adopted, co-opted and appropriated.

White people stay slicking down their baby hairs and getting cornrows on vacation, rocking durags and timberlands as if "urban streetwear" is a new trendand—  as our present example illustrates—  dancing in unison to the latest radio-acceptable hip hop.

Non-Black people appreciating Black culture isn't the problem, and certainly isn't new. The problem is that too many of the same people who exalt Black culture when it serves the purposes of their own comfort, pleasure, and enjoyment are the same people who are silent when Black people are hunted and shot down in the streets like animals. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I'm all for "kids just having fun" and "kids just being kids."  I'm all for opportunities for human beings of any age (and race, for that matter) to be collectively and joyfully self-expressed. And kudos to this instructor, honestly, for trying to be relevant. Really. God bless them. We need more teachers who are keeping up with what young people are listening to, talking about, and interested in.  We need more arts education that is less pretentious and more playful.  

That said: Watching a room full of white kids do the Whip and NaeNae made me wonder if any of these same 50+ young white people have ever had one single conversation about the worldwide civil rights crisis happening right outside their doors.  About the present ongoing struggle for social and institutional recognition of the value of Black lives.  About why there are so few Black kids in their school, and why their absence matters.

I have and continue to experience a selective muteness from non-Black folks about issues that affect Black people, from microagressions that compromise our ability to move with ease in the world, to systemically imbedded laws and cultural practices that target our bodies and psyches —  that are intended to maintain out status as second-class citizens of this country.

It's not that I don't want white people to share in Black culture. I just wish more of them would draw the connection between the immeasurable contributions that Black people have made to this world and why they, too, should be raising their voices and shouting Black Lives Matter through the streets.  

It's not that I don't want white folks to do anything a Black person does first. I just wish more white people showed the same enthusiasm that they show towards Black music, Black fashion, Black language and Black dance towards Black people as human beings whose lives are worthy of being protected.

It’s not that want white people to stop consuming, enjoying, or "appreciating" our contribution to popular culture . I just wish more of them would see us as valuableoutside of it, even when we aren't dancing. 

Jamila Reddy