One month ago, the Harlem Shake Internet meme went viral. What originated from a group of five teenagers in Australia, known collectively as TSCS, exploded into a worldwide Internet sensation with more than 40,000 versions and 175 million views and counting.
One simply cannot dismiss its impact, whether he or she is a fan of the videos or not. More impressive than the rapid social virality, plethora of creative spins, or endless humor, however, is the issue of racial discrimination that sits in the middle of the whole trend. Now, universities, businesses, and other organizations may face negative consequences for having ties to the meme.
Recently in Seattle, members of several University of Washington diversity communities, including the Black community and the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity Student Advisory Board, hosted a discussion about cultural appropriation and sensitivity. The consensus: students may have jumped on the trend without critically examining the implications of doing so.
Are only the students to blame though? The UW Student Life sponsored UW Harlem Shake [Official], and Google had their own version, along with Amazon, and many others. In the case of UW, the video prominently displayed the school mascot next to individuals dressed in racially objectionable clothing, and was featured on all of the school’s social media platforms.
Time will tell whether any university or business takes major heat for its rash cultural insensitivity. It is next to impossible that any lawsuit will result, but the message may continue to echo throughout many different racial organizations in the U.S. and around the world.
The meme is a trend that will eventually fade into the dark, but if it can have just one lasting memory, it should be that racial discrimination still occurs, and despite any notion of frivolity about specific videos, these individual cases still contribute to it.
Trends, like the Harlem Shake, can be used as lessons if people are willing to take the time to recognize them as something meaningful and with consequence, however long they may last.
Join a discussion on cultural insensitivity and appropriation in your community and be open to accept your own prior acts of discrimination. As Dr. Cornel West once said, “move from the superficial to the substantial.”