Thursday, June 30, 2011

Is #plankin what happens when we lose touch with our history, or is it just fun?

I saw this trending the other day and thought it was just stupid. But I have seen more and more people uploading @plankin photos. Why is that ownership of this is being laid at the feet of black youth? As I think about it more (I tried not to), why can't it just be considered stupid, harmless, fun? It started in England, let's lay some kind of heavy historical chip on them.
Is 'planking' harmless fun or fundamentally offensive?

Have you ever felt the urge to "plank" something? While it started out as an Internet stunt -- "planking" has become this year's craze -- inspiring intrepid, amateur stunt men and women lying with their face down, usually in a public place and then posting the photos to the web (preferably Twitter). And it's not just something white kids are doing. It's been a worldwide meme that's been a viral phenomenon since at least this spring, with the widely publicized death of a 20-year-old who fell off a balcony trying to take a picture of himself planking.

But now, the concept of planking is becoming more and more visible in references made on Twitter by members of the hip-hop community.

Within the black community, some of the photos are arguably horrendous. One shows a woman with her head in a toilet bowl, hands to the side, feet against the wall. Others show people in sexual positions. Body outstretched on a stool.

The rules of planking require you to keep your body in a straight position with your hands to the side, face down. A humiliating pose to say the least. The term that black folks have been using is #plankin or #planking.

CBS Sports has showcased several photos by Orlando Magic's Gilbert Arenas and center Dwight Howard whom they called "two of the most prolific plankers". Photos showed the two planking at a hotel and throughout Orlando's Amway center.

As the wave of planking photos built to a wave and then crested yesterday at least one person made people think. Comedian Katt Williams posted a picture on Twitter showing a man being arrested, face down on the ground, hands cuffed behind his back. The caption on the photo: PLANKING, You're Doing It Wrong. Williams added the message "Black people been #Plankin for years."

And that's what's gotten so many in the black community shocked by this Internet craze which trended heavily on Tuesday. There were multitudes of mentions and even people who said the word "planking" was derived from a slavery era term. It allegedly described the prostrate position slaves had to take when traveling over the Atlantic.

From the Wikipedia page on "slave ship":
Often the ships, also known as Guineamen, transported hundreds of slaves, who were chained tightly to plank beds. For example, the slave ship Henrietta Marie carried about 200 slaves on the long Middle Passage. They were confined to cargo holds with each slave chained with little room to move

Another mention of the word, describes the "bed" for slaves who were chained onto ships. From the book, Upon these Shores: Themes in the African-American Experience, 1600 to the Present:
Some ships had tiny bunks, really nothing more than shelves, on which slaves could recline; in others, the slaves lay side by side on the planking, rolling with the ship, bodies virtually touching, for weeks on end.

The term "slave plank" also brings up mention of political platforms or "planks" that were used during political conventions in the 19th Century. Frederick Douglass would argued the "anti-slavery plank".

Still, given the similarity with the visual references of slave ships and stacking bodies in chains during the slave trade, evidence also points to the planking position as being one of humiliation and confinement for African people during the Middle Passage.

What we know about planking is that it's derived from the Laying Down Game (a.k.a Playing Dead) meme that spread throughout England and Australia sometime around 2009 and seemed to reach its peak in 2010.

It became known as "planking" sometime later because participants try to get their bodies to resemble wooden boards or planks.

However, any intended allusion to slavery has yet to be proven. As some would suggest, African-Americans have been taking to "planking" for the competitive factor, the same reason that people stuffed into phonebooths and Volkwagons back in the 1950s.

Mass fads such as those were all about oneupmanship, recorded in a still photo -- but without the potential viral audience that the modern era can deliver. With athletes and celebrities talking about planking and showing themselves in the act, it's only natural that the massive young black Twitter and Facebook community will follow, even without realizing that it recalls the slave trade that ended several hundred years ago.

Photos: Gilbert Arenas in a grand piano
Dwight Howard on top of a garbage can at the Am
Gilbert Arenas planking in the median at an expressway toll booth
Dwight and Gilbert together on a double-decker luggage cart at the Grand Bohemian
Dwight Howard on top of a riding lawnmower


Emerge Peoria said...

I decided not to be offended by this... at least not yet.

Anonymous said...

AND, before you try to make this something it's NOT, remember, it was African tribesmen that sold their brothers and sisters into slavery....all over the world.

Middle Aged Woman Blogging said...

Maybe they are all just practicing yoga. Plank pose? I find it hard to believe the guys that invented it were thinking about slavery at the time. One article I read likened it to the "now" version of stuffing a Volkswagon or a telephone booth. I did learn alot about slave ships while Googling and there was such a thing as a "plank collar." Horrid! I'm embarrassed for the human race.

Sergio said...

Thank you for the article. As I was moved to research any negative connotations for the term I was also willing to pull up more than one article on the subject. While most were hastily cobbled together yours proved to be informative and unbiased. I do not see any reason to feel offended by this movement simply because of this: the slave were stored face up in the ship while in shackles.Also I believe where they laid was called a "slave plank". I will continue to research and again thank you.

Sharon Crews said...

Anonymous said, do you really believe that the slave trade can be excused away by the fact that the slaver traders were able to convince African tribesmen to sell other Africans to the slave traders? How is that an excuse for the slave traders? Why don't we just acknowledge that slavery was one of the worst sins ever committed by this country and that we aren't done paying for it yet. If a day is as a 1,000 years to God, then I have every reason to believe that God himself is still holding us accountrable for that relatively rcent sin--we may choose to excuse ourselves but maybe we won't have the last word.

Anonymous said...

Few African were sold by fellow Africans into slavery. Most African slaves were caught by the slave catchers and theres tons of historical data to prove that. People that say Africans were sold into slavery by other Africans are spreading a false fallacy, just like the people that say that African Americans fought for the Confederacy.

Anonymous said...

Thats why they cant win a damn championship. Running their over grown ass around acting like zombies.