by Dr. Boyce Watkins.
I found myself in what some would call “an SMH moment” (Shaking My Head) when my daughter exposed me to the growing trend of “planking”: laying out with your body still and arms to the side in some of the oddest positions imaginable. The goal is to compete with your friends to see who can plank in the most interesting way, posting pictures to the Internet as evidence of your feat. Personally, I love watching the creative ways that black kids learn to waste their time – when I heard about the trend of planking, I thought to myself, “Why don’t we start another wild and outrageous trend and call it ‘studying’!”
The most peculiar picture I’ve seen thus far is the image of a woman with her head in the toilet (above). Yes, that’s nasty – she deserves a trophy for that one, along with whatever set of antibiotics she likely needed after putting her face in the place where we store our feces.
At any rate, there has been some controversy about how to deal with the planking phenomenon in light of the fact that the act has a clear visual connection to the slave trade. Camilo Smith at TheGrio.com does a wonderful job of laying out the historical roots of planking, and argues that while the connection is not entirely clear, there is evidence of a relationship. Smith mentions the book, Upon these Shores: Themes in the African-American Experience, 1600 to the Present, which lays out this graphic description:
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.
What appears to be true about planking is that it’s primarily a fun and competitive fad that people around the world have decided to embrace. African Americans, being the extraordinary trend setters that we are, will surely be winning gold medals at the World Planking Championships and going to college to major in Planking, along with whatever Fraternity or Sorority we choose to join. Say what you want about black youth, but some of our kids really know how to have fun, even at the expense of getting educated or looking for jobs.
Nearly anyone over the age of 25 has a strong likelihood of thinking that this fad is stupid. At the same time, we must remember that young people are social deviants by definition, and the truth is that planking is not as harmful as some of the other things our kids might think about doing (like sipping on that purple syrup in the south that has led to countless deaths and addictions). Smith makes reference to the 1960s, when teenagers tried to see how many people they could fit into a phone booth, and I remember doing some silly things when I was a teenager myself. In that regard, when I see kids planking, I actually take the time to say, “How in the hell did you do that?” Then I ask, “Why in the hell did you spend so much time figuring out how to do that?” Then, I realize that as a 40-year old man, it’s not my job to understand why teenagers do anything.
It’s hard to stand in the way of harmless fun, but there must certainly be a balance. While planking is, for the most part, a chance for people to show their creative side, it must also be an avenue to educate our kids about the evils and horrors of slavery. Although it’s tough to find a direct connection between planking and the slave trade, I personally feel that the visual proximity to one of the most horrific holocausts in the history of all mankind is simply too great to ignore. So, if our kids are going to plank all day, then the activity should be used as an way to introduce them to their ancestors, who didn’t think planking was all that much fun.