Dr. Boyce: Why You Should (or Should Not) Go Planking

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.



Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition.  To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.


  • Tdixson28

    this is the reason why we never seem to advance. pure stupidity.

    • Bullywitfullys

      but look how its starts , it starts with the NBA players, Movie stars, Some rappers and etc. this is getting spread like a virus. Its a rap. Next, topic I really like Dr. Boyce go H.A.M. on the White Girl Mob from oakland, c.a. I’m shocked that many rappers from the bay area that I use to support , like that group.  I’m going to be honest the group don’t get a pass from me, because in the real world you just can’t say what their saying.

  • Hulksmashtinyman

    “Why don’t we start another wild and outrageous trend and call it ‘studying’!” LMAO!!!!

  • George

    From what I have read, planking could be HARMLESS fun, but it can also be HARMFUL fun. These kids are making a competition out of planking, as they are planking in some of the most outrageous places. The idea is to take a picture of the act and post it on the internet where it is rated according to creativity. A couple of people have lost their lives because of this.

  • Matt

    This is one of the most innocuous activities kids could be doing. Good luck on trying to get black adolescents to listen to stories about slavery of the era of Jim Crow, or anything before Twitter…

  • http://www.connercoaching.com Dorethia Conner

    Dr. Boyce – my 15 year old daughter came home telling me about this recently, how her friends were talking about planking. She told me how she had to ‘school’ them on slavery and the correlation, she was disgusted they would even consider it. 

    People are getting hurt as well, with a couple of people dying from planking in dangerous places. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Brian-Simmons/100001647540508 Brian Simmons

    Next, we’ll try a game called “Auction”…then play “Lashed”…then play “Corked”…then play “Shackled”….then play “Servitude”…generation checked out.

  • Pcblst

    @Brian Simmons.  You’re right, we are going backwards!

  • Lwright15

    Dr. Boyce,
    I applaud your article for not simply jumping on the “planking = slaves being shackled together on the ship” bandwagon. I, too, feel that this should be a teaching moment for Black youth who have no idea about the atrocities of slavery, but I don’t think that we should be teaching them that this particular activity was created to resemble those enslaved on the ship. If thats the case, were pirates referencing slavery when they told someone to “walk the plank?” What about the exercise called “the plank?” Is that a nod to slavery as well?

    However, I did have a question after reading one of your statements. Are you saying that joining a Divine Nine sorority or fraternity is as useless as planking? Just trying to make sure I got the point of that particular statement

  • Bullywitfullys

    so much have change when I was growing up, I feel we are living in the Mr. Bojangles era. I remember when I was in pre-school when I started seeing brothas sagging thier pants. my pops told me because never sag your pants because it comes from prison. And I never did, when I was a teenager.