Hip-hop/Spirituality/Freethinking. Speaking for all underdogs!
Planking: Treading on “The Souls of Black Folk.”
By Khalil Amani
Back in my day, (the 70’s) "Streaking" was all the rage. We youngsters would run across a football field, butt-ass naked during a game. Shocking! And then these white boys elevated the “game” by streaking on national TV. In hindsight, however ignorant, it was fun, and, for the most part, non-threatening to our well-being or the people who saw us in all of our buck-nakedness.
Now they've got a new shocking "game." It's spreading like a wildfire! They call it “Planking” and it's everywhere! It’s the art of lying down on one’s stomach with arms at sides to mimic part of the floor or “plank” (board). People are Planking everywhere—on chairs, stairs, cars roofs, bikes, movie theaters, escalators, rocks and even from atop the Golden Arches of Mickey D’s! The more outrageous the place to Plank and take a picture for Facebook or Twitter, the more props you get. But in their quest to outdo one another, people are getting injured and dying from Planking, like the chick that tried to Plank off her oven and kitchen countertop and went headlong into the oven when the door gave way--or the man from Australia who fell to his death attempting to Plank. I don’t recall any deaths from streaking.
Planking can be dangerous!
I ain't gonna lie. When I first saw Planking I thought it was funny. Who would invent a game where you just lie still on the ground? What’s the point? A harmless game created by someone who got tired of XBOX and Internet surfing… I guess.
Some think this is just a harmless plank prank, but some (African-Americans) are crying foul. They say Planking has some seriously sinister racial overtones. Some black folk think that Planking is the disrespectful treading on the graves of African people during the Diaspora—revisiting the pangs of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, where African slaves people were taken prisoner and packed like sardines in the hulls of slave ships for weeks, yea, months at a time—on the "planks" of slave ships like Sir John Hawkins’s famous ship “Jesus of Lubeck," which Malcolm X called “The Good Ship Jesus.”
Are black folk being super-sensitive or is Planking a direct assault on our African ancestors? I don’t think black folk are being super-sensitive and I don’t think white people are purposely disrespectful of the torment and death suffered on the slave ship. It’s probably safe to say that black people who Plank don’t see anything problematic with this “game.” Likewise, having talked to a few white people about Planking, they were totally shocked at the notion of Planking as making fun of slavery. What we have here is a politically incorrect “game”—a “game” that rubs conscious, afrocentric-thinking blacks the wrong way. Planking may be one of those games like “Ring Around the Rosies,” which is said to be a nod at The Black Plague. Many of us, in our childhood sang, “Ring around the Rosies, pocket full of posies. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!” Some say that the “ring around the rosies” refers to the red rash—the first symptom of The Black Plague. Carrying a “pocket full of posies” (flowers) was how they fought off the disease. “Ashes, ashes” is the corrupt version of sneezing (ah-chew!); another symptom of the plague and “we all fall down” is The Black Plague’s victory over the people by killing them. (Such a nice nursery rhyme, eh?) Were the children of the Fourteenth Century making fun of thousands of people who died? Were we making fun of thousands of people that died? No! We were totally oblivious to the meaning of “Ring Around the Rosies!”
The initial intent of Planking, like the aforementioned song, may very well have been created to poke fun at a historic tragedy. Those who believe that I am “reaching” are out of touch with racism and humanity’s seemingly innate ability to make light of the worst situations. (Did you know that there are revisionist pseudo-historian Anti-Semites who claim the Holocaust never occurred? And since I’ve mentioned the Jews, how do you think they’d feel about playing the “oven game?”—let’s see how long we can keep our hand in a hot oven!)
Indeed, there is a racist connotation to Planking. Think back to the first time you heard the word “plank.” As a kid, I remember watching pirate movies and cartoons where men were made to "walk the plank." "Walking the plank" was an end-of-life-experience where a person was forced off a ship at sword's point, usually with your hands tied and your eyes blindfolded. This is my first recollection of any talk of "planking"—Blackbeard the Pirate, Captain Hook, Peter Pan, Sinbad the Sailor—this is where most of us first heard the word “plank” and saw what its use was for—to kill. And then many of us saw the movie Roots and got a real visual of how things really went down aboard the slave ship.
Even before I heard these rumblings from wide-eyed conscious black folk, the word “plank” brought to mind the slave ship. The slave master practiced what they called “packing”—tightly fitting as many African “cargo” as they could to maximize profits. Fifteen percent (15%) of Africans died during the Middle Passage. These Africans were made to lie on their backs, but during the six weeks to two month trip to the New World, they would manipulate their bodies to take the pressure off their backs by lying on their sides and stomachs. Most drawings available are only those showing the “cargo” Africans in its beginning “sanitized” state, but, indeed, after a month of lying in defecation and smelling the stench of rotting corpses, they did find themselves in all kinds of ungodly positions. It would be those wooden “planks” that would be their beds. One could argue that “Planking” started in the 1440s on a slave ship bound for the New World and not by some white boys from abroad.
If, in fact, Planking is an assault on Africans who died for America’s Manifest Destiny—if Planking is an subliminal racist shot at the African “Hellocaust”—if Planking is a covert attempt at poking fun at one of the worst “shit-uations” ever perpetuated in the annals of human history—we have a warped sense of game playing. Black men, in particular, should never want to Plank, being that every day on the news a black man is involuntarily Planking when a cop forces him down on his face! Nothing good can come from Planking. As W.E.B. DuBois’s book “The Souls of Black Folk” (1903) was so aptly named, for many blacks, playing the Planking game is treading on “The Souls of Black Folks.”