Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Glitch in the Step Matrix

Bit by Bit (from Fletch) - Stephanie Mills (mp3)
Work Itself Out - Roadside Graves (mp3)

Progress, it must be remembered, is best as a dance, not a march.

Often the only way forward also requires steps to the side, and steps back. Marching is against human nature. It's forced, not organic. When progress is forced, it creates friction, tension, unease. Dancing, on the other hand, requires an understanding of what the body's natural inclinations are, combined with tons of practice and work. But dancing, when done right, is not forced. It is free of tension. It looks completely fluid and simple. Thus the lovely saying, "Free your mind, and your ass will follow."

So let's apply this notion to the progression of race relations in America. Specifically, what happens to this progress when a white sorority gets all uppity and wins a national step competition?

That's exactly the question forced upon us this February in Atlanta, when the Zeta Tau Alpha chapter of the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville won the Sprite Step Off.

Most of BOTG's readers, I suspect, know little if any about Stepping. Personally, I'm only just knowledgeable and educated enough to get myself in trouble. When I was a freshman, my dorm RA was the president-elect of UNC's Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, and because he was easily the most influential African-American presence in my young and clueless life to that point, I was given several mini-lectures on the history and significance of stepping. I also witnessed two official step shows and at least a dozen impromptu step performances in the Pit outside the school's main dining hall.

Something about the live performance, about witnessing a step show happen right there in front of you, multiplies the power of the experience. In this, it's very much like hockey, which in my opinion is the sport whose awesomeness is the most powerfully affected by watching it live. (Football, soccer and basketball, on the other hand, translate far too well to TV, which is why they are the world's most popular sports.)

Anyway, a bunch of white chicks from Arkansas won a national competition intended for, if not explicitly exclusive to, historically-black sororities. When they were announced as winners to the predominantly-black Atlanta audience, the crowd reacted by gathering in a circle, holding up empty soda bottles, and announcing that they'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

Ha. Of course that wasn't the reaction.

Here was the reaction, according to the Washington Post.

Here was the reaction, according to The Root.com.

If you read the YouTube comments -- thousands of them -- in response to the various videos of their performance (a 2-minute excerpt is embedded at the bottom of this post), you will see a display of all levels of IQ, knowledge, and tolerance warring and wrestling with what all of this means.

Here's my reaction to the reaction.

First, the immediate and negative response of the crowd was something any idiot should have seen coming. History is full of competitions where a square peg attempts to fit in a traditionally round hole, emerges victorious, and is consequently despised by large parts of the traditional public. Jackie Robinson. Althea Gibson. Calvin Peete. Lamar Latrell. Daniel Laruso. Herbie The Love Bug. But I digress.

We look back on these moments and admire the people (or cars) involved. People my age tend to undervalue and underappreciate the struggles and scorn the great groundbreaking athletes endured. There's no way I, at 38 and white, can truly appreciate appreciate that, when Hank Aaron rounded the bases after breaking Maris' home run record, it lingered in the back of his mind that someone might well try to kill him.

It is entirely irrational to look to a bunch of binge-drinking white college chicks from Arkansas to be game-changers in the world of racial progress. But, if you look at the dance of progress in history, we must at least acknowledge that what happened that February night in Atlanta will be considered a vital and important "step" in this never-ending move towards something better. (Sorry for the pun. Couldn't help it.)

Now if we can just get Darius Rucker to win the seed spitting contest at the Redneck Olympics, our dance of racial progress will surely be complete.

3 comments:

BeckEye said...

I'm not interested in the vid or what I'm sure are BRILLIANT YouTube comments, but I even had to stop reading the comments at that Root article. One person says he/she doesn't believe that blacks can be racist, while another says this is all a form of reverse racism. Good Lord. Anyone can be racist, and there's no such thing as "reverse" racism. If you're racist, you're racist.

Bob said...

Oddly, two Korean students came in this morning wanting to start a Step club and team.

jed said...

does this suprise anyone? really?