Dr. Christopher Emdin | 5 Reasons Harlem Doesn’t Want You To Shake
I am a writer, science advocate and education researcher, but at my core I am a New York City hip-hop kid. My life has been shaped by many beautiful moments in hip-hop culture and I’ve been inspired by the complex ways in which hip-hip navigates the world. New York has been a great teacher. It’s taught me lessons about love, loss, struggle and resilience. One of its most powerful lessons was how to deal with the bevy of emotions that come from being young, black, and poor, yet talented. New York is a place fraught with economic and racial tension, where the divides between rich and poor become glowingly apparent in a five minute walk.
In Harlem, those divides are even more clearly pronounced as an Ivy League campus in Morningside Heights sits just blocks away from the heart of Harlem. In Morningside Heights, brilliant minds explore new ideas in buildings with classic architecture and modern amenities. In Harlem, youths are cramped in overcrowded classrooms and are reprimanded for asking questions that express their brilliance. The whole scenario is painful for young people who walk around their neighborhood and see how low they sit in the power hierarchy of upper Manhattan.
For urban youth of color in New York, hip-hop gives them the space to express their frustrations. Some choose rap music and poetry, some become dee-jays and graffiti artists, and others choose to dance. In Harlem, dance is the chief form of tension release. In the tradition of black mothers in Harlem churches who “caught the spirit” and danced their pain away after working low paying jobs in lower Manhattan, the youth in Harlem turned to their own dance to escape. They created the real Harlem Shake.