When Serena Williams took home the gold medal in women’s tennis in London on Saturday (her third Olympic gold since 2000), nobody could blame her for feeling excited. She destroyed Russian competitor Maria Sharapova in two straight sets in barely more than an hour, and the next day she’d join her sister, Venus, to win another gold medal in the doubles tournament. She was feeling happy, and so she did what a lot of people do when they’re happy: she danced. But some people didn’t like that.
That’s because the dance Williams did was what is known in many circles as the “Crip Walk,” a sort of shuffling thing that’s rumored to have its origins in the famous West Coast street gang. With Serena having been raised in Compton, a famous hotbed of Crip gang violence, many people assumed the worst about the tennis star and her “C Walk.”
Writes Clinton Yates at the Washington Post:
As is typical these days, the blogosphere had a field day. Bill Plaschke, a sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times tweeted, “Isn’t there some kind of dance done by multimillionaires who live in exclusive South Florida neighborhoods? Serena C-walking at Wimbledon only shows how long she’s been away from home, separated from violence and death associated with that dance.”
And then there was this from blogger Debbie Schlussel:“Yup, that’s what we need representing America, a Gold Medalist who, upon winning, glorifies hardened criminals who murder each other — and innocent Americans — for sport.”
In short, people were furious with Williams for supposedly doing a dance that celebrates gang culture rather than being more demure on the Olympic stage. Even Williams herself acknowledged that the Crip Walk was a bit risqué, telling reporters who asked about the dance at a press conference later that its name might be too “inappropriate” to say.
But before Williams goes beating herself up too much, let’s look at what we’re actually talking about here: Indeed, while the dance has its roots in something awful, we can’t pretend that Crip Walking means the exact same thing that it once did. Nowadays, pop stars like Justin Timberlake Crip Walk in front of thousands at arena concerts and kids around the country practice C-Walking to Justin Bieber songs. Is this really a scary dance to people?
One of the best things about culture is that it never stays one thing to people forever. Culture is malleable and, in the right hands, a piece of our cultural tapestry that was ugly to some can, with time, be turned into something lighthearted and good-natured for others. That’s what the C-Walk is nowadays: A once violent thing that’s become a mostly innocent source of joy for lots of people since. To pretend otherwise to try and stir controversy is silly and, one would hope, totally ineffective.
These views do not necessarily represent those of BET Networks.
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(Photos from left: ACOSTA/AFP/GettyImages, MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/GettyImages, REUTERS/Mike Blake)