Is ‘planking’ connected to the slave trade?

For those of you who may not know what “planking” is, according to Wikipedia, planking is defined as :

The lying down game (also known as planking,[1] or face downs) is an activity, popular in various parts of the world, consisting of lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location. The hands must touch the sides of the body and having a photograph of the participant taken and posted on the Internet is an integral part of the game.[2] Players compete to find the most unusual and original location in which to play.[2] The location should also be as public as possible, and as many people as possible should be involved.[3]

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This is apparently the newest craze here in the U.S. Even celebrities have jumped on the planking band wagon. BUt one celebrity spoke against it and stated that there is a connection between planking and slave ships. If in fact there is a connection, should people be planking? Please read the article below and feel free to share your thoughts on the planking issue?

By  Sarah Anne Hughes
Four Thai people performing the lying down game, also known as “planking,” on the stairs of a shopping mall in Bangkok, Thailand. (APICHART WEERAWONG/ASSOCIATED PRESS)

“Is planking racist?”

This is the question poised about the popular fad after rapper Xzibit and other Twitter users said the seemingly innocuous trend has a sinister past. (In case you’re not familiar with it, planking requires you to lie straight. Face down. That’s it.)

“Planking was a way to transport slaves on ships during the slave trade, its [sic] not funny,” Xzibit tweeted. “Educate yourselves.”

Planking has risen in popularity over the past year as a viral prank with people posting photos of themselves lying face down stiff as a board in random locations. A “plank” is “a heavy thick board” by definition. The game was created by Brits Gary Clarkson and Christian Langdon, who called it the “lying down game.” Shortly after, Australian Sam Weckert and his friends rebranded it as “planking” and it caught fire on the Internet. Even celebrities — such as Usher and Rosario Dawson — are doing it.

Gawker’s Adrian Chen addressed the question Thursday, coming to the  conclusion that it’s not racist: “It’s just stupid.”

“Just goes to show the lengths that old people of all races will go to to squash the latest thing their kids are doing to freak them out,” Chen wrote.

But the term does have a connection to the slave trade, said Marcus Rediker, a professor of Atlantic history at the University of Pittsburgh and author of “The Slave Ship: A Human History.”

“To plank” was not necessarily a verb used by slave ship merchants and captains, Rediker said in an e-mail. But the planks “of the lower deck are precisely where millions of Africans were forced to lie and sleep on the Middle Passage, in conditions of utter horror that defy description,” he said.
The Brookes print of a slave ship.

Rediker points to the “Brookes” image of a slave ship, showing what he calls “the flat, stiff arrangement of bodies on board,” created by the Plymouth Chapter of the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

“What I find most powerful about the controversy is the way in which we are haunted by the popular memory of the slave ships,” Rediker said. “No matter what the intention of the founders of the recent fad, there is a connection to the slave trade and it is a painful one, not least because we have been reluctant to face this part of our common history.”

We have reached out to Weckert to comment on how he came up with the term and his take on the controversy. Unfortunately, it’s night in Australia, so we will update with comment when it becomes available.

But based on a BBC interview with Weckert, there is no evidence that he or the other “planking” term creators had any idea about the word’s past.

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