A fad entitled “Planking” has recently emerged that calls for participants to find the most difficult place in which to lie face down with palms to the side and feet pointed to the floor. It was originated by two men in Australia. Some say the fad reminds them too much of African slaves who had to lie in the same position for months during the “Middle Passage.”
The game is said to have been by started by Aussies Gary Clarkson and Christian Langdon 14 years ago, according to The Sydney Morning Herald. As children, they performed in public places, reveling in amusement from onlookers. But they had no idea their practice would one day garner worldwide attention, with “plankers” sharing their pictures on social media.
“It was just a really stupid, random thing to do,” Clarkson told the Australian newspaper. Other Australian kids took up the practice and, in 2007, a Facebook group was created. Plankers from Europe and America started to share their planking pictures on the group and as it gained followers, the practice received worldwide attention.
But participants found more risky places to lie face down, culminating in the death of a 20-year-old who tried to plank off a balcony. The negative media attention from that incident increased as some began to link the game to slavery.
“If you look at the pictures of the ships used in the ‘Middle Passage,’ slaves used the planks as beds,” a report on news Web site The Black Urban Times stated. According to the news site, plank collars, or wooden planks with five openings, were used as holding collars for five slaves. Commentator Daja Robinson on entertainment Web site thisis50.com called the game a cruel reminder of the past. “This ‘game’ is another way to remind us that no matter how far we’ve come, we will always be a slave to our past,” Robinson said. “Not that deep to you? Just a game? Well ask your grandparents how they feel about laying face down with their hands to their sides while you take a picture to laugh with your friends and post on Twitter for views.”
In the book “The Slave Ship: A Human History,” author Marcus Rediker detailed the workings of British and American slave ships during the 18th century.
“Vessels in the slave trade needed to be sturdy and durable, so insisted both vessels be built with heavy ‘2 ½ and 3-inch plank with good substantial bends or Whales,’” Rediker wrote.
The author described Oladuh Equiano’s Middle Passage as a “pageant of cruelty, degradation and death.”
“The enslaved were spooned together in close quarters, each with about as much room as a corpse in a coffin,” he wrote.
While the current practice of planking did not stem from undertones of slavery, Camillo Smith, a columnist with The Grio called the position a “humiliation and confinement for African people during the Middle Passage” and referenced a passage from, “Upon these Shores: Themes in the African-American Experience, 1600 to the Present.”
“Some ships had tiny bunks, really nothing more than shelves, on which slaves could recline; in others, the slaves lay side by side on the planking, rolling with the ship, bodies virtually touching, for weeks on end,” the book states.