As CEOs resign and statues of Christopher Columbus sleep with the fishes, the scale and urgency of the protests against anti-Black racism and police brutality have shown no sign of stopping, or even slowing down. Some of these things are institutions that I never thought would end. In the past, racist reality TV show stars would get off with a slap on the wrist, but in 2020, Stassi Schroeder and Kristen Doute were both fired from Vanderpump Rules for calling the cops on a former castmate. We are all lucky to have a song that speaks the implied, urgent question: who's next?
"Who's Next" is the name that people have given a song from the children's show Hip Hop Harry, which aired for two years beginning in 2006. On that show, which was about a hip hop-loving bear who ran a community center, the kids would have dance circles, showcasing their hip hop dancing skills. One of these became a viral dance trend on TikTok, mostly because of the lackadaisical way that one kid does the stanky leg.
Even as the dance craze slows, the song has taken on a life of its own. These protests have already given birth some beautiful, moving, and sometimes hilarious pieces of culture, like "I yield my time, fuck you," or "you about to lose your job." Posting clips form this particular Hip Hop Harry dance circle—particularly of the stanky leg kid—has become a response to the removal of statues of slave traders, or Adam Rapoport's resignation after the racist culture of Bon Appetit magazine was revealed. It's both a celebration and a threat; we are happy to see the back of you, and we want to see a hell of a lot more. There's no stronger image I can think of right now than protesters in the UK doing the stanky leg on top of a pedestal that once held a statue of slave strader Edward Colston.
I have been let down by America, by my bosses, by my friends so many times when it comes to issues of race. The dirty laundry that's now airing across the world of bad bosses, abusive colleagues, and monuments to racists that still stand to intimidate Black people, has been incredibly refreshing. In particular, as a Black female journalist, hearing from other Black women in my profession about the racism they've experienced, has given me a newfound determination. It's such a shame that we've all been treated so badly, but it's being corrected now. The energy that was sparked by George Floyd's tragic murder has energized Black people to right wrongs that have been embedded into our institutions like they're part of their DNA. We now know that if we all speak up, change can happen. And we would all like to see exactly how far it can go. Statues in the river are great. But can we defund the police? Force New York Mayor Bill DeBlasio to resign? Get the People's Budget passed in Los Angeles? Before this summer these things never felt possible, but now they seem like they're almost within our grasp.
In a way, "Who's Next" has taken up the mantle of the Ghanaian Coffin dancers. They, too, were a physical representation of a pervasive threat, but "Who's Next" is also about triumph. The Coffin Dancers came for any and everyone, just like the dispassionate horror of the coronavirus. If you're afraid of Hip Hop Harry's Harry the Bear and his pals, then you know that somewhere in your closet there's a skeleton that your Black colleagues are deciding whether or not to reveal.
Yesterday as I sat on my fire escape reading a book, my neighbors across the street started listening to music so loudly that the whole block could hear it. I love my block, one of the few in my neighborhood that isn't overrun with overpriced buildings that were thrown up in the Brooklyn housing boom but are now falling apart, but instead is home to Black families. Children play in the street, their parents and grandparents looking on. As my neighbors across the street started playing "Who's Next," doing the stanky leg on their stoop, I remembered watching these same people run out of their houses to cheer for the marches as they go by. They open their windows, bang on pots and pans, scream and yell, bring the protesters water and granola bars. That statue in Columbus Circle better be sweating. The whole city wants to know: who's next?