“Is it a crate? Or is it crack?” by Kirtis Clarke.


The crate challenge for me is a jump-off point to begin looking at black enjoyment, safety – or lack of –  and the scepticism that exists in our community.

The crate challenge was one of the many social media led trends this year, that left some people laughing in genuine enjoyment and physical pain. Kirtis Clarke questions how the crate challenge became so popular and why.

Contribution by Kirtis Clarke.

Popping up left right and centre is the rise of the new crate challenge. It seems that anyone and everyone feels obliged to take part, talk about, or have a hot take in relation to this new online phenomenon. Is it crack? Black folks across America, and as of recently – in the UK are taking to this new craze – despite knowing the risks and a high chance of causing themselves harm. Is it crack? Why is there suddenly an abundance of crates? Where did they come from? Is it crack? The crate challenge for me is a jump-off point to begin looking at black enjoyment, safety – or lack of –  and the scepticism that exists in our community.

I know what you’re going to say. “K, it’s not that deep.” No, it’s not – but I’ll be taking you on a quick journey around the block, diving in and out of some thoughts and feelings I’ve had over the last months and hopefully get to bottom of these crates, with as little injury as possible.

On 26th August, I got a notification in the non-official Instagram offshoot of “OG” – a WhatsApp group with some of the folks a grew up with – with a message from white-collar J that read, “Who in here has got this for 25K?” … Once I clicked into the app, I was met with a low fi still frame of a stack of crates and one topless bredda stepping precariously up and over them. J, you had me at 25K, but exactly what is this I’m looking at?

*Clicks play*

Now I’m not going to sit here and act like I wasn’t in tears of laughter the moment my man’s left foot gave way after trembling to what could only be some top tier oonst oonst music – honestly, there’s no way to be sure – but I digress – the way this all played out … simply hilarious, top tier *black* tomfoolery which I for one love to see. When we see black enjoyment, whether close to home or coming from our brothers and sisters overseas, I can’t help but feel a little piece of warmth inside – that despite the trials and tribulations the world presents to us on a daily we’re still out here laughing and smiling, coming up with new ways to entertain ourselves and those around us. No one really does it like us, let’s be honest. The ability to enjoy, but also create such a wave of positive energy from such a thing as a crate.

This is all well and good when you watch one of these videos, but I’m sure I’m not the only person to have gotten to the 10th, 15th maybe 20th video of people doing this crate challenge and began to ask some pressing questions. Watching folks of all ages falling left right and centre in all kinds of positions was funny and all, but in all of these videos, I’m seeing a severe lack of responsible adults.

Brandon Breaux put it best with a series of posters surrounding the uptake of this new challenge,

“Don’t do it fam”

“You don’t have health insurance, stop playin”

and my personal favourite, “If you taking risks like this you may as well get the vaccine bro”

In the space of a few weeks, social media was overrun with swathes of video clips from what looks like inner-city black neighbourhoods and people engaging in what we now know as the ‘crate challenge’ – a kind of world-star hip hop rip of Takeshi’s Castle, where contestants are tasked with traversing a stack of wildly unstable looking crates in the shape of a pyramid. If you succeed? Fame, glory, prestige and a couple of extra followers, maybe even going viral – all that. If you fail? Honestly? Death is highly possible, but a bruk neck and a high hospital bill is even higher possibility.

By Abbi Bayliss

Which brings me to my question: Is it Crack?

What on God’s green earth is possessing all of these people to risk their neck for this challenge? If it’s the 25K white-collar J mentioned then fine, I *kind of* get it – but I really doubt there’s 25K up for grabs in a lot of these situations. I’ll try my best not to go into the inner workings of crack on the mind, I couldn’t even if I tried – but “Is it Crack?” is a question that holds significant weight within the black vernacular. It’s used as a way to question person sanity, albeit with a slight bit of humour. In moments where one can’t possibly comprehend the reasons or motivations behind decisions that are made by people who should honestly know better. “Is it Crack?” becomes the last point of understanding what is actually going on. So, when I watch people moving and shaking on these crates, knowing damn well they’re too old to be playing around like this, and soon drop toward the floor in ways and from heights grown people should not be dropping *voluntarily*. I have to ask the question, Is it crack?

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Where did self-preservation go? Breaux makes a good point – I wonder how many of these folks participating in this challenge have adequate health insurance. Among many others – the health insurance situation over in the US is crazy, and at a time when the average COVID hospitalisation costs $40,000, I wonder what the bill for stupidity is. My guess is significantly more. I know hospital bills don’t work like that – but I’m trying to make a point. Please people, can we just exercise common sense. Please.

So where did all these crates come from anyway? Once the crate challenge became embedded in our online consciousness – twitter or at least *black* Twitter sprung into action – and we began seeing the ‘stay woke’ brigade chime in. “Is it Crack?” suddenly had a new ring to it. What we were seeing as part of this challenge, are black and brown folks from lower socio-economic backgrounds causing themselves harm by this thing that has seemingly just popped up in the hood. Sound familiar?

While it’s all fun and games – scepticism is something that sits deep within our culture – because the matter of fact is that in the past, our governments and those who are in power and there to protect us have actually been the ones causing us harm. So while we can laugh about the vision of a covert operation led by the US government of a shipment of crates being dropped off in black neighbourhoods – in the knowledge that it would turn into a means by which black populations would hurt themselves – we should understand where this comes from. Our mistrust is from a place of knowing what has happened before. It’s in the group chats our aunty’s swear by, the church groups and around the dinner table when your mother is talking about how her boss is a racist. The reality is that they probably are not a racist, but the sceptics in us won’t just let it slide.

The crate challenge should be looked at as an event that is reflective of this historical moment. Yes, it’s a bit of fun, and yes we have taken a slight detour around the block but to shed some light on what conversations have arisen from a seemingly innocent challenge is to raise the fact of being black – that no matter in which arena we find ourselves in or choose to use as a means of entertainment, expression or simply for relaxation and enjoyment, we are so entwined in the wider discourses surrounding blackness itself, what begins as a bit of fun always has the potential to turn into a larger conversation.

Contribution by Kirtis Clarke.

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