Look at Carnell Nichols’ social media pages and you’ll see several clips of him “cuttin’ up,” or dancing in the legs-heavy style of Baltimore club music. Some of those videos take place at the residential living facility in Westminster where he works as a caregiver to adults with intellectual disabilities. One such video that the Baltimore native posted on July 9 went viral and received tremendous feedback on Twitter - but not for his dancing chops.
The video features Nichols, who is black, dancing for a white client. The seated client’s face is obscured by a shocked-faced emoji to protect his identity, with the exception of his obviously smiling face. White text that reads “When you so Baltimore” hangs over Nichols as he moves. The 25-year-old tweeted the video with a caption: "Love my clients because I can always be myself around them.
Twitter comments on the video, which has at least 81,700 “likes," ranged from praise for his and his client’s exuberance to concern for possible privacy and ethics violations, even though the client’s face was mainly covered. Several black users also criticized Nichols for joyously dancing for an older white man - a dynamic that invokes age-old tropes about the power imbalances between black entertainers and white audiences. Nichols rejected these critiques in his own comments on the thread, saying in one that he wanted to do something positive and reject assumptions about black men from the area.
I meant y’all not use to black males from Baltimore wanting to do the correct thing ! The energy is nothing but pure and positive!
Nichols reiterated that message during a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun on Monday. He noted that videos of him dancing fit with the inspirational memes and other uplifting messaging found on his public social media pages.
“I’m from Baltimore city, so I’ma show them that dudes from Baltimore city can still be positive and have smiles on their faces,” he said. “We’re not trying to build no image where these wild dudes be trying to come hit everybody - no, we want to have fun. If we get them outlets, we can show you our inspiration, our positive attitudes.”
Nichols said that he showed his client’s face to avoid any possible critiques about if his client was enjoying the dancing. He repeatedly stated his commitment to making sure his clients receive the best care possible, and put this dancing in that category.
He also said that he saw the video as protesting racial divisions, which he tried to address by wearing different-colored socks - one black and one white. When asked about the critical reactions, he affirmed his desire to push against negative stereotypes.
“The positive stuff is definitely beating off all the negative stuff,” he said. “They were talking about shucking and jiving and all that stuff, and I’m like, ‘Come on now! Are you serious? Are you not seeing what this world is going through right now, and you’re adding to that?’”
Nichols also said that he has not heard any negative feedback from management within the organization that operates the facility, which The Sun has omitted to protect the residents’ privacy. Nichols’ supervisor Matthew Saltz confirmed that Nichols works at the facility and additionally praised his work with their clients.