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March 2013
24

Black Women and Twerking: Why Its Creators Face Bigotry That Miley Cyrus Never Will

Twerking, just like everything else that is specifically known to Black women is the latest thing for Whites to try to appropriate while simultaneously trying to police and shame its originators for doing it at all. Whites (and some Blacks as well) are approaching it with the typical White supremacist approach of overly applauding and worshiping whomever is the latest popular spoiled irritant of a White human being to try to do it, which in this case would be Miley Cyrus. Unlike when something Black men, or both Black men and Black women created/do is appropriated, where some Black men are bothered by the appropriation (i.e. The Harlem Shake), once it’s specific to Black women, some Black men no longer care and applaud and worship any and all non-Black (and especially White) women engaged in the appropriation. The latter is also a facet of White supremacy (and male privilege).

While the sheer act of someone who isn’t Black woman twerking doesn’t bother me theoretically, I don’t like its practical manifestation in a White supremacist society. The typical worship (by EVERYONE, even including some Black women) of anyone who isn’t a Black woman doing it, the mocking of Black women’s distress about it and indulging in entitlement and arrogance about the appropriation is the problem. It’s never just people “having fun.” Their “fun” always comes at a huge price for Black women (and Black culture)—reinforcing race and gender hierarchies.

Cultural appropriation itself is a cycle and also a tool of psychological warfare and erasure in a White supremacist society. As Paulo Freire writes:

The oppressor consciousness tends to transform everything surrounding it into an object of its domination. The earth, property, production, the creations of people, people themselves, time—everything is reduced to the status of objects at its disposal.

Once the conversation is about Black women and twerking, the bigotry comes out in full force. I do not accept this bigotry.

No, I do not accept the sexism—the belief that something of interest to women irrespective of male attention or valuation/devaluation is automatically stupid and not worth doing or discussing.

No, I do not accept the misogyny—the notion that twerking can only be self-degrading since it cannot exist for any purpose outside of the dehumanizing gaze of men who choose to only see women as sexual objects, not full human beings engaging in a creative dance with a long Black history.

No, I do not accept the misogynoir—the notion that Black women twerking is “lewd” and “degrading” but White women doing (or trying to do) the exact same dance is “cute” and “classy” and that they should cash in, in attention, praise or actual money (i.e. teaching classes) on twerking while pretending that they do not know the racial double standard here. White privilege is why they can both appropriate and feign ignorance over the magnitude of what this appropriation is. White privilege is why they can continue to dehumanize Black women (while some simultaneously demand loyalty to a White supremacist feminist agenda, versus the intersectional feminism/womanism that we know) by pretending that we are solely objects to emulate—costumes to put on out of interest and then take off if situations get too sticky or portraying a certain form of Whiteness becomes more important or profitable. (See: Justin Timberlake, the male version of this).

No, I do not accept the misogynoir and predictable hypocrisy by Black men—the same ones who were angry about Whites appropriating The Harlem Shake (since Black men do this dance too) but write Black women off as “jealous” for commenting on the double standard regarding twerking (since Black men view this as a dance for women). Male privilege. The same ones who only have an issue with Whites when it is perceived to specifically impact Black men or all Black people, versus solely Black women, are the type of Black men that I’m speaking of. The same ones who endlessly excuse racism from famous White women (but never from a White man of any status) simply because they chase and sleep with non-famous White women are the type of Black men that I’m speaking of. 

No, I do not accept the racist sexist classism—the idea that only “poor” and “ghetto” Black women dance this way, thus making it a “shameful” dance unless absolutely anyone of a different social status does it.

No, I do not accept the ageist sexism—the idea that only women of a certain age should dance this way and anyone arbitrarily too young is being a “whore” and anyone arbitrarily too old is being “immature.”

No, I do not accept the framing through the politics of respectability—the idea that this “shames” Black women in front of White people, and nothing matters more than the White gaze (which is racist because of WHO we are, not WHAT we do or do not do, anyway) and the pathway to White approval, which never comes nor should be a goal in the first place.

No, I do not accept the Christian theist idea, shaped by patriarchy, sexism and misogynoir—that somehow twerking—a dance with African roots no less—is somehow “evil” and thus wrong, when it is in fact White supremacist religious views, originally force-fed, now willingly embraced, that shapes Black intraracial opinions on dancing and writes off anything with Black roots, especially precolonial roots as “evil.”

No, I do not accept the White supremacist feminist rhetoric—that autonomy over one’s person, expression and sexuality as a woman, should only apply to White women, and in the case of Black women, doing the same thing is “unfeminist” (not a real concept in the first place as it implies feminist absolutism as a destination, not the journey and praxis that it is) or anti-feminist (which would only be true if feminism is solely gendered White supremacy). I reject the idea that Black women should exist solely as objects for White women to emulate or disdain while simultaneously shaming, to mask their White supremacist thought and endless White privilege, especially considering the history of Black bodies as objects of White power, profit and pleasure.

A part of Alice Walker’s definition of womanism includes “loves dance” because of the very freedom that comes with creative and cultural expression with meaning and history, that’s also fun and includes the confidence that comes with physical, sexual and emotional autonomy.

How rare is it for twerking to be discussed…or actually anything involving what Black women do, think, say, write, create, believe or are…without bigotry, and sloppy, one-dimensional bigoted ideas as the basis of the discussion or the “critique?”

For Miley, appropriation is “fun” and games; Black women are costumes or “big booty hos” to her, not human beings. For Whites and Blacks/other people of colour, it can be viewed this way too, without context and disregarding the truth because of White supremacy; it allows such ignorance. I don’t have the luxury of disregarding the truth since I, as a Black woman, am the target of such bigotry. And, it will never be acceptable.

Related Posts: White Responses To Black Creativity, Regarding The White “Harlem Shake”, White Women and White Privilege: Telling Them NO

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