Everything I’ve ever wanted to say in defense of twerking has been compiled into a 5-minute documentary entitled Twerk It Girl by self-proclaimed “twerk scholar” at the University of Texas Kimari Brand. Utilizing multiple experiences — including a course on performance, feminism and social justice, a trip abroad to study Afro-Caribbean culture and politics, and her experiences as a Black girl at an institution of higher education that prioritizes white supremacist “credibility and status” — Brand has reframed the dialogue about twerking.
I’ve already talked about how culturally specific phenomenons created in marginalized communities — twerking being one of them — are appropriated by those with enough privilege to be considered the “mainstream.” This process involves devaluing the practice in its original context and uplifting it when done by those in the proverbial “center.” But recently it appears that even the said mainstream has decided it wants no part of twerking. The sexualization of the dance, in addition to its association with poor and working-class Black women (and probably the fact that it’s one of the few things white folks aren’t able to “perfect” and dominate — and not for lack of trying) have created an overwhelming amount of stigma. While for many people, like my sisterfriend from Atlanta, “twerking” is just something you pick up, in the same way that a daughter from another background might learn the merengue.
With the help of social and biased media, we — including us Black folks — have internalized the message that because Black bodies are central to the practice of twerking, it can’t be a valid artistic expression. And everyday we are reinforcing this messaging. Don’t think so? A recent Oregon news story broke involving three women who were rightfully arrested for disorderly conduct and drug possession after peeing and exposing their genitals in front of a municipal building. Headlines for the story all allude to the women being arrested for twerking. You all might also remember stories about students being suspended from school for practicing twerking. Stories like these, and images like this one, label twerking as deviant behavior:
The narrative reminds me of those Direct TV ads. When you twerk, you move your ass. When you move your ass, people think less of you because of sexism and sex-shaming. When people think less of you, you are more likely to be targeted by authority figures for assumed transgressions. When you are more likely to be targeted by authority figures for assumed transgressions, you go to jail. Don’t go to jail, stop twerking.
Twerking is art. Brand is using it as a tool of resistance against attacks on her own erotic autonomy and her right to do what she will with her own body. Furthermore, Brand is really fighting for the right to not be discredited as a woman, a scholar, or a human being because she twerks.
Sesali is an a twerk advocate.