Last week, our very own Chloe Angyal took Taylor Swift to task over her new video, which features women of color twerking. She argues that these Black and brown twerkers are used as props in the video to highlight Taylor’s whiteness. She explains:
“There’s lots I could say about this video, but I want to compare two dance sequences, and focus on them, because I think they’re really telling. The first is the ballet sequence, with the dozen ballerinas, all of whom appear to be white, in Swan Lake style tutus and headdresses. The second is the hip hop and twerking sequence, with the half dozen Black and brown dancers in denim shorts, leopard print jackets, and chunky gold jewellery…
Compare that to the twerking sequence, when Swift is surrounded by dancers who all appear to be of colour. Again, she’s dressed the same as them, and has her hair tightly braided. But this time, while they’re all dancing, she’s either trying to dance like them (adorkably, of course; everyone knows that Princess Taylor doesn’t really twerk), or she’s gawking at them. There is honest to god a shot in which she crawls between a bunch of Black and Brown women’s legs and gazes up, wonderingly, at their shaking asses.
So Taylor Swift is not a pure white dancing snowflake swan princess ballerina, but she really wants you to know that she’s still white. That’s what I take away from this video.”
And she isn’t the only one who feels that way. Earl Sweatshirt took to Twitter to air some of his grievances as well.
Me? As a Black woman, I disagree. I think it is really important to contextualize this scene within the broader theme of the video. Swift is celebrating individuality and the inability to fit into any one clique. She visually represents this in the video by using different types of dancers as the symbolic cliques. They include: ballerinas, interpretive dancers, break dancers, some futuristic movers and shakers, a dope hand dancing dude, ribbon dancers, cheerleaders, and twerkers. As Chloe mentioned, Swift sets herself apart from all of these different subsets of popular American performance and culture. And the truth is that twerking is a part of that culture because Black American culture is still American. Keeping that in mind, I would have found it more problematic had she not included twerkers; especially given all of the mainstream coverage the dance has garnered recently via her pop star colleagues, I think it would have represented a devaluing and erasure of Black female art forms.
Because Black American culture is a part of American pop culture, I think it is important to recognize that twerking does not represent a “no fly zone” in which white people are not allowed to ever mention nor reference it. This is not about banning any certain race from twerking; all I ask is that you be good at it and remain conscious of your position. Black folks have very valid reasons to be on the defensive about cultural appropriation and the commodification of Black bodies. But every reference a white person makes to Black culture is not racist.
This is probably a stretch, but I thought Taylor Swift was actually pushing back against the idea that as a pop star today she should be utilizing images of Black female bodies in order to maintain relevance in the industry in this video. But don’t hold me to that.
Sesali understands that sometimes it ain’t that deep.