How White People Ruined Twerking

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I didn't think it was possible, but white folks have managed to take all the fun out of twerking. In my younger days, unfettered rump shaking was one of my favorite past times. As I matured, twerking lost its allure (Not as much fun when you have to get up and go to work in the morning). I do not, however, judge the women and men who still partake, but I feel genuinely bad for those who do.

Because the dance formerly known as “twerking” has become inescapable in the worst way imaginable.

I cringe every time I hear or see the word because I know an annoyance will surely follow. Take, for example, the subtle racism and classism slipped into this satirical piece published last week by the New York Times.
”...twerking is a dance move typically associated with lower-income African-American women that involves the rapid gyration of the hips in a fashion that prominently exhibits the elasticity of the gluteal musculature."
Times columnist Teddy Wayne surely patted himself on the back after thinking up that rhetorical brilliance. Wayne and the other cultural tourists who've chosen to make a stop in Twerkville can do so flippantly because they have nothing at stake.

They can play with it, add it to the dictionary, then watch it die all the while feeling smug and self satisfied because they've ventured to learn the tiniest bit about a single facet of black culture.

But I rue the day Miley Cyrus decided she needed to “black it up” because when the mainstream “discovers” any aspect of black life, no matter how minute, they cling to it. They dissect and analyze it. Then they use that superficial knowledge to extrapolate about black people and black life right before they discard it. By the time they hand that piece of culture back to us, we want nothing to do with it. We create something new, and the cycle begins again.

But while this process takes place, black folks must negotiate their identities under the stifling white gaze. The watchful eye of white supremacy forces blacks to take a strong stand about something we've openly embraced, purposefully ignored, or quietly accepted for years.

All the attention directed at an aspect of black culture many black folks find troubling causes the Colored and respectable to make absurd pronouncements like, “This is why the black race is failing” or we have a responsibility to "dance responsibly."

When dominant culture places blackness under a microscope, black folks get on the defensive because assertions of our inferiority and pathology too often follow these discussions of what takes place in our communities. Yes, we're cool enough to emulate on the weekends, but not quite cool enough to deserve equal access to education, healthcare, housing etc..

From birth most black people must learn the intricacies of whiteness and dominant culture to succeed and survive, so these mainstream infatuations with cultural phenomenona that are years old reek of condescension. Consequently, I'm going to relinquish twerking freely. You win, white people. You win.

Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or

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