Tag Archives: Twerk

This Week’s Most Offensive Internet Meme

6 Dec

While mindlessly procrastinating on Facebook the other day, I found this repulsive image:

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For me, it was a huge slap in face. Yet the meme trended on Instagram and Facebook and had over 3,000 shares.

People praised its “truthfulness” and talked about how young Black women need to take a lesson from women of the past. While I don’t disagree that we should know our history, the execution of this message was poor. The meme makes four ridiculously flawed assumptions about today’s Black women.

Assumption #1: Twerking is the evilest thing in the world*

The discussion on twerking is an interesting one and I’m on the fence. But for now I’ll say this: there’s nothing inherently wrong with twerking. It’s a dance that requires skill and technique.

Yes, it’s sexual—so is tango, which has origins related to prostitution. So was the Can-can when it first came out. Even the belly dance and African dance classes I took as a child can be viewed as sexual when taken out of context.  In the past, these dances were frowned upon because they originated from marginalized groups. The views of dances like tango and twerking are often directly related to the privileged classes’ views of the working class and/or ethnic groups.

Also, we should watch the way we police women’s creative expression—it’s not a crime to be sexual.

On the other hand, the train may not have been the best place to initiate a twerking session—though it wasn’t harming anyone on the train (except maybe the other black women who were worried about being lumped into one massive stereotype, which happens whether people twerk on trains or not).

Assumption #2:  Black women are the same

I think it’s safe to assume that not all Black women twerk on trains. I know I’m not that bold. Not all Black women even know how to twerk (sorry to burst your bubble).

Yet, the way Black women are portrayed in media is the way people, including other Black people, view us as a whole. And the fact that this meme got praise from tons of Black folks shows the media’s negative effect on our own views of our culture.

Quit buying into the nonsense that all black women act a certain way and start looking into media that celebrates the successful ventures of Black women today. Try Clutch Magazine to begin with. They have a whole section called “She’s So Ambitious,” which highlights successes of Black woman entrepreneurs.

Assumption #3: Black women are no longer fighting for equality

There’s a reason you haven’t heard much about the ambitious Black women of 2013. Women like Mikki Kendall, Moya Bailey, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Corvida Raven, Leana Cabral, Melissa Harris-Perry, and Sil Lai Abrams, aren’t trending on reality TV, Vine, Worldstar, and Youtube because they don’t fit certain stereotypes. Kanye isn’t going to feature those women in his music videos and Tyler Perry will write them in his script as heartless bitches simply because they are powerful.

The meme completely invalidates the work of the many women I mentioned above, and all the others who like them. Most of those women are fighting for the similar cause of equality that the women in the 1960’s did.

Assumption 4: Black women are one-dimensional

As I discussed in a recent post, women can twerk, get advanced degrees, and have successful careers all at the same time. We are more complex than the Ratchet Hoe vs. Educated Sister dichotomy people seem to have engrained in their minds.

I love the philosophy  of one of my cousins and her friends, who refer  to themselves as “Sophistiratch” because they have a lot of fun and do things that people may deem “ratchet,” while at the same time, they all have degrees and are pursuing careers.

All in all, viewing this meme’s portrayal of Black women as authentic makes you no better than Lily Allen—who views us as twerking objects to be smacked on the butt, mocked for our bodies, and then shamed for our behavior (yet, never applauded for our accomplishments).

When I tried to find memes for this post, I couldn’t find any “Educated Black Woman” or “Successful Black Woman” memes. Of course, “Ghetto Black Girl” and “Stereotypical Black Girl” were readily available. So here’s one I created:

 MULTIF FINAL

Feel free to share it. In the future I hope there are more positive memes for Black women and that these horrific ones cease to spread.

What do you all think of the 2 memes?

Meme photos courtesy of Advance Path, Sarah L. Wilson, and Johnathan Hartford via Flickr. 

*Yes, my views on twerking have changed since I’ve done more research on respectability politics as it relates to race. While I stand by my argument in Sorority Girls must Twerk, people shouldn’t assume that women twerk because of the oppressive demands of us to embody sexual objects. People twerk because they are having a good time or celebrating, among other reasons.

P.S. This article is part of the Top Posts. Check out the Best of A Womyn’s Worth

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3 Things Someone Should Tell Miley Cyrus

18 Jun

miley_cyrus_juicy_j

Miley 2.0, Take A Seat

Lately people have been buzzing about how Miley Cyrus twerked on stage at a Juicy J concert and about her latest song produced by Mike Will Made It. At first, I was upset that she received so much attention. I saw news anchors on television discussing her twerking, and I thought, “Why the F is this news?” So I was hesitant to write this post. Yet, with all the comments about Milley 2.0 “trying to act black” and “being ratchet,” I felt the need to say something about her new tactic to increase the hype of her upcoming album.

Unlike many people who are quick to shame Miley Cyrus for her recent twerking obsession and her new sound, which claims that she is “bout that life,” I won’t go there. Let her twerk if she wants to—but don’t you dare applaud her for twerking and then turn around and criticize all the black women who twerk.

I have other issues with little Ms. Party in the USA.

1) Stop referring to hip hop and other music from black artists as “hood” music. In a recent interview with Billboard, she claimed that she loved “hood” music.

I think most of us know (but someone needs to let Miley know) that the majority of commercial hip hop sales are from suburban areas and that about 60% of those consumers are white.* Miley, sweetie, you aren’t special because you like Juicy J—you’re part of the 60%. But hey, maybe some of that 60% who bump fictitious “hood” music, yet haven’t gone beyond their white picket fences may pick up her album. Maybe Miley’s onto something.

2) Tread lightly and remember your privilege. The other day one of my sorors tweeted,

So when I twerk, I’m ratchet. But when Miley twerks she’s queen goddess of all unicorns!?”

She raises a major issue. Commenters on several blog sites said that Miley twerking was “cute” or “adorable.”

First of all… No. It wasn’t. Think about it—would it be adorable if it were Willow Smith or Gabby Douglas? Is it cute when Nicki Minaj twerks? No! Many people have internalized a double standard and would criticize young black women for being overly sexual.

Miley at Juicy J concert

Miley twerking at Juicy J concert

Blogger Necole Betchie wrote that Miley is “definitely carrying around a ‘ratchet’ card somewhere in her back pocket.” Yes, she may be carrying the card, but she can use or toss it as needed. Others don’t have that luxury. According to writer Sesali Bowen, many people (mainly black women) are labeled ratchet because of their poverty, clothing choices, and actions, and they cannot shake the label as easily. So be careful who you call ratchet.

3) Do what you do. Let Miley be Miley. Hanna Montana, Miley 2.0, rebel Disney star, whatever. If you don’t like her, don’t listen to her and don’t talk about her. That being said, I’m not going to say anything else about her. But I think it’s imperative that we think about and discuss double standards, white privilege, and what is acceptable for certain women to do but not others.

If you don’t feel like reading up on cultural appropriation, check out “White Privilege” by rapper Macklemore. His song is open and honest about how white musicians fit into black music.

*Stats from Rhythm and Business: The Political Economy of Black Music

Related Articles:

Sorority Girls Must Twerk: Cultural Demands on Black Women

Let’s Get Ratchet!: Check Your Privilege at the Door

Sorority Girls Must Twerk

16 May

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Originally published on Racialicious.

“So you’re going to twerk right?” was a common question my sorority sisters and I got when we entered a dance competition this year at our school.

Not too long ago, the university I attend welcomed its first historically black Greek-letter organization. I had the privilege of becoming a member of this sorority and was curious to see how the students of a predominately white university in a wealthy area would receive a historically black organization on its campus.

The university was widely accepting of the sorority; however, as we became more visible on the campus, we experienced much cultural insensitivity.

This year, for the first time, we participated in a sorority dance competition that raises money for charity. During the week leading up to the dance-off, several people approached us asking if we were going to twerk — as if twerking is the only style of dance a black woman can do.

Yes, most of the pleas for us to twerk on stage were jokes—you know, those obnoxious, not so funny, purposefully racist jokes—the same jokes many people shrug off and laugh along with because they are believed to be harmless.

Yet, there is a serious problem when we idly allow people to make ignorant and unacceptable comments, especially those that trivialize issues of class and race. As we read in the article, “Let’s Get Ratchet! Leave Your Privilege at the Door,” also featured on Racialicious, views about twerking employ certain bigoted ideas about poverty and black culture.

These comments and jokes about our sorority twerking relate to the effects of a black woman’s image based on media coverage. With the countless Twerk Team videos on Youtube and the glorifying of a “bad bitch” who can “bend it over and touch her toes” in commercial hip hop lyrics,this style of dance has become a fabricated indicator of “authentic” black womanhood. Essentially, the conversation about the style of dance becomes: all “real” black women can twerk.

This expectation is progressed through the numerous videos of young black women popularizing the dance style online (They aren’t the only ones doing it, but they are a significant majority). On one hand, if a woman chooses to dance sexually that is her choice. However, I find it problematic if her decision to twerk comes from commercial hip hop’s ideas about women (none of which are uplifting) and the songs that accompany the dance, such as French Montana’s “Pop That” and Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” which demand a woman’s complete submission in order to sexually please her male company. Type “twerk” into youtube and you’ll find several young women accepting the sex-object role that the music demands of them. These demands become increasingly problematic when they involve race and gender. Notice that no expectations are placed on men or women of other ethnicities to twerk. People are often shocked when white women do it.

As it is extremely provocative, twerking suggests a lot about black sexuality. As feminist theorist Patricia Hill Collins discusses in Black Sexual Politics, African Americans’ use of their bodies is heavily promoted and celebrated above other abilities, such as intellect.

Maybe that is why there aren’t many stereotypes about black women being smart.

The focus on black bodies is not a new concept. Author Norman Kelly explains in Rhythm and Business that these ideas date back to slavery, when bodies were used to cut sugarcane and harvest tobacco, and raped to produce more bodies for labor. Yet, too much use of the mind was prohibited, as reading was illegal.

This use of bodies, specifically, the focus on what twerking accentuates, a woman’s behind, dates even further back to the 19th century, when Saartjie Baartman first made her appearance in Europe as the freak show Venus Hottentot. People visited the show to gawk and mock her huge behind and peek under her clothing to look at her vagina.

These 19th century views continue to exist in the comments about twerking. When people expect or demand that we twerk, black women are once again reduced to a piece of ass.

Unfortunately, many people of color have adopted some of these external views on black sexuality, as several of the jokes about our sorority twerking came from other African American students on campus. During the preparation for another show, one black student who saw us practicing also asked if we would twerk for our half-time basketball game performance. In asking this, he and other students of color who made similar comments participate in progressing harmful stereotypes of black women. Because this guy’s mind went right to twerking when he heard we were dancing, his views of women how black women should appear on stage have been influenced by disgusting stereotypes of black women in popular culture.

As leaders and promoters of equality, we must amend the incorrectly-deemed “harmless” jokes and comments about black sexuality, as they further the idea that black people are only good for physical activities such as manual labor, dancing, and sex. These jokes suppress ideas about successful black scholars and intellectual leaders.

When these dehumanizing ideas circulate in popular culture, I am concerned about how they affect our self-narratives and self-esteem. Growing up, my friends and I wrestled with what it meant to be authentically black. Our music interest, sense of fashion, and ways of dancing were all influenced by external ideas about black culture that we saw in music videos, on the radio, and from our peers (this was just before Youtube and Twerk Team became popular). As much of my teenaged perception about what “authentic” blackness meant came from BET, where currently Nicki Minaj acts as an updated Venus Hottentot (as much of her brand, appearance, clothing and lyrics point to the same two body parts Europeans gawked over at Baartman’s freak show: her ass and vagina). I eventually had to unlearn a lot of the demeaning ideas of black womanhood I was exposed to. I am still in the process of unlearning.

Calling people out on their rude jokes and comments aids this unlearning process and teaches them about the stereotypes they uphold when they make such comments.

Authors note: Hello All, I wrote this article when I was new to feminism and hadn’t realized the harm of respectability politics. My views have changed. Check out the articles below, which are more up-to-date on my Black feminist politics.

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