Always Trust a Big Butt and a Smile: Thinking About Twerking and Black Girl Public Cultures


The other day this amazing video came across dash board by the Twerk Team. The video was mesmerizing in that the women move their butts like I don’t know what. I mean jiggling your booty while your are upside down, I could only imagine the skill and agility that that technique requires. On top of that the made me want to dance/exercise, so I take inspiration where ever I find it.

Which brings me to this. Women in general and Black women in particular are oftentimes the most visually interesting aspects of many mainstream rap music videos. In fact, as far back as 2007, I discussed how video vixens needed a union because they are one of the most valuable assets withing in the mainstream rap music video ecosystem, but they also tend to be the lowest paid. I mean, would the “Birthday Song” be visually interesting without the presence of women’s bodies?


I don’t think so. Pay equity in music video wages, of course!

Conversations about twerking are conversations about Black women’s bodies, and their right to do what they want to do with their bodies in public. In fact, I think that there is a direct connection between Erkyah Badu’s choice to go nude for the “Window Seat” video and the visibility of Black girl twerk culture. The connection has to do with a willingness to for Black women, at this time, to do what they want their bodies in public, without being constrained by the politics of respectability.

The is important given the history of Black women being property during chattel slavery.

Which brings me to @StrugglingtoBeHeard. Last May she posted a video titled Twerking for Mothers Day on her personal blog, it was then uploaded to World Start Hip Hop, without her consent, where people, many of them Black men and women, began to leave out of pocket, sexist and misogynistic comments.

@Strugglingtobeheard is rea clear about the purpose with which she created this video. She says that she is twerking in honor of Mothers Day, that she was raised by a single mother, and that she understands that the work that mothers do tends to be unappreciated and unacknowledged. In short, care work is necessary and disrespected.

She goes on to say that twerking for solidarity, twerking for justice and twerking for liberation is about,

Owning your body and celebrating who you are and doing what you want to do, and doing what makes you feel good.

With this one sentence asserts the importance of mothers in general, and mothers of color experiencing pleasure and feeling good in their bodies.

After the video was uploaded to World Star Hip Hop @Strugglingtobeheard was really clear about the fact that she didn’t consent to her video being placed on the site and that she had something to say about how she was being discussed in perceived.

In an interview  conducted by Leonine, she discusses her response to the video being featured on World Star Hip Hop. She responds,

I do not like it. World Star Hip Hop is a terrible website. They do not respect Black women at all. The title dissed my butt and acted as if twerking for liberation was impossible. It seems they were too simple to even understand the general message I left in the beginning. Now, if someone had messaged me and said that my video was featured on a website and talked about the ways we don’t want to see mothers as sexually autonomous beings or how the art of dance really can be liberating or fulfilling, especially for women of color, I wouldn’t mind. But the website wanted to degrade me and judging by their messages to my complaints of their misuse of my video, they also hoped the degradation I received by their site goers would compel me to take my video down. It was an attempt to shame someone they have read as a Black woman for not falling into the “respectable” mold of womanhood. I do not appreciate that.

Now, the latest update to this is that MTV or VH1 has offered her between $200-$250 for the video, with the anticipation that Lil Duval will critique it on one of their shows. How would her interests be served, other than the money, by consenting to this in light of what has happened with World Star Hip Hop? Waits.

An essential component of being free in a democracy is having the ability to move about in the world. In this instance, the world includes online media spaces as well.

Oh

Sidebar.

I realize why I have had issues with the hook of Poison all these years. Never trust a big butt and a smile is a coded way of saying never trust Black girls. Well, I say, always trust a big butt and smile:)

So what do you think about Black girl twerk culture?

Why is it so challenging for people to see Black women in public on their own terms?

 

 

 

Renina

Renina is a cultural critic, author, instructor and a blogger. She is also the founder of Black Girl Everything, New Model Minority. She is book "Black Girls Are From the Future: Essays on Race, Digital Creativity and Pop Culture".

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  • MsWorld

    It’s challenging for people to see Black women in public on their own terms because the combination of being Black and a woman seems to be viewed as an invitation to be invisible therefore not human, a perfect screen to project one’s self-hatred, or an object to be claim. I wonder who’s worst when it comes to this behavior—other
    Black people or non-Black people. I’ve personally dealt with issues of invisibility in spite of being a big girl in the workplace. The funny thing is when Black women go out in the world to live on their own terms other Black
    people can be very baffled or freaked out by the act. I spent more than 6 months backpacking from East Asia to Southeast Asia to India to Southern Africa to Ireland and back to East Coast, USA—by myself. When I tell some Black people about this—Black men seem pretty astounded by the act, especially since I did it by myself and wasn’t with some white people. I’ve heard similar stories from Black women who traveled around non-European countries by themselves.

  • Reninaj

    Girl. You are true warrior, all out in the world on a walk about. I am not playing with you.

    It’s challenging for people to see Black women in public on their own
    terms because the combination of being Black and a woman seems to be
    viewed as an invitation to be invisible therefore not human

    ==============

    Woah.

    Yes. Or if we are visible it is for the purposes of exploitation, (can you be on my committee, can you introduce me to so and so, can you pose for x,y,z picture for the brochure). I think that this contradiction is one of the more difficult ones.

    So let me pivot this question, how and where do you see Black women being human? Being seen as being human. I think the first thing that comes to my mind is Fancy First Lady, Michelle Obama.

  • http://www.facebook.com/TAEHoffman Takeema Hoffman

    Hey Renina girl ;P…..

    On a tumblr I frequent I saw a post that said twerk was sacred and important and worthy of being protected and claimed and that sentiment gave me pause. Just to see twerk and sacred together in a sentence. And it wasn’t because I disagreed or was shocked or anything. The truth resonated so deeply in the core of my being that I had to pause. On the subject of black girl twerk culture it is everything. I’m a black girl twerker, music come on and I twerk. Twerk is in our DNA, and it’s beautiful. The way we move our bodies is BEAUTIFUL. Our hips and bellies and booties are beautiful so beautiful the word don’t even do it justice. The way our bodies and our twerk have been demonized and villified yet worshiped and glorified is….I can’t even articulate it right now. I realize I can’t talk about it as eloquently as I’d like to because I am still feeling and processing certain emotions and experiences connected with my black girl body so I guess I will just say twerk good, social conditioning bad. Very bad. On the subject of why Black women can not be seen on our own terms, I have to sit with that a bit. Found the link to that tumblr, http://venusinthefifth.tumblr.com/post/39250820293/yes-twerk-is-sacred-and-important

    • Reninaj

      Taeeeeeee!!! You are aliiiive. I was just wondering about you yesterday. I Love this… “I will just say twerk good, social conditioning bad.” Lol….I know that tumblr too:)

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