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Monday Morning Meditations: I Need a Twerk Detox

***Warning*** this is a personal post, in which I will talk about race, specifically Whiteness and the minstrel-like appropriation of Blackness. Tired of hearing about it? I am too, extra tired, and as this is personal I will not spoon-feed, over-explain, educate or apologize. Don’t ask me to, I don’t have time for it today and overall it needs to stop being my job. 

Understand that I use “whiteness” in a James Baldwin, Malcolm X, Chester Himes sense: not as a color, but as an identity—a set of actions, thoughts and perspectives that ultimately are tied to certain class and social standings. I’ll add onto this that whiteness is a composition of privilege, ambivalence, blindness, lack of understanding, ignorance and in more liberal circles, gag-worthy ironies. Whiteness is also an unbridled entitled claiming of these traits. Of course this definition is subjective and malleable, different for various regions or contexts, the same with Blackness and Asianess, etc. etc. Not all white people are White. But some white people are White—really White. It’s oppressive and exhausting and frustrating, so if you will.

How to Detox from Twerking


Robatussin for Ratchet

1 part retiring from pop culture; 2 parts vacationing from Whiteness; 1 part cleansing lemonade. Add ginger.

Let’s face it: the past few months have been a shit show for race relations in America. The latest spectacle to join this train-wreck is the Miley Cyrus post-VMA twerk madness. I mean, twerking has been on the edge of becoming a new national sensation, but after August 25 it has reached a level of foamy-mouthed frenzy. This is the first time I have witnessed and experienced something so blatantly taken from “my” culture, claimed, misunderstood, mistakenly labeled and turned into a fashion statement for social capital gains. Is this how Little Richard felt? I’ve been knocking these thoughts back and forth but it wasn’t until last night when I experienced a ridiculous juxtaposition that I understood  why I just need a damn detox. I essentially jumped from two worlds: The first was the Irie Jamboree event at Barclay’s center, celebrating West Indian heritage as it is Labor Day Weekend here in NYC and Jamaica has been independent for 51 years. I got to see Damian Marley, a few of his brothers, Shabba Ranks, Capleton and Lady Saw, the queen of Dancehall who I’ve wanted to see since I was 13 and was completely blown away by. Then, mistakenly, I jumped to a friend’s house party. It’s a white friend, not the annoying kind, but I knew it was likely that there would be a lot of White people there. Sure enough, within the first five minutes there, I’m approached by a White girl all to eager to show what she learned at her “twerk lesson” earlier that evening. Later on, she somehow stumbled upon a “Twerkers User Guide” (the fuck is that even?) in New York Magazine (really?) and squealed in delight. In a beat after, she expressed contempt for countries of “rich people who just buy culture, ew” referring to Abu Dhabi, a country run by brown people. The irony there just killed me (if you don’t see it, sigh). My friend tried to diffuse the situation by attempting to engage me in a conversation, that perhaps would have been a thought-sparking debate. A well-intended gesture, but ultimately the wrong one and I left very soon after.

Why does this all mean so much to me? In Black dance and music circles (at this point I just don’t even know what to call it) there is an air of sexual liberation and it’s something I’ve always been proud of and happy to come into and claim. This has often been labeled as sexual deviancy and barbarism by the outside world, but it’s actually more progressive than mainstream heterosexist norms. Listening to my family talk or Black female comedians or even rappers—there is such a strong stance and voice on a woman’s right to pleasure. Last night, Lady Saw did a ridiculously empowering and radical set that was all about a women’s sexual freedom and expression.  When I was a little girl in the bathroom after a shower, staring and still confused at my naked-just-beginning-to-develop-body, I asked my mom what my clit was (or weird thing, as I referred to it back then). She straight up told me it was for sex, which made no sense to me because: a) at that point I had no idea what she meant and b) the fact that something could exist only for pleasure seemed cray. Overtime, I came to learn exactly what she meant, but surprisingly, still,  a lot of women haven’t

Dancing for women of the African diaspora—whether in Jamaica or Brazil or basements of east side Buffalo,NY— has been a space of empowerment, freedom and feminine agency. Going to ghetto basement parties is where we learned that we were becoming women and sexual beings; that we could be sexual and it was okay because we could control it—we had the power. I compared this to my predominantly white high school dances where the girls binge-drank to “grind” with guys only to be prayed on and completely and often publicly violated by them to the thundering sounds of top 40 hip-pop, then slutshamed while sober the next day and totally uncomfortable with all of it. There was no control, no elegance, no beauty.

Once again, I’m watching as an important social aspect of Blackness and Black femininity is misinterpreted and tried on by White girls trying to momentarily slip away from the rigidness of their sexuality while still maintaining the privilege of their race. Not only that, but these dances that have come to be known as “twerking” have their roots in traditional African dances and their Afro-Carribbean, Afro-Latino derivatives. In many countries these movements are treated as art and seen as a part of national folkloric identity. Here, the dances have traditionally been criminalized, demonized and racialized. At best, in most recent times, the movements and communities they come from are positioned as an exotic spectacle to be gawked at and museumified in public space, rather than veneered and celebrated as art and beauty. At best, the culture is appropriated by other groups, maybe in a show of solidarity, maybe as a byproduct of the incredibly complicated landscapes of cultural hybridity that are facilitated by digital communication and becoming more frequent in increasingly diverse cities. Usually though, the culture becomes a new trend followed to gain social capital. Something that has so much deep and cultural meaning suddenly is uplifted from that culture and becomes accessible to new, outside voices of cultural authority, like New York Magazine. This tool of power becomes something those young, dumb, full of cum, molly-tripping, ratchet millennials just invented on YouTube. What will those kids think of next? And what of the artists of these communities who have lengthy careers creating this kind of music and dance-art? Pfft, who are they? Probably just some haters who are mad they ain’t as famous as Miley Cyrus or Macklemore.

This all was fully emphasized when I got home and read the screenshots of people’s responses to Azealia Banks for apparently “dissing” Lady Gaga. Banks, a black, queer, female rapper from Harlem accused Lady Gaga of possibly biting her style (similar to the Le1f-Macklemore beef, I don’t think she’s 100% right but she should express suspicion). Let us remember, Lady Gaga is one of the numerous artist making and profiting off of black/brown queer music and culture. Anyone interacting with Gaga’s schtick is inevitably interacting with this culture. Twitter’s reaction to Banks? A racist and ridiculous onslaught of slurs and accusations. See for yourself. Again the irony is just too much to deal with. 

Not long after the VMAs, I  ”defended” Miley Cyrus by stating that we can’t cherry-pick, and if we prevented every white person from appropriating our culture there would be no music. At all. How one should feel about that is a whole other bag ‘o bullshit, but it’s the truth. My issues don’t stem from this though, they stem from the fact that I had to make a statement. That Miley Cyrus must either be defended or condemned; I’m angry that it is so critical to analyze and understand the meaning of her flat, non-twerking ass. What this frenzy reveals is that our psychotic pop conscious still can’t handle the bitter realities of race in this country. Miley is only getting attention because she is White; she isn’t suppose to move like that, act like that, be sexual like that. That’s also part of why she’s doing it—self-discovery for her in the most earnest of probable causes for her new “image.”  Were we beyond it all, were everything I said earlier false, we wouldn’t be in the moment we’re in right now. We’re here because Black women are still viewed as exotic, hyper-sexualized creatures who are ratchet for ratchet’s sake, as opposed to marginalized individuals fighting for self-determination and survival, who have contributed to/created art, music, dance and general pop culture since they arrived on the shores of the Americas. 

Hey— can you imagine having all of this on your mind every time you go out? No, you can’t, but let me tell you something: IT’S EXHAUSTINGIt’s exhausting and annoying and frustrating because 1) these things are ridiculously hard to relay 2) most people, especially the perpetrators, aren’t even thinking about this, so I must just be crazy 3) What’s the resolution? I don’t know but it certainly isn’t a room of white kids jeering and cheering at an upside down jiggling black ass. What’s worse is that I don’t even try to get into these situations; they’re literally unavoidable. Unless I’m careful, I’m bound to be in a room full of white people twerking when I go out. I’m bound to be the only black person in the room when “Black Skinheads” or “New Slaves” comes on, and bound to be the only person who knew what pusspy poppin, sissy bouncing, slow grinding, dutty winin, cry babying, tootsie rolling, juke, jerking, harlem shaking, perreoing and twerking was before YouTube was even invented and I could legally drive. What’s that about? The price of being the token black kid/person of color for life?

When I told my friend about this and needing a detox, he asked why. I told him because the anger in me has run out, leaving my fuel tank empty. Now I’m just sad, bitter, confused, frustrated and hurt. I don’t have the energy to engage in the long, hand-holding, quiet calm and compassionate conversation with a stranger at a party about her privilege and appropriation. I’m tired.  It just can’t be our job to educate anymore. It has to be the white people’s job, the good white people. My friend told me the good white people were there, writing blog posts or something. When I think of how white people use to ride or die with us, use to be beaten and spit on, disowned by families and sprayed with water hoses for us, somehow sheepishly and drunkenly attempting to enlist me into an argument one is perfectly capable of having oneself, or writing a blog post then closing a laptop just doesn’t seem like enough. I need real allies. I need this detox. And I need some ginger. Unless you can provide me one (preferably all three) of those, I’ll probably be avoiding you for a while. Don’t take it personally. 


Black people can’t talk to white people about race anymore. There’s really nothing left to say. There are libraries full of books, interviews, essays, lectures, and symposia. If people want to learn about their own country and its history, it is not incumbent on black people to talk to them about it. It is not our responsibility to educate them about it. Plus whenever white people want to talk about race, they never want to talk about themselves. There needs to be discussion among people who think of themselves as white. They need to unpack that language, that history, that social position and see what it really offers them, and what it takes away from them. As James Baldwin said, “As long as you think that you are white, there is no hope for you.”

from "Why I Don’t Want to Talk About Race" 

Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You [white women] fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying.

Audre Lorde, “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” (via carmenrios)

(Source: floralcrow)

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