I am a white woman who teaches a twerk class. Let’s talk about why that’s potentially problematic and why I chose to do it.
The first strip club I worked in I was the minority. It was mostly black and hispanic women that worked there. When you get hired in a strip club they don’t exactly give you a training manual. It’s sink or swim. “There are two stages, make sure to take your top off on both of them, when you come down I’ll let you know if you got the job. “ That’s what the manager said to me before he disappeared for 3 hours. I guess I got the job because they kept calling my name and I kept getting on stage. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was awkward. I sort of knew how to dance because I loved hip hop and had been frequenting hip hop clubs since I was 13, but this was next level. I watched the other women on stage, the one’s who obviously knew what they were doing. I mimicked them, or tried anyway. I learned this way for a long time. That’s how I learned my first pole tricks, it’s how I learned to twerk. If something was especially hard I’d ask someone to show me. They usually would. The women were friendly and they were generous with their skills. So you see, I owe my twerking knowledge to black women both because twerking stems from black culture and also because individual black women taught me. I am forever grateful to those women.
Here’s where it’s problematic. No matter my positive intentions I benefit from white privilege. Even in the club it was apparent. Money often came easier to me as one of the only white women there. I was appealing to men of many different backgrounds solely because I was white. I was known as “the white girl with the booty” because 1. I’m curvy and so I have a good sized hips and a butt and 2. I love to twerk. You see when white women twerk there’s a novelty to it. Society treats black women and white women who twerk differently. Black women tend to be judged harshly, which is a shame because it’s a beautiful part of their culture. White women tend to get praised for it, it makes them fun and edgy. It’s not right but its what I’ve seen to be true. Eventually I decided to try out other clubs because I heard you could make better money. That turned out to be true, but those clubs were all skinny white women. I went where the money was. I was only able to do so because I myself was a skinny-enough white woman. I cashed in on my white privilege. I wish the institutions weren’t racist, I wish the men wanted dances from black women as much as white women, but those are things I can’t control. And I was there to make money, to hustle, so that’s what I did. I did what I could do as an ally. I would often grab friends of color and make the rounds trying to get double dances with them. If there was a group of men I would pull my favorite dancers over and introduce them. I would talk them up. I was always hustling for the women around me and a lot of them returned the favor. I even got a couple black women jobs at super white clubs where they were able to make more money.
My point is not to pat myself on the back as an ally. The point is when you have privilege it matters what you do with it. You should use it to lift up the oppressed wherever possible. There are a lot of things you can’t control but there are some things you can. I’m grateful you’re reading my article but please also follow the links below to hear black women’s voices, including those that don’t agree with me. And if you’re a black woman in Tucson that’s great at twerking, come talk to me, I’d love to have you host a Twerkshop of your own.
So, yes, I’m a white woman teaching twerking, because I spent many years practicing and performing it, because I love to do it and I love to teach it, and because I think it’s therapeutic to jiggle your fat - no matter who you are. Women in general are trained to dislike their bodies and to try and tame and control them. Twerking, and especially in a female empowered space for yourself and other women, is an opportunity to shed some of that training and learn to love your body again. So I hope some of you will come shake it with me! I hope too that this opens a discussion about cultural appropriation and appreciation. It is a fine line. Let’s talk about it.
Here’s just a few links, feel free to add your own...
On the history of twerking:
On cultural appropriation:
(Thank you to Rebecca Grad who sent these last 3 to me)