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Poor Black Women Didn’t Originate Twerking

"Maybe I missed the memo, but I never knew that raunchy dancing is a symbol of black culture and specifically, poor African American women," says Mallory.

It’s been two weeks since Miley Cyrus’ jaw dropping performance during the MTV VMAs and her attempts at twerking are all anybody’s still talking about.

Yesterday, reality star Bethanny Frankel joined in on the craze by twerking on live TV with Nick Cannon. Meanwhile, my phone is ringing off the hook with people confused and disturbed about how the conversation shifted from Cyrus’ shenanigans to twerking being a part of Black culture.
Clearly, the 20-year-old former Disney star accomplished exactly what she set out to do: social media went crazy, and everyone from psychologists, authors and university professors went on the airwaves to talk about her risqué performance. In response to the frenzy, Cyrus said she and Robin Thicke set out to “make history.” It definitely was not Black history.
The commentary turned outright offensive when, writing in a New York Times op-ed piece, author Teddy Wayne suggested that young Miley was merely engaged in a dance move that is “typically associated with lower-income African American women that involved the rapid gyration of the hips in a fashion that prominently exhibits the elasticity of the gluteal.”

As if Wayne’s insulting and uninformed comments weren’t bad enough, Salamishah Tillet, an associate professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the singer’s public theatrics was nothing more than “just a clumsy white appropriation of Black culture.” WTH?
Maybe I missed the memo, but I never knew that raunchy dancing that includes grinding and gyrating is a symbol of Black culture and specifically, poor African American women. In fact, as a Black woman who has spent my entire life around other Black women, I know that twerking isn’t our culture. It’s something most women, regardless of race, save for the bedroom. The reality is raunchy dancing transcends racial, economic and class barriers.

Most Black women that I know refuse to be defined by twerking or any other demeaning activity. Attempts to appropriate the most offensive and vile stereotypes onto us is yet another glaring example of how poor Black women are continually made the scapegoats for all that’s wrong in society. We’ve been blamed for the breakdown of traditional family values, demonized by white politicians as welfare queens and caricatured as lazy. We have become easy targets. And now, poor Black women are accused of originating a dance style that’s been widely labeled as “disgusting and embarrassing.”
I refuse to sit idly by and allow all that is lewd to be projected on to us. For too long, the media has perpetuated vicious stereotypes, which suggest that we are nothing more than sexual beings with little intellect. While we claim being sexy and curvaceous, we are even more strong and courageous.
In the words of the YouTube sensation, Sweet Brown, “Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That!”

Tamika D. Mallory is a nationally recognized civil rights activist.