Hi strugglingtobeheard! I’m leonine antiheroine—thanks for agreeing to talk about your wonderful Twerk for Mother’s Day video.
As I understand it, you made the video in order to honour and acknowledge mothers—including your own, whom raised you and your siblings alone after your dad sadly passed when you were 10. You also paid special tribute to undervalued and marginalised mothers, such as trans and cis mothers of colour, all trans mothers and queer mothers. There was also the strong feel good factor.
The Twerk for Mother’s Day video originally appeared on your personal blog Struggling To Be Heard, on Mother’s Day, Sunday the 13th of March 2012, and received a lot of support and praise. However a stranger then uploaded your video on to the website, World Star Hip Hop (WSHH) under the heading “Who’s Mother Is This? Chick Twerking For Mother’s Day.. In Honor Of Her Momma! “For Justice, Liberation & Solidarity”. On this site, this is where the reactions became hostile and misogynistic—basically a lot of shade was thrown with a smattering of compliments and support. Amazingly, the video has been retweeted nearly 500 times and attracted nearly 300 000 hits. OK, so let’s hear more from you and some of your story and perhaps clear up some misconceptions.
- So for our less knowledgeable readers out there, what is twerking?
Twerking is the art of shaking your ass. I think the exact kinds of twerk vary depending on where people may be from, but it can include booty clappin, booty poppin, using your muscles to isolate your cheeks. It is really the art of celebrating your ass and what you can do with it.
- Where did you learn to twerk?
I learned various forms of twerking when I was young. Some moves I learned from my Latina friends, such as the baby cry or others I learned from my Black family or friends like the tootsie roll. From there, I really just loved to dance and wanted to become a choreographer when I was young. After my friend started dancing at a club and I saw what it was about, I thought myself by watching other girls and adding my own moves.
- What attracts you to twerking? It’s really hypnotic… plus there’s something wonderful about Black women just dancing with our butts regardless of the Black women and butts stereotypes.
For me, it’s a great release of energy. You know that feeling when you hear a great song and you are like, “oh shit, that’s my song” and you just have to dance? Twerk is the release of that feeling, the release of stress, of negative energy, to make you feel good. To me it’s about celebrating my body and my mood and when I feel like twerking, I can with ease and I love that.
- Out of all the dance moves from your two videos, which is your favourite?
I love being able to do the splits and pop it while in the splits. That or the actual booty clapping twerk, which is something I love to do even when I’m just cooking or something.
- Do you think that SKILLS when one twerks is unrecognised or recognised plenty?
I think the skills are recognized by some, but not enough. A lot of people just call it dirty dancing or ratchet or a ghetto mess. They don’t realize the kind of muscle control twerking requires, the kind of rhythm and ear for music one must have, and it also takes endurance. Twerking is a physical activity, it requires some muscle movement and control and so you are moving and working. It seems a lot of people have a hard time seeing it as something that takes effort and is a physical workout.
World Star Hip Hop
- Were you asked if your video could be uploaded on to World Star Hip Hop?
No, I was not asked. I was not asked by anyone and no one ever received my permission to submit the video to that website. Someone on my YouTube channel informed me they submitted it for me, as if they did me a service.
- How do you feel about the context of how your video featured on World Star Hip Hop?
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.
- For those that didn’t get it the first time, why did you make the video?
I made the video as a tribute to many of my blog viewers. It was Mother’s Day and I figured, why not make a gift for the mothers who follow my blog. I don’t have much money but I do have a talent and this is something I can share with people I have respect for. I had made one video before and received nothing but positive feedback and encouragement. With all the positivity behind the first video, I figured I wanted to reciprocate that.
As I said in my video, mothers do not get the respect they deserve. Most of the work mothers do goes unpaid and unsupported. Single and poor mothers are scapegoated as excuses for capitalist failures. Mothers of color are often criminalized for existed and placed under terrible stereotypes such as “welfare queen”. Trans mothers have to fight for their right to exist and be acknowledged in the first place. There are so many ways the world and the United States where I live, fails mothers. So I said hey, I know a lot of mothers who might appreciate this. I know a lot of mothers who are also in the strip clubs who enjoy having someone dance for THEM for a change. Mothers don’t always want to be the ones servicing others. Why not have someone dance and work for them? That was most of my motivation behind the video.
- I was struck by some of the polarising responses to your video. It seemed as if a lot of people were perplexed and/or dismissive that you did this video for Mother’s Day…as if anything associated with motherhood has to be pure—specifically here FOR mothers—thus a woman in a bikini who twerks for mothers is being disrespectful somehow. What do you think of that?
I think it’s ridiculous. Mothers wear bikinis, mothers dance, mothers (god forbid) have sex (even tho that wasn’t portrayed in the video). Mothers like other women dancing, some moms are queer. So the idea that anything for mothers has to be pure is really silly. It is also part of the society we live in. We erase the personhood of mothers if we think they are all alike, that they all like the same things, that they are now sexless, desireless, that they no longer have moves or sexuality. Personally, my mother received a nice gift from me and my sister. It was something we KNEW she wanted. I made this with the knowledge that this video is also something other mothers might want.
- What does twerking for liberation, twerking for solidarity mean to you?
Well first I’d like to say those terms are not ones I came up with all on my own. A small circle of bloggers I know have used the terms and we have adopted it as our own. (I will credit them if they do not mind, or want). With that being said, twerking for liberation, justice and solidarity means a few things. First, I think it is a revolutionary act for Black women (trans women are women), genderqueer and queer people to own their bodies. We are constantly poked and prodded by a white supremacist society that sets beauty standards that are generally impossible for Black people to achieve. The ownership of our own bodies in a society that is always trying to take them for their own use, is revolutionary. And so in many ways, that bodily ownership and the act of twerking when you want, is a small form of activism, sometimes one of the only kinds, many of us have. We twerk for justice, liberation and solidarity because: justice as defined by marginalized people is different from the dominant ones in society and so our own acts of justice will be defined by ourselves. Liberation because we have been restricted, tied down and abused by the societies we’ve lived in for too long and we will liberate ourselves through acts of dance and loving oneself and owning our bodies. Solidarity because we know some people have to twerk to survive, some twerk for their emotional health, others form bonds of friendship through twerking, some can release energies that they’ve been forced to hold in for too long.
So basically, when we say we are twerking for justice, liberation and solidarity, we are twerking for ourselves and our sisters. We are twerking to say FUCK YOU to the politics of respectability that say you are only worthy if you do x, y, z when we have learned that in a white supremacist patriarchal capitalist society, we are worthless to the dominant groups even when we do do x, y, z. We twerk because we will not be tamed, shut up or told what to do. We twerk because we want to and we are tired of people telling us what to do with our own bodies.
- Some people would think that liberation and solidarity should be solemn and serious processes. What do you say to those people whom throw shade at the playfulness and sexiness of your dance which seems to counter the idea that liberation and solidarity are ideals that should be strived for with earnestness?
I say they need to stop clinging to narrow views of what liberation and solidarity mean. People who think this way need to understand that we live in a cruel, harsh world and living in joy, happiness, love and beauty is very liberating. It is not easy and it is not a constant. But taking the time to appreciate the things that make us happy is taking the time to care for ourselves and our communities, which we need to do. There is that saying, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” With all the fighting we do just to survive every day, if we cannot dance and be expressive of ourselves and bond with each other through an art that has morphed through numerous types of dance, that really isn’t liberating or revolutionary, and it certainly isn’t showing solidarity to those who find beauty in many places.
- I know that you identify as a genderfluid Black woman. How did you feel about the misogynistic comments about your body? What response do you have to them?
It’s interesting because while many of the comments have offended me, some that were meant to hurt me I actually took as compliments. I’ve fought with my body image for a long time. I am very short and when I feel more on the masculine side or manly, this used to be a source of frustration. I have also gained weight because of my inability to exercise as much because of school. Comments such as “she has shoulders like a linebacker” are actually a compliment to me because yes, I have broad shoulders and I have strong arms and yes, I could probably knock some rude ass men out. The comments on my breasts and stomach and ass, some hurt, but for the most part, I have been able to shake them off. The journey in loving myself has allowed me to realize those comments are more a reflection on others esteem than on my actual appearance. I am chubby, I don’t have a very big video girl butt, I do have round breasts, but I don’t think that’s so bad. I think those things are beautiful regardless and so do MANY other people. Embracing my body has meant really caring about what I think more than anyone else.
My response to them would be to look at themselves before talking about others. No one is ever perfect and everyone has flaws. What one finds beautiful, another person might not. However, that does not define the value of a person and if you are living under the delusion it does, all of your relationships with partners and friends will be missing a lot.
- Exactly. I was struck by the men—not just here but generally—whom constantly comment in objectifying and misogynistic ways about the body PARTS of women as if their comments are supposed to be meaningful to women! Similarly but even more bizarrely, there were some comments that you must be half-white because you have ‘no ass’. What in the world can you say to that?
I laughed at that. Yes, I am half-white. I am very vocal about being mixed race (I do not say bi-racial because it is more than 2). However, the idea that you can tell if someone is mixed or white by there butt size is ridiculous. First off, my mother is white and has always had more booty than me. My sister also has plenty of butt. And where does this idea leave Black women with two Black parents who don’t have large butts? Are they white now too? It is a really racist and misogynistic idea that Black womanhood is somehow attached to the size of her butt. It is not.
A final message
- Any final words…for supporters or the haters?
For my haters, I actually thank them. They have given me the fuel I needed to really continue with my videos, continue with my message and share and learn from people who are not as close minded as them. Many of the haters, I know they loved the video but were ashamed to admit it or jealous of my abilities. It is a bit too obvious.
For my supporters, I love you. So many people have given me supportive messages that have brought me smiles and happiness and even made me emotional. I have received messages that I have helped people love their body more, that their mother loved the video and they bonded together by twerking, that they always wanted to learn how to twerk and I inspired them to learn, that they think I am beautiful, that they love my body, etc. It has really been amazing. Those comments aren’t reflected at WSHH but they are reflected in my inbox on my blog. It has really been amazing and I really love all of my supporters for all of their kind words. I would just say thank you, keep twerking, and never be ashamed. Even when someone tries to shame you, when you are loving yourself you are NEVER wrong.
Thank you SO MUCH strugglingtobeheard for this magnificent interview. You inspire me and many other Black women. Big loves!
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