Dear Twerk Thieves & Ratchet Robbers:
No, I’m not about to spend 800 or so words ruing the day that Miley Cyrus took “twerk” mainstream and ruined it for those who, as Beyoncé recently put it, have “been doing this since the 90’s with DJ Jubilee.” I’ve already come for her…twice. I would, however, like to talk about the folks who might not be sitting in first class with Billy Ray’s baby on Appropriation Airlines, but certainly have a seat on the plane.
I quite enjoyed reading the many, many Miley-themed thinkpieces about her disaster of a VMA performance, but a lingering theme in many of them reminded me of a longstanding problem I have with people who discovered the words “ratchet” and “twerk” within the last three years, or in some cases, three minutes.
Like one of my brilliant friends who articulated her frustration this week, as someone from a Southern, working class Black family who grew up with that terminology, it grates my nerves that certain folks – Black and white alike – write on what they don’t know with such authority. In some ways, non-southern Blacks who don’t know the culture view twerking and ratchet just as novel and trendy as many White people do.
To be fair, none of you are conducting “scientific studies” on twerking like ABC News, which made me feel as though my life has been lived within the confines of a zoo. Ditto for the “TEACH ME THAT TWERKING THING MILEY DOES” tone articles I’ve spotted here and there. Yet, amid all these works on mores and customs pulled from southern Blacks going mainstream, very few of them have been written from the perspective of southern Black people. That has lead to so many of these musings conveying both unfamiliarity and a continuation of the same kind of erasure that’s problematic for a variety of reasons.