Lizzo’s Ted Talk on twerking: ‘Everything that Black people create is co-opted’

Black people and creatives are reclaiming the art they created which has been co-opted by the mainstream. Recently, Issa Rae discussed how gentrification in her once predominantly Black South L.A. neighborhood is erasing Black creatives’ contributions. Lizzo has a recent Ted Talk on twerking and Black culture, a TwerkTalk if you will. Lizzo discusses how twerking empowered her and made her love her badonkadonk after spending many years hating it. She explains how twerk was co-opted by the mainstream after Miley Cyrus attempted the dance at the 2013 VMAs, erasing its Black and African roots. Twerking became popular through Beyoncé and Big Freedia’s music but was also demonized as vulgar. Below are a few more highlights via People. I have included the full TedTalk below:

“I used to hate my ass, believe it or not,” the rapper and singer says to kick off her talk. “I have my father’s shape and my mother’s thighs, so it’s big, and long. I used to think that only asses like J.Lo’s or Beyoncé’s could be famous. I never thought that could happen to me.”

“I always felt like my body type wasn’t the right one, or the desirable one growing up,” she continues. “Because I grew up in an era where having a big ass wasn’t mainstream.”

“My ass has been the topic of conversations, my ass has been in magazines, Rihanna gave my ass a standing ovation. Yes, my booty! My least favorite part of my body,” she says. “How did this happen? Twerking. Through the movement of twerking, I realized that my ass is my greatest asset. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to my TED Twerk.”

“Modern-day twerking derived from Black people and Black culture. It has a direct parallel to West African dances like Mapouka,” she explains. “Black people carried the origins of this dance through our DNA, through our blood, through our bones. We made twerking the global cultural phenomenon it became today.”

Lizzo says, though, that twerking’s roots in Black culture are often forgotten. She says twerking went mainstream when Miley Cyrus did it at the 2013 VMAs, and it “was misunderstood and taken out of context,” and that Black people were “erased” from its history.

“Everything that Black people create, from fashion to music to the way we talk, is co-opted and appropriated by pop culture,” Lizzo says.

[From People]

First of all, Lizzo doing a Ted Talk is the sort of love she deserves and I am here for it. I love how Lizzo sprinkled profanity throughout her entire presentation and kept it one hundred percent real. I am so happy that Black creatives are reclaiming the culture and art that Black people have contributed to society. I love how Lizzo stated, “I am not gate keeping but I am informing you about who created the damn gate.” From rock to jazz to hip hop and twerking, most of Black cultural contributions have been swallowed up by “mainstream” (white) America without Black people benefitting and this is infuriating. The more Black creatives and people speak up about this theft of our community’s intellectual property the more we can right the imbalance of power.

I also love how Lizzo talks about how twerking helped her embrace her body and derriere. I personally love how empowering Black culture is. From hyping folks up in our music to the embracing of our bodies in dance. As for calling twerking vulgar and not good for young women, well, it would seem that these naysayers were wrong and twerking has taking over the world. Now, it is time for Black creatives to get paid for their contributions. Even though Lizzo says she is not a gatekeeper, I don’t mind saying that I am. I am tired of Black culture being taken out of context. I am tired of people telling me that my culture is vulgar while simultaneously stealing and capitalizing on it. Anyways, here’s to Lizzo’s first Ted Talk. I hope that thirteen minutes of enlightenment about twerking reaches the ears of many. Meanwhile, I’m gonna go learn how to twerk and hula hoop (shut up).


photos via Instagram

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16 Responses to “Lizzo’s Ted Talk on twerking: ‘Everything that Black people create is co-opted’”

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  1. Jan says:

    I remembered laughing when they claimed Miley invented twerking, CARNIVAL have been around for a long time.

    • Barbie1 says:

      That Miley always causing trouble lol. Did her publicist spread that? I don’t know how people could think such a think. Surely they have seen a music video in their lifetime.

  2. Mireille says:

    That co-opting has greatly accelerated thanks to the likes of Tik Tok. Evidence: Addison Rae. Black and brown talent don’t even get a dime’s worth of recognition or opportunities that mediocre white social media influencers get from co-opting their work (and doing a piss poor imitation of that work).

    • Epoc says:

      Tiktok originated in China as does its algorithm. The algorithm is quite literally designed to push black creators down and white ones up. Anti-blackness is bad in US/UK etc but China is passionate about their anti-blackness, no exaggeration.

      As long as the algorithm remains untouched, it will be and remain an extremely RACIST app. But then again people go off railing against Facebook but have instas, ugh (SAME THING!)

  3. Izzy says:

    I mean, she’s not wrong.

  4. jferber says:

    Remember when Bo Derek “invented” corn rows in 10? Yeah. Love Lizzo. Love that she did a Ted Talk. Just perfect. I want to see more diverse Ted Talks, too.

  5. ME says:

    Send a copy of this Ted Talk to the Karjenners.

  6. Jules says:

    Uh oh, Miley fans are gonna get their feelings hurt.

    • Ursaline says:

      Miley got criticized for borrowing from Black culture when she put out Bangerz. She was wearing grillz and twerking her skinny butt on the VMAs.

  7. Yup, Me says:

    Agreed agreed agreed on so many points. I love the returning focus to centering Black creatives and Black culture and history (and more than just the trauma porn parts of our history, too) and the expanding awareness within the US that Blackness includes other countries and cultures.

    I’m also appreciating the increased discussions around ways that white supremacy (and how dropping specific cultural identities to acquire the goodies associated with generic “whiteness” in the US) has created generations of disconnected and ungrounded white folks, engaging in culture theft and cannibalism (hello, the entirety of the wellness industry).

  8. Valerie says:

    Welcome to my TED Twerk, hahaha.

  9. Layla says:

    she is so freaking beautiful

  10. Cait says:

    Lizzo is right ,but black people for the longest would applaud and elevate non-black people especially non-black women who co opted and mimicked our aesthetic, dance moved, style even speech. No matter how mediocre they were in comparison to the bkack originators. Maybe this coming generatin will have more sense and will learn to set up boundaries and gate keep.

  11. Otaku fairy says:

    ” As for calling twerking vulgar and not good for young women, well, it would seem that these naysayers were wrong and twerking has taking over the world.” Yeah, they pretty much lost that pointless battle. And sheesh. Hopefully Miley Cyrus fans don’t actually see reason to be upset with Lizzo for just telling the truth. This isn’t a Perez Hilton/Diane Sawyer/Chrissy Teigan situation.

  12. Meee says:

    Twerking is just how African women traditionally dance….for centuries. As their body types tend to be thicker in the hips and thighs. The idea that Miley invented anything is laughable