White Girls Can’t Dance: Scripps Ranch High School and the Racialization of Twerking

White Girls Can’t Dance: Scripps Ranch High School and the Racialization of Twerking


Last week, a group of San Diego students from Scripps Ranch High School were suspended when a video surfaced which featured the students twerking.[1] The video was both recorded and edited on school grounds using school property. The edited video featured the girls (almost all of whom appear to be white females) twerking. A young Black male appears in most frames standing next to, or between the legs of, the twerking young females.

In total, 33 students were subjected to disciplinary action including one young woman who posted the video but did not appear in the recording. In addition to suspension, the students were banned from prom and the seniors were barred from walking across stage at their graduation ceremony. School officials cited the school handbook against sexual harassment, which prohibited any “verbal, visual, or physical conduct of a sexual nature made by someone from or in the educational setting.”

Why such harsh consequences? Suspension? Understandable. However, barring the students from once in a lifetime opportunities (prom and graduation) seems to be excessive. To be clear, there is something wrong with this picture. The students engaged in behavior that violated school policies. But there is more than that. They were punished so harshly because they violated social norms that preclude the objectification and sexualization of white bodies, especially at the direction, or in the presence of Black men. They violated social norms that prohibit the public display of white girls in the public sphere. White girls are not supposed to be exposed in such a manner. White girls don’t belong in twerk videos. White girls don’t belong on auction blocks.

Because twerking is for girls whose bodies have always been in the public sphere. Twerking is for girls whose bodies have always been commoditized and objectified. Twerking is for Jezebel. Twerking is for girls of color. Twerking is for Black girls.

Make no mistake about it. Those young girls were not suspended and barred from prom and graduation because they were twerking. They were given such extreme punishment because they engaged in a racialized form of dance. They were punished because they emulated identities that were socially constructed for Black girls.

[1] Twerking is a style of dance that includes the shaking of hips and buttocks in a rapid fashion.

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