Does President Obama Know How Twerking Works?

Illustration for article titled Does President Obama Know How Twerking Works?
Screenshot: Obama Foundation (YouTube)

While at the “MBK! Rising” conference in Oakland, Calif., last week, a student asked Barack Obama how to change the narrative on how men of color are generally perceived. He answered in the Obama-branded way he usually does when he speaks to large groups of young black men—thoughtful, measured, sincere, witty, and veering towards respectability. (The Q&A starts around the 51 minute mark.)

As he concluded his answer, he remarked that “If you’re very confident about your sexuality, you don’t have to have eight women around you twerking.” This was both a very obvious attempt to provide some levity (he says “twerking” with a performative affect, like he was just advised by a nephew how to pronounce it 15 minutes ago) and the latest example of his disappointing habit of being a bit of a scold—something Derecka Purnell articulated in the New York Times last week. 


Today, however, this tendency isn’t my primary concern. Instead I just want to know if Barack Obama knows how twerking actually works, because I’m not sure that he does.

Before I continue, I have to admit that I am 1) married and 2) living in Pittsburgh. So I might not be as up on what’s trendy in other parts of the country. I didn’t realize The Weeknd was just one person until three years ago, so anything is possible.

That said, from my understanding, there are not roving bands of twerkers running the streets. Nor are there gaggles of twerkers you can rent for a day to accompany you to events, like a personalized orchestra or a support animal. And I’m pretty certain that “eight juicy twerkers” haven’t replaced “eight maids-a-milking” in the “12 Days of Christmas.” (Although if you’re making a Christmas list for me, pass on the maids and give me the twerkers.)

From what I know—and, again, my knowledge might be limited—the only time you’re going to be next to eight twerking women is if you happen to be at a nightclub or some other sort of party and eight women next to you happen to be twerking. In that context, being ensconced in twerk would be appropriate. And not just appropriate but literally the only conceivable time this would happen. Having eight women around you twerking on the street or at the office would just be too much of a logistical challenge. You’d need music, and they’d need props, twerk feasible clothing, comfortable shoes, and Gatorade (for the electrolytes), and procuring all of that would be too time and energy consuming.

Anyway, I hope that one of his advisers teaches him about twerking before its too late. I don’t know what would constitute “too late” in this context, but I’m just really excited about mentorship opportunities!

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



Isn’t Obama speaking more towards pop culture imagery here than specifics? Unlike, say, Bill Cosby, I assume Obama is savvy enough to know there aren’t roving bands of twerking women looking for rich rappers to dance around.

I think he’s addressing the much more primal feelings that sort of imagery is intended to evoke.

No dude who watches any sort of music video where the lead artists somehow finds themselves with multiple women vying for their affection is going to think “That scene is a realistic outcome for me to want to achieve”. Well, unless they’re a total chud. What plenty of young guys will do is watch that and think more generalized feelings about how women are objects to be won with money and/or stardom, who will be 2-dimensional cutouts that don’t want exclusive relationships and a meaningful give and take.

What guy wouldn’t want a personal harem of autonomous sex dolls made out of living tissue!?!

In our haste to defend pop culture from scolds, which is an important thing to do, maybe we sometimes forget that a lot of pop culture is really empty nonsense that may reinforce some pretty negative stereotypes.