Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that Juicy J announced the winner of his twerking scholarship contest hosted in collaboration with World Star Hip Hop this Tuesday, January 14. A lot of people’s initial reactions to the announcement had rightfully criticized Juicy J’s explanation behind his choice for the winner and how he evaluated the scores of videos from women bearing their bodies and their stories on camera. Even though I shook my head in unison with Juicy’s critics for his coonery and buffoonery, it was the women that submitted videos, not the rap artist hosting the contest, whom left the biggest impression on me.
In the end he chose Zaire Holmes, a single mom studying biology at the State College of Florida who decided not to twerk on camera, and instead rapped about her “straight A’s” and her need for financial aid. Undoubtedly, Holmes was deserving of the money, but Juicy J’s disparaging jab at the other women who opted to dance on camera was completely hypocritical and a classic example of respectability politics. In her op-ed at the Crunk Feminist Collective where Dr. Brittney Cooper skillfully checks Juicy for his antics, she quotes Holmes when she says:
“Zaire says at the end of the video, ‘a lot of people thought you had to twerk but you just had to read the rules.’ And Juicy J chimes right in, ‘See that’s what you get for shaking your ass and thinking you were gone get some money. It’s not always about shaking your ass.’”
Even in a contest that celebrates sexualizing women, respectability politics dictates who comes out on top: the good girl who keeps her body covered and her legs closed. The entire premise was so ridiculous that it now sounds like something only Marjuan Canady could have made up. Juicy’s statement is also puzzling because for anyone who actually watched the video submissions, it was extremely obvious that twerking wasn’t a requirement in the video. Many of the videos I watched featured women delivering monologues as to why they should have the money—so much so that the women who did twerk seemed out of place. Kyra Gaunt did a brilliant analysis of how class and race played a role in the various kinds of videos that were submitted, noting that in almost all of the videos she watched that was submitted by a white woman, the woman chose to twerk. On the other hand, most of the black and Latina women did not. Furthermore, only three of the semi-finalists were black, when the other seven were either white or women of color. Also interesting was the fact that not only did some of the women twerk on camera, but many of them openly discussed their lifestyles as single-mothers and women who were abandoned by their parents, working one to two jobs while going to school to support themselves despite the stigmas and vulnerability that can accompany both.
The most melodramatic video I’d seen out of the submissions was from this young woman who talked about losing her father while she was in and out of jail. She’s trying to get a degree to start her own business, explaining that no one wants to hire an ex-con. She didn’t twerk once in the entire video.
Then there was a woman from Prairie A&M University who talked about going to school while her grandmother took care of her son. She features a montage of pictures with her child and of her jewelry designs at the end of the clip. She also never twerked on camera.
Then there was another woman who talked about surviving bone cancer as a child. Now she is getting a degree to be a nurse and to start her own non-profit to help kids who suffered from the same ailment. She also never twerked on camera.
Another woman who did twerk on camera, explaining that she was working a full and part time job while going to the University of Miami. She later took the video down from Facebook after Juicy highlighted her in his evaluation video saying she was “not that good” and “kind of boring.”
One of the most intriguing videos I came across featured a woman who never spoke on camera or showed her face on camera. At first I wondered: Was this some strategic move to protect her identity? Did she not think that telling her story as a student was important enough to help her win the contest? Did she even consider telling her story, and instead assumed that just flexing her cheeks for the camera was enough to help her win? Upon further research I found out that Desire5000 is an amateur porn star whose favorite dance move is her “riding dick twerk.” The only time she exposes you see her face on her website she is wearing giant shades and a burnt-orange wig.
I could only imagine what other applicants would have said in their videos if they had known they were up against Ms. Desiree. Just like Juicy, some also displayed respectability politics in their videos by subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) bashing women who twerked as sexually immoral. After her eight minute pledge to make a difference and resist the powers that be, Ms. Blue says she hopes that her daughter doesn’t turn into a “whore” like the women twerking alongside her in their video submissions.
Then in a surprising twist there was a girl who decided that it wasn’t okay to twerk on camera, but that it was okay to have other women twerk for her…
And then there was my personal favorite, a parody twerking video from “Pennae Proud, Twerkin Specialist” of the University of Michigan.
Pennae reminded me that in only focusing on the fact that Juicy J played these women for twerking on camera, it’s easy to lose sight of the sense of humor and intentionality some of the women had in putting together these videos—whether they thought they’d get the money or not.
I would love to know the fate of all the other applicants since they released the video. Did they become targets on their college campuses like Dr. Gaunt feared? Were they able to laugh it off with their friends and family? How did they react when they found out who the winner was? When they listened to Juicy J’s reasoning behind his choice? Did this experience change their outlook on hip hop or twerking overall?
If any of the women who submitted a video come across this post, please tell me about your experience in the comment section below. Considering that popular contestants like Miss Kimari and Ladawn Russell have gone as far as taking down their videos to protect themselves, I want to know what your life has been like now that Juicy is finished basking in the spotlight from his recent #givingback efforts.