06th Sep 2013
Friday // 6am // 3 months ago
I tried to ignore Miley’s antics for as long as I could. After all, her catchphrase said it all – she’s just bein Miley! But when she dropped her video for We Can’t Stop, a catchy, summer-fueled jam made popular by famous hip hop producer Mike WiLL (who’s worked with the likes of Kanye West and Lil Wayne), it became impossible to look the other way.
That’s because We Can’t Stop – not to mention Miley’s Twitter, persona, and overall attitude – is riddled with cultural appropriation. (If you haven’t seen it already, go get ready to vom on your keyboard by watching it here.)
The video features Miley writhing around in an (aptly enough) all-white getup, surrounding herself with black people, who are supposedly her friends and party guests. She’s wearing a gold grill. Black women twerk around her in the background as she grabs their asses and sticks her tongue out cheekily at the camera. Basically, as VICE says, it shows her accessorizing with black people, using them as props to boost her authenticity as she tries a different sound in her music. AKA she literally said to her songwriters, “I want urban, I just want something that just feels Black.”
The message of the song is pretty simple, and matches the tone of most of Miley’s public image recently. She’s all grown now. She’s independent. Whatever, Disney Channel! She’ll do whatever she likes, because she DGAF.
Here’s why you should give a fuck, Miley. Because you grew up steeped in white privilege; with your father’s name, you’ve been wealthy your entire life. Because your simultaneous appropriation and stereotypying of black culture is harmful and oppressive. You can twerk and pretend to be “ratchet” but it only lasts for the three minutes and 34 seconds that you’re on screen, and then you can take it all off and live life as the privileged white girl that you are. Other people of color can’t do that. They have to deal with the awful stereotypes, the racism, the discrimination that comes attached to their non-whiteness.
A comment on the youtube page for “We Can’t Stop” really sums up why everything about this sucks: “I love how miley twerks. its not the casual black girl, big ass, twerk, but a white girl showing off her moves. loved it!” Great – so not only are we into the appropriation and exploitation of black culture for profit, but now we’re mocking and degrading that very culture when it’s authentically performed by black people, only to praise it when it’s performed by white people? Ugh.
Amy LaCount, “Jay-Z And Azealia Banks Call Out Miley Cyrus On Cultural Appropriation; She Doesn’t Get It”. BUST Magazine (via navigatethestream)
**BANG. FUCKING. ON. When I was a teen (for about a year), I pulled a Miley. Everyone I grew up with did. We pulled Mileys CONSTANTLY. We misappropriated black culture because we thought it was cool, and it made us … I don’t even know what we thought it made us. Hip? Edgy? Regardless, we were embarrassing. We didn’t know the first thing about where those songs came from, or the history, or why they existed. We just heard what we considered “fuck you” music and because we were teens, and making “fuck you” decisions of our own (very different ones with very different reasons for making them), we believed we could adopt those “fuck you” songs as our own.
We could not. You can listen. You can appreciate. You can like. But you can’t take. That’s what we did. That’s what Miley’s doing. I think of how my friends and I acted in high school thinking we we could identify with gangster rap or black culture, and misappropriating all over the place because we were ignorant. We thought if we smoked weed like Dre (seriously — that was an actual thought we had), we had rights to these songs too. But the difference is that when we got high and drank in public, cops told us to go home — and they only stopped us and broke things apart politely if we were causing a scene.
Is it embarrassing to admit this? Absolutely. But I’ll take responsibility for being an asshole, because that’s how people learn. However, whereas we were 15-year-olds just learning how to use ICQ (it was 2001-2002) Miley Cyrus is a white 21-year-old millionaire who’s made the Internet her own. And by twerking (and, oh god, EVERYTHING ELSE), she’s giving the okay to younger people to do the same. Culture isn’t a novelty — we don’t get to say “Oh that’s a really cute aspect of black culture — I’ll take it!” It’s not a hat.
I wish I’d known to educate myself when I started listening to hip-hop. There’s a reason it felt weird when I announced how these were “my songs” (it was 13 years ago — I promise I know better now), and there’s a reason we feel weird about watching Miley Cyrus twerk. That reason is misappropriation. So instead of doing anything Miley Cyrus is doing, let’s do the opposite. Let’s educate ourselves about other cultures so we don’t look back at age 27 and think, “Oh my GOD, who the hell did I think I was.” Or worse, “I was a racist asshat.”
And hey, maybe in a few years, Miley Cyrus will educate herself, too.
I normally ignore Miley and all things Cyrus-related, but this is some excellent observation and criticism.