Let Miley Dance: Jezebel and Their Cultural Appropriation Problem
The internet is not the most nuanced place. The flashier your title, the simpler your concept, the more pageviews, likes and shares your post will get. I’m not above it, just see my “Macklemore is a Feminist Who Proves Conclusively That Irony Should Be Dead” post. This was shared on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, everywhere. The headline alone said enough so anyone who shared it managed to be saying something about themselves that they thought reflected something cool. It’s a bit “behind the curtain” of me to say this, but I also I think it is something everyone knows. The problem is, sometimes this desire for likes, pageviews and shares encourages otherwise great blogs to post something that is just shocking or reactionary, with no real purpose, that ends up being harmful. Earlier this week Linda Holmes over on Monkey See wrote about the problem of the Vice fashion spread which used models to depict female writers who had committed suicide. In her piece, she acknowledged that Vice was probably baiting her, and all of us, with this overtly horrifying spread and yet, she was going to take the bait, and respond, because it was worth it to her.
Recently one of my favorite blogs, Jezebel, the blog that actually called out Vice on the suicide spread in the first place, has gotten very involved in their own sort of baiting: the cultural appropriation gambit. It’s disappointing in a way because Jezebel has long been a feminist blog with an interesting and alternative perspective that seeks to raise the level of discussion around complicated issues of gender and race. But yesterday they posted this: “On Miley Cyrus, Ratchet Culture and Accessorizing With Black People.” The article basically calls Miley Cyrus a racist for using things associated with black culture in her recent music video. Now, this isn’t the first time that Jezebel has jumped on a young woman for supposed cultural appropriation. The last time we wrote about it, it was Michelle Williams the racist, because she was dressing in a fashion spread in a way that was reminiscent of Native American style.
In Dodai Stewart’s piece in Jezebel, she calls Miley out for the way she dresses, the way she dances and for having black back-up dancers because she is using people as props, saying: “In a white-centric world, putting white women quite literally in the center of the frame while women of color are off to the side is a powerful, disrespectful visual message, and it really must be said: Human beings are not accessories.”
Here’s my issue, with this whole thing (most of which I wrote in the comments section of the piece by the way, due to getting fired up):
First: I think it’s ridiculous to call out a 20-year-old girl for experimenting with her identity and trying on different ways of being, even if her song is terrible. Twerking is a dance move that doesn’t belong to anyone (even I like to do it!) and if the only people who are allowed certain moves are the exact race of the person who invented them then I guess every single ballroom dancer, salsa dancer, white person at Carnival, etc, is a racist.
Second, the idea that back-up dancers in a video should NOT be props, ever, is nonsense. Miley’s allowed back-up people in her video, because everyone is allowed back-up people in their videos. The singer is always center stage. That’s how music videos work. That girl has been a prop her whole life, for Disney and for her dad and for us, to be whatever we want. Yesterday, she was Jezebel‘s prop for “Big Bad Racist.” There are real, serious race issues in this country and Miley Cyrus is not one of them. Honestly, this feels to me like piling on the most obvious target because it’s easier than looking at the deep misogyny in hip hop or exploring the complexity of the exchange of ideas and race relations in this country. Yes, this story got a ton of pageviews, but did it really elevate the conversation? Personally, I think it just gave white people who aren’t twerking with black people in their video (all other white people besides Miley and like two others) another thing to pat themselves on the back about when they say, “Look! I’m not racist!” and then go back to their lives, glad they aren’t young black men getting unfairly jailed, getting killed or beat up by police or each other. This sort of rhetoric doesn’t change anything. In my opinion, it only makes things worse.
So what do you think? Should we let Miley twerk or not?