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Celebrating MLK’s Dream, Miley Cyrus and Degrading Black Women

We commemorate the 50 year anniversary of MLK's dream speech today.  What does it mean for black women in a culture and country that continually marginalizes them?

We commemorate the 50 year anniversary of MLK’s dream speech today. What does it mean for black women in a culture and country that continually marginalizes them?

As the 50 year anniversary of MLK's dream speech is celebrated, "twerk" added to Oxford online dictionary.

As the 50 year anniversary of MLK’s dream speech is celebrated, “twerk” added to Oxford online dictionary.

Now I don’t know if Miley identifies as a feminist. I doubt it, but that isn’t the issue. The issue is that in the last few months, she has prioritized her own agency and independence over the dignity of black women and black culture. And THAT is not okay. The fact that so many white women who proclaim to be feminists do not acknowledge or discuss this transgression is even less so. Solidarity is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of her VMA Performance, by Ninja Kate [Jezebel]

BEING TAUGHT a lot since the #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen conversation exploded on Twitter. On the day we celebrate MLK’s dream and his historic “I Have a Dream” speech, swirling below it all for me is Miley Cyrus making a fool of herself and using African American women to do it. In one of the most unprofessional, sloppy performances I’ve seen from anyone in the upper tier of American pop culture, I’ve also finally figured a way of explaining, beyond the performance angle, why I recoiled so strongly.

What seems a perfect juxtaposition to the conversation we’re not having is that this very week “twerk” was added to the Oxford Online Dictionary.

We can talk about The Butler, but not what went on during the VMAs.

As a former professional and Broadway performer I have the chops to judge Miley Cyrus’s performance at the VMAs. That you’d never see Madonna or anyone else called professional deliver such a sloppy offering for a national audience should go without saying. Miley Cyrus showed no respect for her craft at all.

But watching her performance, the reaction I had went beyond the amateurism. It wasn’t her opening outfit or the two piece nude bikini she stripped down to that caused my mouth to drop and my sensibilities to recoil. The problem was I couldn’t quite explain it fully and felt tongue tied when I first tried to put it into words.

It’s Cyrus’s choice to disrespect herself. But one moment stood out for me. I’ll honestly admit I didn’t know what to make of it; all I knew is that what I saw was wrong.

Korra at Jezebel laid it out on Monday:

So sorry Miley, I don’t give a much shit about your unbreathable latex panties or the angle of your lolling tongue, or even how shitty your music is. That’s on you- you do you and it’s none of my business. What IS my business is how you treat the people in your employ and the message that sends to black and brown women about their worth. About their “rank” in the bodily autonomy food-chain. About how they can expect to be exploited by even their supposed sisters-in-arms. You wanna be down with black folk? With black women? Start by treating us like human beings, not like fucking pokemon. Learn more about the history of the people you borrow from, so you can avoid that Sarah Baartman shit. And, for God’s sake, keep your fucking hands to yourself. – Korra [GroupThink @Jezebel]

I came upon Korra’s writing on Jezebel, because I went looking for someone to explain my own reaction.

As counterpoint, you have a tone deaf and dumb op-ed on CNN that reduces it all to “Miley Cyrus is sexual — get over it,” as if that was the main objection! That it’s on CNN, however, proves it was, because we must protect the white teen fans of Miley, ignore the black female twerking it up for her and what that means.

In full relief as we commemorate MLK’s dream speech is the lack of value still given to black women, which was represented on stage at the VMAs through the privileged white chick pop performance of Miley Cyrus, who thought it cute and hip to choreograph in her performance an African American woman twerking for the pleasures of the boss. Slapping that booty, as if the black dancer was a prop, because that’s what was intended so Miley Cyrus could look cool and like one of the black culture gang.

Cyrus degraded herself, but she degraded all black females with her performance and no one even caught it, let alone are discussing it. I fully admit being paralyzed on how to explain it, but as someone who used to make money as not only a top level performer, but once as a choreographer too, having a degree in the finer arts of professional arts, a white woman slapping a black woman’s ass in a situation where the latter is an object to the former, well, it literally left me mute, speechless, and as a writer I couldn’t figure out how to write about it with any authenticity.

Thanks to Kora and NinjaKate at Jezebel, I’ve untangled what I didn’t feel confident enough to write myself.

As for Robin Thicke, it’s Miley Cyrus who gave him permission to degrade her. But as the slap on the rear to that African American dancer twerking with the padded ass proves, black women have no such luxury of saying it’s okay. I’ll stop there, because the rest is about doing it because you’re getting paid as a performer, which pays the bills and any woman can understand.

It’s great to celebrate MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but what does it all mean for today? Are we going to apply what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about 50 years ago to something broader?

What does MLK’s dream speech mean to African American women in the 21st century, 50 years later, when one of the biggest teen stars in America can parade out on stage and use African American women as props for her own purpose and career advancement?

None of us should be comfortable with the answer.

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26 Responses to Celebrating MLK’s Dream, Miley Cyrus and Degrading Black Women

  1. secularhumanizinevoluter August 28, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    To me Ms. Cyrus is just another example of the rights fantasy of American exceptionalism. She got her start because her father was a completely manufactured country music product who then manufactured the Hanny Montana abomination for his equally nontalented daughter. She can’t sing, she can’t dance…all she can do is steal from others and try to shock.

  2. August 28, 2013 at 12:56 pm #

    The black dancers didn’t have to perform. Don’t get me wrong, I think this was an abysmal, sluttish amateurish performance, but, these black performers did not have to do it. They chose to do it.

    • Taylor Marsh August 28, 2013 at 1:03 pm #

      You completely miss the economics of it, which often depends on taking whatever job you can get.

      Few performers are privileged enough to walk away from a paying union gig like this & a chance to network.

      When you’re a performing needing the credentials on your resume & the cash you take the job.

      • casualobserver August 28, 2013 at 2:04 pm #

        Interesting rebuttal……..the black performer is exonerated from any enabling culpability because there was money to be made, but the white performer is not for what is undeniably the very same motivation. We had better introduce charges of classicism too to make the argument more robust.

        I realize this article was not written for my participation…..hell, my hips don’t even allow me to perform a good salsa, much less do I have the gluteal adipose tissue to even be recognized as attempting to twerk.

        But to the larger point, racism is ameliorated through the amalgamation of daily culture. That is why the younger generations exhibit much less tendency to be perceived as racist. And given Cyrus’ video sales to date in this same genre, I suspect she is certainly not considered racist by her target markets…… why should she care what you think of her or someone else who runs a liberal blog so aptly named “Groupthink”.

        The constant barrage of charges of racism whenever a white person doesn’t show gentle deference to balck persons or culture is the reason why “racism” has not abetted. It has become so waterdowned in its appropriate application that it ceases to engender the reaction such charges should.

        • secularhumanizinevoluter August 28, 2013 at 2:21 pm #

          “The constant barrage of charges of racism whenever a white person doesn’t show gentle deference to balck persons or culture is the reason why “racism” has not abetted.”

          Yeah…iffin them darkies would just shut up and chuckle when the white folks make some fun at them…ya’ll mighrt even stop lynching them…maybe even let them vote some day…so long as they vote for who you tell them to right?

        • Taylor Marsh August 28, 2013 at 2:53 pm #

          I realize this article was not written for my participation….

          You continue to write bizarre things like this casualobserver, which misunderstands what I do as a writer.

          As for the artistic review, you forget who’s in power and who is in charge of promoting what, much like cjoblak.

          • casualobserver August 28, 2013 at 4:56 pm #

            What can I say, I am a bizarre kind of guy……..for instance, I find no sexual stimulus at all from a wide expanse of female bodyfat being shaken……must be Caucasoid genetic inferiority.

            By the way, we no longer should refer to it as “racism”, anyway……..

            PITTSBURGH —
            A woman was brutally attacked by a group of black teenagers in Pittsburgh’s North Side Sunday said the girls savagely beat her while calling her racial slurs. All four African-American girls then called her names before getting physically violent.
            The teens allegedly involved were all charged with robbery and ethnic intimidation.

          • spincitysd August 28, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

            Ah lovely, I was wondering when Casual would trot out the Faux News Non Sequiturs and there we are. No equivalence here Casual, not even in the movies. The Minstrel show that Milye Cyrus put on is no way, shape, or form equivalent to what those teens did in the Steel City. One event was played out on a National Broadcast for the titillation of the viewing audience. The other was played out on the mean streets of a rust belt city. It’s like comparing Killer Whales to your grandmother’s doilies.

            I understand why Right Wingers and especially the self-centered, egomaniacal, ill-behaved, over-privileged, spoiled rotten toddlers of the right, e.i. the Libertarians, want to wish away the central fact of racism but that does not mean it does not exist or that non-whites do not suffer the worst effects of institutionalized racism. Consider this your time out Casual, sit in the corner, and be still … no back talk.

  3. August 28, 2013 at 1:45 pm #

    point taken. I understand what it means to be hungry. However, again, they made the choice.

    • Taylor Marsh August 28, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      I understand what it means to be hungry. However, again, they made the choice.

      Yes, they did, to NOT be hungry or to pay the rent, though that was obviously lost on you.

  4. August 28, 2013 at 1:46 pm #

    Playing the victim forever will get you no where.

    • secularhumanizinevoluter August 28, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      Yeah…ask Trayvon Martin. I mean…ye didn’t HAVE to walk and get some skittles.

      • Taylor Marsh August 28, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

        I have no idea who is “playing the victim,” certainly not the dancer or the black women I quote, who are just plain pissed off.

        • August 28, 2013 at 5:50 pm #


          How do you feel about male black rappers and the mysogyistic lyrics and videos that they produce about black women.?(or all women for that matter). How can what Miley did, make things any worse for black women than what male black rappers do?

          • spincitysd August 28, 2013 at 5:58 pm #

            And another non sequitur from the right of the political spectrum. Hello, two wrongs do not make a right and the discussion is about what Miley did– from a position of White Privilege. Are we on the same page now? I doubt it, since your dragged that old, tired, moldy, suppurating canard into the discussion. Now please take that rotten thing back to the grave you dug it up from and come back to have a serious discussion with us.

          • spincitysd August 28, 2013 at 5:59 pm #

            Some black rappers are misogynist scum, happy now? But that does not make what Miley Cyrus did any less appalling or heinous. Can we hold two thoughts in our head? Please try.

          • Taylor Marsh August 28, 2013 at 11:39 pm #

            You’re sure cranky, spincitysd.

            cjoblak – Male rappers are not the subject, which I know you realize, so let’s keep this on point or we’ll miss the point.

            It begins with the hashtag #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen, which I wrote about recently. You need to catch up on that first.

            However, even if you don’t, the female on female situation here is well stated by the two posters from Jezebel I quoted. Read their pieces, which is why I linked to them.

      • August 28, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

        Did you say that baseball player from Australia?

        • spincitysd August 28, 2013 at 6:01 pm #

          Really? Go blow bubbles in the bathtub dude, you would then make a more cogent point.

          • August 29, 2013 at 9:32 am #

            Like you really are, Spun out of reality? Come on, just because you use a few big words, an intellectual, you are not.

            Just because Miley performed a sluttish show with black performers, who obviously weren’t too concerned about degrading themselves, inyour eyes, it makes her be responsible for the downfall of the black woman in the 21st century.

            Yeah, everybody gots to eat. When I was scraping back in the day, I took the night shift at an IHOP, being poor growing up, till I could get a better job. I’ve had a job since I was 14 years old. Don’t wanna hear you can’t make better choices. Also, once you make the choice, don’t blame someone else for whatever consequences occur. Which is what I’m reading here in this post.

  5. mjsmith August 28, 2013 at 2:30 pm #

    I found this interesting.

    “The Buttocks Represent Both Lust And Deceit

    Let’s take a second to talk about Miley Cyrus’ butt. No doubt the twerking was a little unsettling, as was her willingness to go full-faced into that strange lady’s rear like some kind of special all-buttplay episode of Jackass. But experts in the subject know that the butt can be interpreted in dreams as either a sign of lust, or if misshapen, a sign of an undeveloped and wounded psyche. However kissing or sniffing of the butt represents a level of dishonesty — and since we’re seeing all of the above it’s quite clear that the butt represents all of the confusion of teenage angst.

    Look at the disjointed stripes on the pants — a perfect representation of a young mind’s desperate, failed attempt to find a pattern that will finally make sense of the world.

    • spincitysd August 28, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

      Oh, pleeeeeeeaaase! Spare me that crap! Go talk to some addled Jungian with time on his hands about this, I don’t have the time.

  6. ladywalker68 August 28, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    In certain spiecies sniffing butts is merely a greeting like saying HELLO. That said typically it’s frowned upon as a public practice amomg humans.

    So That’s Entertainment?? Um…I don’t think so. What can one expect a anymore in this culture that worships what is outrageous over what is talented?

  7. guyski August 29, 2013 at 6:03 am #

    Well, this is a valid, thought out, point of view. Can’t rebut this.

  8. ladywalker68 August 29, 2013 at 4:13 pm #

    I just want to add, I agree with you Taylor. I also ran across this post, which is another terrific analysis of what was so disgusting about whatever it was miley cyrus was trying to prove:

    My apologies if this was already linked to elsewhere.

  9. tm123 August 30, 2013 at 2:26 am #

    Taylor, has anyone commented on the costumes? The whole Pedo Bear thing was even more confusing. I thought at first the performance was going to be some kind of taunt and ridicule of an industry that has turned children into sex objects, But then the twerking thing happened, and then the Beetlejuice thing, and it was just really sloppy and badly done. It’s amazing how the degradation of the dancers survives all of it. Truly disturbing. And please explain why Will Smith thought it would be OK to bring his family to MTV Awards.

.... a writer is someone who takes the universal whore of language
and turns her into a virgin again.  ~ erica jong