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.