These days, it seems that almost anything and everything is cause for the New Left -- progressive watchdogs -- to shout their outrage about supposed American "institutional" racism. The offended pundits declaring Miley Cyrus to be guilty of racism after her VMA performance are simply the latest installment of such postmodern outrage. This type of discourse may not yet have reached the mainstream in Canada the way it has in the United States, but it shouldn't be long. Perhaps the Cyrus twerking outrage is only a warning of things to come North of the 49th. After all, this piece from blogger Anne Theriault has been trending on the Huff Post Québec.
A good overview of the media commentary on Cyrus can be found on Vulture. Whether we liked Miley's performance or not (most didn't, clearly), what jumps out from the critics' words is the dominance of Critical Race Theory (CRT) discourse -- engaged in by a self-appointed racial affairs intelligentsia.
The CRT-inspired critique of Miley Cyrus is simple: she desecrated "black music and art" as well as objectifying black female dancers. In CRT language, Cyrus represented the white oppressor subjugating African Americans in a Confederate fashion. White supremacy was on stage at the VMAs, and worse, people applauded.
Derrick Bell, the intellectual founder of CRT, states that the CRT "recognizes that racism is engrained in the fabric and system of the American society. The individual racist need not exist to note that institutional racism is pervasive in the dominant culture." Miley Cyrus is simply another illustration of that same, "racist, dominant culture," even if she may not conscious of her inner racism.
Is it just a predictable reaction from predictable liberal pundits, you may ask. Yes and no. There are a few lessons to extract from this beyond mere criticizing and discourse.
First, how many accusations of racism can society actually digest without, at some point, starting to become numb to the never-ending unprovable, inaccurate, and hateful allegations, and the imposition of white guilt by what American economist Thomas Sowell calls the "self-annointed" liberal elite?
As Charles C. W. Cooke of the National Review Online stated the day after Cyrus's supposedly supremacist performance:
"Yesterday, we approached peak 'racist,' moving one step closer to that welcome point at which the frivolous, often downright ludicrous, accusations of prejudice that invariably punctuate our national discussions will begin to deliver diminishing returns and an exhausted American public will stamp its collective feet and shout, 'Enough!'"
But Cooke doesn't follow the argument of the "self-annointed" critical race theorists all the way to its ultimate, logical conclusion. To do that we must look to Margaret E. Wright-Cleveland, a professor at Florida State University, who views "White people are the problem" as the lesson to be taken from the classic of American literature The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. That -- the "problem" that "white people" represent -- is the true last logical stage of CRT and its proponents.
Of course, Wright-Cleveland did not comment on Miley Cyrus, as far as we know, but her comment echoes those of many other CRT-inspired pundits:
Aura Bogado of The Nation, a self-professed critical race theorist and preacher: "Every time I see @MileyCyrus slap that black woman's butt, I think about the way that enslaved blacks were whipped for white entertainment."
Comedian W. Kamau Bell, in a comment unrelated to Miley Cyrus's performance, stated : "The worst thing to say to a person of color is, 'I don't think that's racist.' I don't think that's your area. You can have an opinion but I don't think you are the final word. That's what's missing, white people. You've got a lot of jobs but should not have the 'I know what's racist' job. I know what's imperialism -- that's your job."
Jody Rosen of Vulture compares Cyrus's act to a Jim Crow performance worth a doctoral thesis : "A doctoral dissertation could (and will) be written on the racial, class, and gender dynamics of Cyrus's shtick. I'll make just one historical note. For white performers, minstrelsy has always been a means to an end: a shortcut to self-actualization."
Rosen describes Cyrus's performance, and, perhaps, consequently the whole of American society, as an "act tipped over into what we may as well just call racism: a minstrel show routine whose ghoulishness was heightened by Cyrus's madcap charisma, and by the dark beauty of 'We Can't Stop' -- by a good distance, the most powerful pop hit of 2013."
If you are still doubting the connection between CRT, Miley Cyrus, and the VMAs, Isabelle Nastasia will connect the dots for you: "You might be wondering, what do the VMAs have to do with the Zimmerman trial or any of the landmark, racist political decisions that this summer will be remembered for? Everything."
Nastasia's outcry appears to extend to anyone "white" having anything to do with something "black." She criticizes (white) rapper Macklemore's best hip hop music video and best song with a social message because Macklemore is a "white dude." "It's difficult to shine when you're always in the white, heterosexual man's shadow." Oh, and Nastassia also accuses Justin Timberlake of "whitewashing R&B for over a decade," concluding: "Why not listen to music that doesn't just 'sound Black' but is Black?" Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Macklemore or any young, aspiring "white" artist hoping for a break in a musical genre that "sounds black" might as well retire right now. I'm sure JT, Marshal, and Mack have pension plans that will provide plenty on which to live out their old days. But that might be white privilege.
As Dr. Thomas Sowell mentioned in his article on the anniversary of Dr. King's March on Washington speech (can I even use his words given that he's African-American and I'm white?): "There are people today who talk 'justice' when they really mean payback -- including payback against people who were not even born when historic injustices were committed." That "payback" means, to some of the authors above, that white people cannot truly talk about racism or race and cannot engage in artistic expressions deemed to be associated with black culture. More importantly, it seems sometimes to mean all whites are racist.
Ultimately, no one cares about Miley Cyrus, for racial reasons or otherwise. If anything, she represents an increasingly decadent culture the likes of Rome in its last throes. But Cyrus has been made into something entirely different: a call to racial division. As Dr. Wright-Cleveland, said: "white people are the problem." Based on the comments of certain pundits, one wonders how Dr. Wright-Cleveland's "white problem" must be solved according to those that "talk justice," as Sowell mentions.