I was asked to give my two cents as a feminist and woman of colour as to what I thought of Miley Cyrus' VMA performance. Now, it has taken me the whole day to figure out what to say, because so much of my thoughts are conflicted over this. Part of me wants to say, "Who cares!" while the other part is telling me that to say "Who cares?" is really not going to do anyone any good. And judging from the fury over her performance, clearly many people do care.
After I read an article on the Huffington Post talking about Miley's major offense of cultural appropriation, this article really made me think. It was extremely well done, and her arguments were credible, and as a fellow feminist who has studied black feminist thought for several years, its absolutely spot-on. But it still wasn't entirely enough to make me totally upset over Miley's behavior over the last year or so.
What makes me the most frustrated, though, is that "feminists" are in fact covering up the race issue here, bringing it down to a sexuality issue only. What, all of a sudden Miley Cyrus is sporting all gold everything and dancing amidst a sea of black female back-up dancers? I have read some comments that say that race has nothing to do with it. But clearly, with some of the terrible comments I've read on this site, race is still a huge issue in our society and is not getting better, so lets not pretend it doesn't exist.
Now with that out of the way, mainstream feminism is a white woman's movement. Developed out of the first wave of feminism belonging to middle-class white women and "ladies who lunch", mainstream feminism has taken no responsibility or account of black women's lived experiences when it comes to gender, race and subject inequality, so I'm not too surprised this issue has been brushed over. But it's there, so let's talk about it.
My biggest concern with Miley's performance and behavior has only been that like the white feminists, she doesn't actually understand anything about black culture. You wanna twerk? Go ahead. You wanna sport grills and grab your crotch like your something special? Be my guest. You want your new single to "Sound black"? Not a problem, but understand the culture in which you're taking from and the history behind it.
Did she ever look into the history of the word "ghetto" (beyond it just becoming a style)? And what does sounding "black" actually sound like? And does she think that all black women just sit around twerking all day in crop tops and high-waisted tights? No, these are just constructed stereotypes that have been placed on all black people and unjustly called "black culture." If she knew anything about black culture, she would know that it is a constant struggle, a celebration, and a totally different experience than she could fathom. But she doesn't have to fathom anything; she can come and go from this experience as she pleases, without that struggle, without those consequences.
My second concern is more of an annoyance than anything. Stop your goddamn twerking. The unicorn suit was enough. I don't understand how this girl can use the same damn dance move everywhere she goes. She enters a room, she twerks. She takes pictures, she twerks. She's on a stage, she twerks. I have never seen anybody so obsessed with their own ass. And why does she need to have black women around her while she's twerking? I hope it's not because she feels like she has the seal of approval from some black chicks because as a white girl she can wiggle her butt.
As for Miley using black women as props, I have to disagree. I have to go a different route here and say that by having black female back-up dancers, she actually increased black female employment in the dance/entertainment industry, allowing these women -- some of many who may have never had a chance like this before -- to have their talent showcased.
Last, if feminists are contemplating Miley's (in)appropriate behavior, why haven't they said anything about Robin Thicke? It's like he disappeared from the VMAs altogether. Wasn't it him that Miley was grinding on? While he's a white R&B singer, I suppose the difference here is that he doesn't run around screaming "I'm black" to prove himself. But he did sing behind many of Miley's backup dancers also; again, I see it as an opportunity for black female talent to shine as opposed to being props.
All in all, I think that Miley's young (I'm few months older in age), experimenting and just having fun. I don't think there's anything wrong if she wants to gyrate all over stage in her underpants, sound more hip-hop and stick her tongue out at everyone like Gene Simmons.
She is happy to act a fool on stage and is taking good advantage of her position as a young, rich starlet. But I'm also weary of using "Cultural Appropriation" here, as it has severe implications for a 20-year-old girl who seems utterly clueless to how her behavior has impacted the masses.
The term "racist" should definitely not be used here, either. However, she does need a lesson on black history in America, and what it means to be a black woman. Maybe understanding where she's taking her new look from might change her mind on the way she presents herself and the way she's been showing us how she understands black culture. I don't think she has to stop what she's doing, but understanding all the intersecting oppressions of what it means to be black and what black culture actually is would be a humbling added bonus to her repertoire of young adult phases.