After watching the VMA performance of Miley Cyrus, I can’t say I was too surprised. For a while now Miley Cyrus has been appropriating ratchet culture – an ideology birthed in urban America.
What did surprise me was the myopic nature of the wave of backlash and criticism this performance elicited. First, many commentators who derided Miley’s behavior completely ignore the fact that Robin Thicke was also on stage. If you don’t see a problem with that then read this article.
Another gap in the criticism, is a direct link between the culture of appropriation and structural racism. What I want to talk about is the spectacle of appropriation and how Miley Cyrus has used it in order to build her street cred, be edgy, and create distance between herself and her Hannah Montana image. The problem with Miley’s brand of appropriation is that it only makes sense due to the illogical nature of racism. Miley can only distance herself from the pure Disney teen princess image if her body is marked as pure in the first place. As a white women Miley Cyrus has the privilege to fight for her sexuality because historically white women have always been viewed as pure.
Black women’s bodies on the other hand have always been sexualized as Jezebels, Hottentots, Mammies, and Sapphires. If you would disagree then Google what The Onion called an 8 year old Quvenzhane Wallis or the recent Harriet Tubman sex tape released by Russell Simmons, who still seems to be clueless as to why people were upset over this.
The issue with this behavior is that while Miley is simply using it to seem bad, African Americans are punished through structural oppression for acting the very same way. When African Americans act ratchet we are likely to be Stop and Frisked and distrusted by strangers. In fact African Americans don’t even have to be acting ratchet for other people to read ratchetness/violence/sexuality onto our bodies. African Americans do not have the same autonomy over our bodies because racism has already marked us.
Miley Cyrus is not a slut or diseased. Miley Cyrus does not have an eating disorder- Mika Brzezinski. The only shame Miley should be feeling is over the fact that the performance was wack- as wonderfully explained by this Buzzfeed Article .
What Miley has done is appropriate and profit off of black culture while black people get punished for doing the exact same thing! I’m not calling her an evil big bad racist, BUT this is an example of her taking part in a racist system and using her white privilege to benefit from it.