The Distraction of Twerking: Why Activism Is Not Complaining About Miley9/03/2013
by Lorrell Kilpatrick The internet has been buzzing for some time about how white women in genera...
by Lorrell Kilpatrick
The internet has been buzzing for some time about how white women in general, and Ms. Miley Cyrus in particular, are causing great distress in the universe by daring to shake what their mamas gave (or failed to give) them. The outrage has come to a head with Miley VMA 2013 performance in which she faux-licked the plushy prosthetic butt of a black female dancer, with many other black female dancers on stage shaking it as well. Also included in her stage show was grinding against poor, defenseless Robin Thicke as he crooned his age appropriate hit ‘Blurred Lines’ and some unspeakable gyrations all up on Beetlejuice.
Words like commodification, misappropriation, minstrel, and even racism have been leveled at this young woman for her emulations of the “black sound” she’s adopted for her music and visual representations including grillz, clothing, production sound, and yes, that booty bouncing. I’ve seen commentators go in about how Miley objectified the women on stage, how she’s participating in a culture that isn’t hers to represent, and personal digs about her lack of posterior attributes.
My personal opinion on the matter ranges between “did you see Bruno Mars’ performance” and “how is the death toll in Chicago related to the school to prison pipeline.” What you’re thinking is correct, Miley’s ass and her fondling of other people’s asses doesn’t rank high with me. I’m not dismissing people’s concerns, but I am challenging people to situate their concerns in real matters of struggle, oppression, and racial and gender objectification. If that seems too overwhelming, at least attack the root cause of historical and present cultural misappropriation and the people with the actual power to forward it and racist ideology.
There is space for a substantive conversation about how racist ideology makes us look at young black women twerking on World Wide Hip Hop and other sensationalist tabloid sites with malice and despite, while white counterparts like Cyrus, Iggy Azalea, and countless other Euro-beauties are applauded for (literally) and profit from their imitation of black creativity. We can discuss how the world seems to be infatuated with “blackness” and all characteristics thereof, but blacks in general and black women in particular seem to still covet a Eurocentric standard of beauty regarding skin tone and hair. A discourse on how MTV seems to have propelled us back into the 1980s when Michael Jackson, Prince, and unseen producers were the only representations of black people on stage and among award recipients, driving us to choose between the false dichotomy of them or BET (which are owned by the same parent company, Viacom) for validation of black culture.
However, what I cannot get on board with is the smokescreen of blame enveloping one young person who herself is subjected to the power and patronage of a production company. I will not participate in outrage about how a dance…a dance has been ‘stolen’ from black people and this is the final straw. I refuse to take up arms in defense of ass shaking as a cultural milieu in the black experience. My voice and activism will not be used to bolster distractions and scapegoats. I say shake it Miley, shake it until it falls off! Then, I guess people will be forced to blame the engine behind your ass, eventually. Until then, sing it with me…
Just kidding, you don’t have to sing. But make sure the outrage isn’t misplaced and that the correct issues are being discussed, or else the root of the problem will continue to go untouched and another scapegoat will be inserted in Miley’s place.
Lorrell Kilpatrick is an instructor of sociology in Indiana specializing in race, gender, class, and labor. She's been involved in anti-racist and anti-poverty activism for 12 years. She blog her personal thoughts and feelings at lksmartygirl.blogspot.com.