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Monday, 26 August 2013

Solidarity Is For Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of Her VMA Performance

Editor's Note: The response to this piece has become a little overwhelming and I'm having some trouble trying to reign it all in, but do know that while I may have to deal with derailers and trolls over on Groupthink, I will not tolerate them here. This blog is my safe space and I will not let anonymous commenters change that. I will be heavily moderating the comments of this article, so think before you post. If your comment accuses me of "reverse racism" or includes derogatory remarks. It will be deleted. If you slut shame Miley Cyrus, your comment will be deleted. If you derail the conversation in any way, your comment will be deleted. Be forewarned.

As a black woman, I feel like I owe a debt of gratitude to Mikki Kendall, of #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen fame for managing to so perfectly encapsulate years of subjugation of black women by white women. With those five words, she was able to instantly zero in on why Intersectional Feminism is so necessary if the feminist movement is to progress. 
Because Miley's performance last night, and the subsequent ignoring of the racial implications of what she did is just the latest incident in the long line of things that shows me as a black woman, that white feminism does not want me, or care to have me.
Jezebel's piece on the performance chose to focus on the slut shaming that has been thrown Miley's way in the wake of the performance. All fine and good. Slut shaming is bad, don't do it. On that we can all agree. What it didn't acknowledge was the incredibly racist nature of that performance. So I brought it up.
Okay.... but can we talk about the problematic and racist nature of her performance? Her literal use of people as props? Her association of her newfound sexuality with the traditional codifiers of black female culture, thereby perpetuating the Jezebel stereotype that black women are lewd, lascivious and uncontrollably sexualized? Can we talk about the straight up minstrelsy of that performance? Can we talk about how not a single black person won an award last night even though the people who did win awards have been mining black music and culture for years? 
No? Ok... I'll just sit at the back of the bus then. #solidarityisforwhitewomen
See the problem isn't that they talked about slut shaming. That deserves attention. The problem is that they completely sidestepped the other glaring teddy bear in the room, and that is the commodification of black female sexuality in Miley's performance. But it's not a thing that white women deal with, so it didn't warrant inclusion or discussion by the white-led mainstream feminist media.
So I'll include it here. What Miley did last night was easily one of the most racist displays I've ever seen. From her insistence on twerking, to her use of all black women as literal props (they were teddy bears) to her smacking of her dancer's ass and the simulation of rimming, it is very clear to me, that Miley thinks that black women's bodies are to be enjoyed, devalued and put on display for entertainment purposes.

Regarding the last transgression, fellow Jezzie Korra wrote a great post about why Miley's specific choice to manhandle her dancer was so problematic:
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.
Here's the thing: historically, black women have had very little agency over their bodies. From being raped by white slave masters to the ever-enduring stereotype that black women can't be raped, black women have been told over and over and over again, that their bodies are not their own. By bringing these "homegirls with the big butts" out onto the stage with her and engaging in a one-sided interaction with her ass, (not even her actual person!) Miley has contributed to that rhetoric. She made that woman's body a literal spectacle to be enjoyed by her legions of loyal fans. Not only was that the only way that Miley interacted with any of the other people onstage with her, but all of her backup dancers were "black women with big butts" as Violet_Baudelaire so astutely pointed out. So not only are black women's bodies being used as props, but they are also props that are only worthy of interaction if that interaction involves sexualization. 
Now some people have said that Miley is only 20, and she's "just a child" and that she doesn't understand what she's doing. But Miley isn't new to this. Her video for the single wasn't even the first precursor to this madness. She has been quoted as saying that she explicitly wanted "a black sound" for her new album. She is more than aware of what she's doing, and has consciously made the choice to dabble in traditionally black aesthetics and sound in order to breakaway from her good girl image and further her career.
What Miley is doing amounts to minstrelsy, as BigTittieComittee points out:
I used to like Miley until now. Like she said herself before her "change" that she didn't even know who Jay-Z was at one point, now you ratchet and wanna make "Black music" and like "Black culture"?It is blackface and minstrelsy. She can celebrate "Black" music without all the stereotypes, like how Eminem (he is problematic for other reasons, but has not been as bad lately...), Robin Thicke (before the lawsuit against Marvin Gaye's estate), Justin Timberlake (I still feel like he threw Janet under the bus during the superbowl thing), and Mackelmore.
This shit has never been more dead on right than at this very moment, watching this awards show (Lil Kim had to be 'recognized' by a white, blonde rapper; Macklemore beat out everyone to win 'best Rap,' lots of other *sigh* moments) 

But Vulture's Jody Rosen says it best in his VMA recap:
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. The archetypal example is in The Jazz Singer (1927), in which Al Jolson’s immigrant striver puts on the blackface mask to cast off his immigrant Jewish patrimony and remake himself as an all-American pop star.
And Miley's career has never been better. Means to an end indeed.
The other major problem with Miley's performance is the association with her burgeoning sexuality with black female bodies. I touched on this a little in the first quote above, and it ties into black women not having agency over their bodies and their sexuality. Essentially, what Miley has done here is indicate that 1. She wants to be sexual and 2. She needs to associate herself with black bodies to do it. By doing this, she in inexplicably intertwining the idea of sexuality as part and parcel of black womanhood; that is, that black women cannot exist without sexuality and vice versa, and that the only acceptable way to be sexual, is to "be black". That idea plays into deeply racist ideas about black womanhood, the idea being that black women are wanton and lascivious, and cannot control their expressions of sexuality. 
Yet another issue with Miley's portrayal is that it presents "ratchet culture" as synonymous for "black". As Phylecia2 pointed out, black people are not a monolith, and neither is black culture. While ratchet culture is a valid expression of black culture, it is not the expression of black culture, and there are millions of black people for whom this particular expression of culture does not resonate. However, due the racial realities of the world we live in, Oprah will be expected to know about twerking because black = twerking.
By expressing her desire for a black sound, then turning up with this mess, she is playing into the stereotype that this is all black people are. To her, and anyone else who's frame of reference does not extend beyond her, this is what it means to be black.
It is reductive and racist to present one subset of black culture as indicative as the whole, especially when there is a purposeful choice to choose the specific subset of culture that plays into existing white supremacist narratives about the stereotype of what it means to be black. Notice for instance, that Miley did not say "I want a black sound" and then head for the Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, or remake herself in the image of Janelle Monae and dabble in Afrofuturism. Nope. Instead she headed straight for the "urban" music, because that is, apparently, the entirety of black culture, and it represents all black people everywhere, regardless of individual experience. 

And this all circles back to the idea that black culture can only be consumed if it is first made palatable by a white body. Jhumpa21 explains why this particular practice is steeped in so much racial privilege:
[...] I think it's safe to say Miley did not grow up in a particular culture or environment where twerking was common. I also think it's safe to say that she is putting on this "twerking persona" (for lack of a better phrase) as a way to make money. It's part of her schtick now, and it wasn't before. That is why it is offensive, because this is a portrayal she has the privilege of putting on and taking off; that, as a white woman, it is celebrated when she puts it on, and she does nothing to acknowledge this; and that she is harnessing pieces of an oppressed and stigmatized culture in order to make money for herself and feed her own ego. What she's doing is the definition of exploitation.
And if you think that I'm grasping at straws, just look at the way that the media treats Miley and juxtapose it against how it treats Rihanna. This comparison is made often, and it continues to be relevant. It can be argued that Miley has almost literally remade herself in Rihanna's image, and yet Rihanna continues to be attacked in the media for expressions of her lived culture, while Miley, who dresses up in black codifiers for profit, skates by. Miley is very literally trying on something that Rihanna has been doing for the better part of three years, and yet it only becomes acceptable when presented on a white body. playing into the long tradition of white artists stealing and/or appropriating from black artists and reaping the benefits. (See also, Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake.

And I haven't even touched on her obsession with twerking, and the subsequent mainstream appeal. 
Now, a favourite derail of this discussion is that culture doesn't belong to anyone, and it's here for us to share and no one OWNS twerking. But those discussions always happen outside the context of cultural imperialism, and the colonial history that minorities face. It's more or less the same reason why it's not okay to wear an Indian headdress if you are not Native American.
It's not that we can't share. It's that until such time as black people are not ridiculed and debased for the styles and music and lifestyle that they create, live and breathe, hands off. Until such time as black fashion, art and music can become mainstream without having to be passed through a white filter, hands off. 
Until such time as being black is no longer seen as something less than, hands off. That's it. 
*****
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.
In closing, here are some other great links that deal with why Miley's performance last night was so problematic. I will continue to update the list as I find them:

ETA: Trudy of Gradient Liar schools racists on twitter.







137 comments:

  1. Jody Rosen is actually a fella'.

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  2. Ah! thanks for telling me. Fixed.

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  3. Thank you for writing this, That was a beautifully written article. I am glad that I was not the only person who saw the racist tones in her performance. I did find it strange however that as much as the mainstream media is mocking her performance last night, not a single thing has been said about why it was so insanely innapropriate aside from the fact that she looked childish, desperate, and that they didn't like her outfit.

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  4. wot evz giiiirlfriend27 August 2013 00:55

    Get OVER it.
    White people are sooooooooooooooooo bored with the race card being pulled out EVERY opportunity they do not care anymore.
    Even black men do not like black women so what chance do you have?

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    1. why did you waste your time commenting if that's how you feel, troll?

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    2. Im guessing you're a heterosexual white male? If it was racism against white people shit would hit the fan. But luckily for you (as well as myself) we rarely, if ever experience it in North America (and just about everywhere else in the world). Also black women are just as BEAUTIFUL as any other woman!

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  5. Thank you for this. Aside from being confused as to what she was doing with her tongue (What the hell...? No seriously, is this a thing? Am I that old?) I was so uncomfortable with this performance. I am no prude and I have no issues with women expressing their sexuality. However, there was a crudeness that I just couldn't put my finger on, and you nailed it. I don't know why I didn't immediately see the racist aspect and I'm rather embarrassed. At first I thought the only acceptable part of the performance was the fact that there were beautiful, curvy, non-anorexic women on stage. I did not realize they were all black women until this article. So basically this spoiled little white girl got to play with her "toys" and desperately prance around trying to be sexy (in which she failed - she is no Madonna and never will be). I'm a white woman. I enjoy many aspects of various black culture. What I don't do is emulate or pretend I somehow share the same struggles and experiences. I will never truly comprehend the many, many prejudices - blatant or nuanced - that black people endure in this country every single day. I read Frederick Douglass and Toni Morrison ('Beloved' is one of my top 10 books, as well as the hauntingly beautiful movie). I listen to Duke Ellington and ODB. And being a giant nerd I am absolutely enthralled with Neil de Grasse Tyson. I don't mention this for a pat on the back or as a play for some type of acceptance. I am grateful to have the opportunity to experience the work of these amazing individuals, but I do it privately and don't make an ass out of myself (at least I hope I haven't!). I'm sorry it took this article for the (what is now obvious) blatant racism to be unveiled. I can only hope it starts dawning on everyone who was disturbed with this "performance". It's far too late to have this discussion, but better now than never. Thank you again, you are brilliant :)

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  6. Please remove this. I tried to post as a guest. I do NOT think it is ok for this platform to immediately plaster my google avatar when I posted as a f'ing guest. I'm seriously grumpy. There is no way for me to edit or remove this on my end. I am sorry.

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  7. 1. I do not think any white woman is celebrating this at all and 2. If it has racist implications, then why did the black female dancers agree to be part of it? I see your point and understand it, but come on, I think it's safe to say that it's not bad for black women, it's bad for ANY woman!

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    1. Do you know how difficult it is for a dancer to get a gig? Let alone one as big as the VMA's? They were hardly going to say no particularly in an industry where if your blacklisted (i.e accuse the show director/ performer of racism) you're not getting work anywhere else. They were exploited for their image as curvy black women who Mileys PR team decided would be synonymous with her new 'Hip-Hop' image and I can imagine they were probably paid fuck-all for the privilege.

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    2. people of color have always been complicit in oppression. from not having any alternative in terms of job prospects to harboring their own inherent racist ideologies. jesus christ, this is 101.

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    3. I think your comment lacks any kind of awareness of what intersectionality means. There isn't a hierarchy of oppression- but within the vast package of oppression there are many many cogs, and race is a huge one.

      Why is it that every time a person of colour voices their experience of oppression that they have lived...people (and its almost always white people) try and stifle that voice, or somehow invalidate it with your experience of race aka your own white privilege.

      As a white woman, my feminism will be meaningless if it's not intersectional. I take my line on racism from the very people who are oppressed by it.

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  8. Can I just say that a black person DID win an award...Bruno Mars. To boot miley is not a a racist. Can't you see how much she she is begging to fit into what she considers to be black culture...it's almost sad how desperate she is to fit into this stereotype. I don't like the girl i think she's a twat but why are you wasting your time focusing on someone you hate just to get some attention and jump on this media band wagon.

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    1. Bruno Mars isn't black. He's Puerto Rican/Jewish and Filipino.

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  9. Miley is just the puppet of an obsessed designer Marc Jacobs. Jacobs controls Miley and told her to act like that at the VMA. Marc Jacobs is a manipulator who wants to lead everyone! He controls Kanye West, Lady Gaga, etc. Read the truth behind Miley's shocking performance on: styleangelique.blogspot.com

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  10. wow you would think there were more important things to waste that many words about, in addition most of US music industry worships at the altar of uneducated "black culture" which is to say it glorifies the interest in money, misogyny and murder

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  11. This is ridiculous. There is nothing "Black" about bumping and grinding or sticking your tongue out. People have been dancing like that for decades now. It's as if you want to accuse Jorma Kaukonen of being racist, because he plays Mississippi blues. Miley's only crime is that he tried to look sexy and provocative and instead looked comical and ridiculous. Anything more said has nothing to do with the performance and everything to do with the chip on the writer's shoulder.

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  12. Taylor Lescallette27 August 2013 08:30

    Bruno Mars is actually Puerto Rican and Filipino; he is a person of color but he's not black.

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  13. Good commentary. I've been studying minstrelsy lately (Eric Lott's Love and Theft and an essay collection Behind the Minstrel Mask, both good) and this performance is obviously in that tradition of white people using tropes identified in mass culture as "black" to exhibit "forbidden" behaviors. As disturbingly over-the-top as this show is - zebra tights, animal mask - we might want to recall that even a now-respectable figure like Ellington originally performed in a minstrel setting, the plantation stage set at the Cotton Club, one which also presented black women as sex objects in the "racy" dance numbers. Cyrus is performing within a minstrel matrix that includes the Duke's self-titled "jungle music" and Louis Armstrong's mugging for the camera and parading as King Zulu at Mardi Gras. The tropes of minstrelsy have been legitimated and accepted by black as well as white audiences, from Bert Williams and Stepin Fetchit to Tyler Perry and Little John. Cultural Imperialism isn't a very effective rubric for capturing the real dynamics of mass-culture presentations of black identity; Williams, for example, embraced blackface; he wasn't forced to cork up. Likewise Elvis, poster-boy for culture theft, didn't steal or imitate, but amalgamate in the same tradition Amiri Baraka describes in Blues People (nor was Elvis personally racist, despite his being almost immediately labeled as such and continuing to be thought so in the popular imagination). Elvis, however, drew from a real source of black culture, the r&b and urban blues of the great migration era (segregated on the pop charts and in record distribution), while Cyrus is drawing from a source that has been heavily mediated and interpreted by white capital. I think we should distinguish between "culture industry" product, and its spin-offs, and less capitalized commodites. There is a qualitative difference between Rick Ross and Sean Price, between Disney and Stax. A corporate creation like Cyrus can only produce this kind of disgusting, dehumanizing performance. Unfortunately the same is true of popstar sex objects who are not melanin-deficient: Beyonce and Rihanna are doing the same damn thing. I would not be a bit surprised to see Beyonce in zebra tights and an animal mask doing her stripper dance routines. Well, maybe a little surprised. Double consciousness might give her a perspective that Cyrus lacks. I suppose that's why white folks can be so aggressively offensive in their mocking appropriations.

    PS go read Michielle Williams's The New Jim Crow, if you haven't already.

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  14. lol you're so stupid... black women always playing the race card. Any female who dances that way regardless of race is looking to be devalued. you have no point.

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  15. The black female dancers might have agreed because they have, you know, bills to pay. But good on you for looking down at them from your high horse. Maybe they have internalized what some of hip hop/society says a black woman is worth. And it isn't about "any" woman because the women on stage are black and there has been for so long messages from so many areas that hyper sexualize black women. Also, it can still have racist implications and have the dancers agree to be a part of it. They might not be aware or maybe they are and just do not care. That does not mean that this discussion should not be happening.

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  16. NoMoreBlameGame27 August 2013 09:36

    To be honest I'm almost just as offended by this article. I didn't realize that because of my skin colour I am not allowed to participate in some of your traditional domains, or 'black culture' as you call it, without being seen as stealing your culture. I am a 23 year old white Australian woman, I believe wholeheartedly in equality, and whilst I don't agree with Miley's performance, I don't agree with your segregation either.

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    1. Wholeheartedly agree. Very well-said. I didn't see the show, for which I am very thankful.

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  17. "I didn't realize that because of my skin colour I am not allowed to participate in some of your traditional domains, or 'black culture' as you call it, without being seen as stealing your culture. "


    Way to miss the point of the article. This isn't about someone enjoying black culture or even sincerely participating in it.

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  18. lol, Felix Lee, you're so stupid... too dumb to understand the author's point so you left an idiotic attempt at an inflammatory comment. (Sorry dude, but anyone who leaves comments like yours is looking to be devalued. You have no point.)

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  19. NoMoreBlameGame27 August 2013 10:02

    Oh I fully understand the point of the article, I am not debating it's essence, but it is also hypocritical in it's conclusions.

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  20. "Miley's only crime is that she tried to look sexy and provocative and instead looked comical and ridiculous."

    To you that's her only "crime," because that's the only thing that would be important to you. She didn't manage to look sexy and provocative enough, and came across as comical; no serious masturbatory fantasy material for you, what a total bummer. I agree, by the way, that she was ridiculous, but there was also a lot of toxic shit in her performance that went over your head, because you - perhaps, just maybe - have the luxury of ignoring it and aren't beaten over the head with it every day. So you can write it off as a chip on the author's shoulder...

    "It's as if you want to accuse Jorma Kaukonen of being racist, because he plays Mississippi blues."



    If he was playing Mississippi blues in blackface, then yes. But he doesn't, does he? You're yet another person who missed the point of the article. The author isn't talking about people who sincerely enjoy or participate in rap, blues or anything else...

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  21. Absolutely fantastic article. As a non-woman, non-African-American feminist, this was educational - and seemed to be a great 21st century lesson by example of some of the most basic elements of bell hooks' work on intersectional feminism. So - really well done, BUT... I am not sure about the whole idea of being unable to allow cultural motifs of oppressed minorities to be used by popular culture. I think there is a difference between the concept of a native american headdress and "twerking" (though why twerking needs to exist at all, I am not sure). The problematic nature of non-native use of the head-dress is the lack of reverence and failure to understand context. I am not sure this is true with regard to the way in which white urban artists mine black urban culture. If no appropriation is allowed from minority cultures, do I as a Jew have the right to say to the 1.4 billion Christians in the world, "Hands off" Jesus?

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  22. Holy sh*t. I've never even heard of Iggy Azalea until I looked up the Lil Kim presentation comment. Mind is blown--the overt pretense of an obvious 'black' sounding voice & then she, some newcomer, introduces Lil Kim. I'm white. I'm embarrassed. I'm so embarrassed for women. I'm so embarrassed for black women and black people in general.


    Our media has failed us. What do we do next? Thank you for writing this. EYE opening.

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  23. thank you for such a thoughtful, well documented, discussion of this issue. this kind of analysis has been lacking, and i'm grateful to have such a fabulous piece to point other people to.

    i think what bums me out is that young people (specifically white young people) mimic miley and perpetuate this kind of appropriation. if it weren't for that, i could more easily write miley off as foolish and following the bad advice of her manager/agent/whoever. but because many young people are watching her, and her platforms (the VMAs and others) tacitly give approval to this kind of ridiculous appropriation, it has ripple effects. so many of the people i see discussing this issue are not young (myself included), and don't listen to that generation's music. i really hope younger people are catching on to how inappropriate miley's stunt was.

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  24. A few commenters have said that they didn't notice the dancers were black, because why would they? Maybe I'm alone, but I thought skin colour was really quite irrelevant.
    As above, as a white woman I didn't realise I wasn't allowed to enjoy black culture, listen to black music, or participate in black dance moves. We do this because we enjoy and admire it, we want to be part of it, not because we want to make it our own.
    I don't like Miley generally, and her performance was cringeworthy, but as a white woman I saw jealousy and an appreciation of beautiful and 'sexy' bodies. Miley will never have the curves of her dancers, but she is trying so hard to fit in with black culture because she wants to be a part of it, she must admire it, imitation is flattery after all.
    As for black women being sexualised, do all white women writhe around in sea shells like Lady Gaga? Or do we kiss for attention like Britney and Madonna? Women are what they make of themselves in the media, I just wish everyone would stop twerking.

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  25. Why do all kinds of women partake in sexist/demeaning things towards themselves? Because


    1) they aren't aware of it being something that is wrong because they're used to it! or


    2) they're working within a system that uses them. And they will either go under or have a lot harder of a time not playing into this system, or succumb to the system so they can feed themselves or move ahead until they (hopefully) don't have to be a puppet anymore. Got me?

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  26. woo hoo! ::waves flag:: one person of color won!! equality for all! and women were objects again! as well as black people were displayed only as sexy and from the hood. woop woop! we all win!

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  27. So says white male. Thank you for letting us all know how it is (again). -_-

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  28. Given that this article discusses a huge event that's meant to bring in millions of viewers and advertising dollars, I took the 'hands off comment' at the end to be an end to the thoughtless, exploitative use of elements of 'black culture,' whatever that happens to be (Which in the U.S., there's a long history of this - just one example: Hollywood dancers of the classic movie era learning from black dancers, and using their moves on screen while their teachers rarely if ever got widespread credit or screen time). There's utterly no indication that Cyrus and her handlers gave a thought to or cared about any of this. They just used the stereotypical elements of black culture for their own exploitative purposes. So the 'hands off' comment at the end isn't about you singing along to your favorite rap lyrics, or a professional guitarist who wants to try a hand at some old time blues to expand his artistic repertoire. Any time you incorporate another culture into your art or other aspects of your life, there should be at minimum a mindfulness of what you're doing; this was utterly lacking at the VMAs.

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  29. "Any time you incorporate another culture into your art or other aspects of your life, there should be at minimum a mindfulness of what you're doing"


    I'll just add, especially when that culture has long been exploited for various mainstream purposes in crass and/or commercial ways.

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  30. Now I understand: Women who dance 'that way' have no value. Thank God we have you, a male, to give us, women, the breakdown of how exactly our self worth is determined. :)

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  31. Miley may not be a racist but she is racially insensitive. Nor do I think she is "begging" to be included in what she considers to be black culture. What it seems she is doing is just putting on the trappings of what she thinks black culture is to further her career. And while Miley is being brought up in this article it's not because of the writer hating her. The writer is showcasing bigger issues than just, "Oh, I hate Miley." Did you read her article all the way through or are you just being willfully ignorant or not wanting to see the actual problems underlying Miley's actions? Just because Miley is being talked about does not make it all about her.

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  32. Oh lord. Go read a book, NMBG.

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  33. what i find most offensive is why Miley would want to appropriate "black culture"

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  34. girlbehindscissors27 August 2013 11:14

    Wow, great article.

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  35. So black people should be winning awards not on the back of talent, but because of the colour of their skin? Is that really your definition of equality? How very sad, narrow minded and backward.

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  36. It should be said that she is only appropriating a segment of what she considers to be black culture. What you saw on that stage is not all of what black culture is but by your comment I can tell you see what she did as all the black culture there is.

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  37. Personally I think thus was one of the best articles I've read on the subject. As a white guy sometimes it's difficult for me to understand all the issues of cultural appropriation, and combine that with my tendency to be an argumentative ass sometimes I don't agree with what's being classed as appropriation. But then reading a piece like this makes it just a little less difficult. White people giving themselves awards while getting the Black artists to validate them by smiling, applauding, and staying the f shutted up.

    For the individual, I'm caught feeling sorry for her and feeling mad. Thank you for pointing out her blackface routine, now I see what you mean it's shockingly blatant. And the comparison with how Rhianna's portrayed is particularly eviscerating. What really kills is musically, you can't even compare them. Rhianna's an incredible artist, Miley is lip-synching drivel.

    For the show as a whole, which I didn't watch I'm stunned to learn that no Black artists won anything. I'm not *so* dumbass white that I don't know that every White artist who got (they sure didn't win) an award did so off commodifying Black music.

    Thank you again for your writing. I really wish more people would say it. I wish more white people would acknowledge it, and learn the rest of us better too, so you didn't have to.

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  38. I did not even mention anything about what black people should be winning in my comment. Great way to make yourself look ignorant. Maybe you should address your comment to someone who talked about that.

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  39. Vanessa Crooks27 August 2013 11:28

    very good article. miley saying that she wants a "black sound" reminds me of paula deen saying she wants a "plantation wedding".

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  40. Woah chill out.... accidentally (and quite obviously) replied to the wrong person. Simple mistake. But way to broadcast your anger management issues and obvious desire to pick a fight.

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  41. Oh come on, you seriously think Miley even knows what 90% of your article means? It was a seriously weird and cringe-worthy display because she came across as a 12-15 year old girl behaving in what she THINKS is a sexy manner and/or behaving the way her management team told her to for publicity. Well that worked because everyone is talking about her/the act she put on. Why whenever someone who isn't of your culture behaves in a way that is similar to an aspect of your culture do people shout racism, the world is not out to get you because of the colour of your skin. I have never read such a load of rubbish. If you really believe what you have written, where is the 'attack' on the people in the entertainment industry who are of your culture who perpetuate the way you think others perceive the people and the behaviour of your culture. Oh that's right, because when you do it then it's ok.

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  42. The race stuff is definitely messed up. My question is just whether she's intentionally including that or not. If she is making a point about how women are treated as sex objects (which I am inclined to think the weird pedobear performance is not without an agenda of making us feel uncomfortable), then it is also about how we sexualize black women. If she's intending to make how we sexualize young girls obvious by taking it to an extreme, perhaps she's doing the same thing with race? I wonder if people would react the same way if she'd been a white dude sticking her face in a black dancer's butt, or if that would be normal and we wouldn't even notice? I'm gonna guess since the Robin Thicke video didn't ruffle that many feathers, it would be perfectly fine. Plus, all the black dancers also have this huge, heavy looking bear attached to their backs. What's up with that? If I wanted to get all serious, that seems like a strong metaphor, but are there metaphors in pop music? Try watching it with the sound off, and somehow 2 Chainz looks more messed up with all those women dancing around him after Cyrus's over the top antics sort of point out what is going on. I'm not trying to defend her, and her previous comments about wanting to "sound black" don't really inspire me to think she's putting that much thought into it, but it does make me curious if she's aiming at something the public hasn't quite figured out yet. Regardless of her intent, it did make people think about it, which is more than you can say about the Robin Thicke video.

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  43. Oh, thank you for this! It expresses so well everything that made me uncomfortable watching her video and performance. I had all these thoughts rolling around in my head but couldn't put them all together coherently and you did magnificently.

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  44. Thank you for posting this article. There seem to be many people in the comments section who are trying to use individuals' actions or ideas to speak for an entire group of people, or to speak for an entire generalized group themselves, which is and will always be frustrating. Individuals cannot speak for an entire "group" of people. What you are saying are things that a lot of people do not want to hear or acknowledge, but that are clearly huge problems still in our culture and society. Thank you.

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  45. colorful_unicorn27 August 2013 13:16

    All I can say is that it hurts my heart to see that this was dissected to a racial issue. I am disheartened to see someone so obsessed with degradation in any form. I hope that some day, you will not see the world as such a terrible place for you!

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  46. You can appreciate and enjoy a culture without co-opting it. Miley didn't do that.

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  47. Hey EK, thanks for the support, but it's not necessary to name call. Don't make it easy for people with racist ideologies to bring us down to their level.

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  48. Your privilege is blinding me.

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  49. Thank you for articulating that so well.

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  50. Your article is thought provoking and well written, however, I feel the need to point out the juxtaposition you use with twerking and 'Indian headdress[es]'. It is completely disrespectful for anyone who did not earn the right (whether they be Native American or not) to wear a headdress (or warbonnet) because in order to have the honor of wearing one in the Native American culture, you have to demonstrate extreme valor. It would be similar to a civilian wearing a soldier's purple heart for a fashion statement. What I am getting at is I don't think your comparison is sufficient; we are talking about a piece of culture that is earned through bravery versus a popular dance.

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  51. Your site, your rules, so (much as I'm occasionally tempted) I won't name-call in future :)

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  52. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  53. I find that you are putting your own "sisters" down here. You're segregating yourself. Why don't we go back to the 50s and we can all have our own areas and we won't mix because that seems to be the way you like it. So a white woman is not allowed to twerk but a black woman can waltz and that is just fine? Quit making everything a race issue and attack the real issue of ALL women of ALL colors being over sexualized in the media. Our form of entertainment is skewed immensely but if this situation were reversed, if say Beyonce smacked her white or even latina backup dancer's ass, you wouldn't have a thing to say about it I'm sure. You are doing nothing but fighting the wrong fight here and you sound very racist yourself.

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  54. When Beyonce builds her fame by objectifying other women of colour, get back to me and we'll talk about it. Until then, that's not the conversation we're having here.

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  55. It was the simplest comparison I could think of that I knew most people would have a reference point for. But I didn't say it was exactly the same, because you're right for all the reasons you stated. It was just my way of saying "this general concept applies."

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  56. Thanks! Appreciate it!

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  57. She objectifies herself, a woman of color! She has black backup dancers all the time dressed in skimpy garb! You only close your mind to this issue because you just want to pull the race card and cry "woah is me." Stop making everything a race issue, you're making problems instead of fighting the real problems like I stated above.

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  58. I usually am a slow to anger type. When I read your reply it smacked of disrespect and I responded in kind. I apologize for being rude.

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  59. What concerns me more is that we just had a historic event honoring the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington, yet Miley Cyrus is dominating the conversation. I think we should be looking beyond individual actions and looking at broader perspective. Is the VMAs intentionally upstaging Democratic events to prevent Celebrity turnout and advocacy. After all, no one is talking about the March on Washington. What led me to this conclusion? The VMAs just happened to occur last year on the night President Obama accepted his party's nomination at the Democratic National Convention. Where were Celebrities? They were at the VMAs. So, I started looking to see if a pattern emerged or if my gut instincts were wrong about this being no coincident. Guess what, there is. Is Miley Cyrus the real issue or has structural and institutional racism learned how to keep us from discussing important issues and unifying to support issues important in the African-American community? http://www.socialworkhelper.com/2013/08/27/vmas-intentionally-upstaging-democratic-events-prevent-celebrity-turnout-advocacy/

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  60. if you are white and find that your first response is "why aren't white people allowed to twerk?!", then ask yourself this: "why do I feel entitled to adopt somebody else's cultural expression as my own?" if you feel angry or defensive, ask yourself why YOU feel as though something is being taken from YOU.

    then you have begun to understand how white supremacist thinking works, and that is a good step towards the state of mind that may someday let you enter another culture, learn fron it, be changed by it, and appreciate it deeply instead of just slapping it in like a set of gold grills.

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  61. This comment thread is filled with trolls. I don't normally like to say that when it concerns opinions, but I can tell that everyone who is throwing around the over-used "race card" (reverse racism) bullshit did not even pay attention to the article, they skimmed through it to find anything that would piss them off and then decided to just start throwing accusations at the author. THAT is what I called trolling. I'm sorry you (the author) have to bear with this, especially from nearly all white people, who think they can define what is offensive (or not) for black femininity. I actually found that you articulated this subject in quite a sympathetic manner, not in an openly accusatory manner (which I have seen before, but honestly I wholeheartedly understand when people are accusatory, I understand that anger).

    "It's not that we can't share. It's that until such time as black people are not ridiculed and debased for the styles and music and lifestyle that they create, live and breathe, hands off" - that is not a statement of "racial segregation," it is a plea for white people to simply understand black stereotypes and historically racist foundations before "embracing" such a phenomenon. Honestly I would be pissed if I faced a history of slavery, ridicule, and debasement and then have the people who perpetrated these acts take my culture, use it as their own to profit, and then scream at me for getting upset about it and calling ME racist. To me there is a difference between "equality" and political equality. We are not equal, we all come from different backgrounds, stories, and histories, but we all deserve the same ability for self-actualization ("political equality"). So I understand this author's desire for white people to at least understand and appreciate all facets of black culture and what black Americans face (both negative and positive) before appropriating it (and many many more people of color feel her way).

    As a white, gay man, I have been seeing this kind of open racism and appropriation within the "gay culture" (which similar to black culture is not just the one aspect that everyone knows, or glitter and clubs) as well and it honestly frightens me. Even a marginalized and targeted group such as gay men can be so ignorant of other minority plights. That makes me a pessimist, as well as gives me this realization that there is a LONG road ahead. However, I applaud this author (and other authors) for having the courage to speak out, because just over 30 years ago, many people were too afraid, and at least that is one step in the right direction.

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  62. Simon Agirlandaboy27 August 2013 15:24

    You make a lot of good points, but I can't help but think that Miley has as much right to appropriate black culture as any black person has to appropriate white culture. Far be it from me, as a white guy, to give Darius Rucker a tough time for being a black country singer. He knows what he wants to do, he knows what his audience wants, and he gives it to them.

    Granted, Rucker is not throwing his sexuality around like MC was, but to necessarily tie them together (race and sexuality) is to ignore all the oversexualization of both white and black males and females in the rest of Miley's otherwise illustrious and provoking body of art.

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  63. Simon Agirlandaboy27 August 2013 15:28

    Paul should learn that as a white male, he is only allowed to have opinions about white males and white male issues. I assume that Christine H. also only has valid opinions regarding issues related to her specific demographic, whatever it may be.

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  64. I love your writing and I support this wholeheartedly. I already posted my support on Groupthink but I wanted to thank you here for sharing several facts/opinions/references that are quite beneficial to those who want to listen.. The privilege trolls are going to have a field day with this one, I'm sure. But keep your head up and keep writing. It is truly a gift for you as well as for all of us!

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  65. Punch up, not down.

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  66. As a WoC, she is entitled to experience and express her sexuality on her own terms. That is what she does. In the same way, Miley as a woman, is entitled to experience and express her sexuality on her own terms, as long as she does not dabble in racism to do it.

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  67. It almost hurts me to write this since you seem to be a fellow intelligent Caribbean woman but I find 90% of your article to be not only woefully misinformed but also adding to part of a bigger problem. Something I think we can both agree on is that women in general and more specifically Black women are hypersexualized in American entertainment and worldwide. I can't offer up a simple solution to this, none of us can. But, it starts by creating sensible dialogue. I'm sad to say that this is not it. When you add to the fodder and search for sexism and racism in EVERYTHING, it does nothing for the cause myself and so many other women believe in. When you dismiss almost every comment from people of other races and men who disagree with you as 'white privilege' and 'white tears', this also does nothing to further the dialogue and make headway in potentially solving the problem. On your point of Black women having little agency over their bodies - when will the time come when we hold other Black women accountable for willingly being a part of this? Miley couldn't have contributed to the existing rhetoric if there were no women willing to participate. Thoughts?

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  68. I'm so glad you wrote this - it articulates the issues perfectly: spot-on! The only thing that I disagree with is: "while Miley, who dresses up in black codifiers for profit, skates by..." because all over the web, she is *not* getting a pass for her exploitation schtick (among other issues). Some folks of all colors & cultures either got it right then, or are waking up now. Thanks for being part of this awareness.

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  69. Hey! Nice "angry black woman" stereotype for someone calling you on your bad behavior!

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  70. Thanks, white dude, for informing us that racism is totally not a thing and neither is sexism. The problem is that pointing out racism or sexism is a sign of anger, which is a completely inappropriate response to actual racism and sexism, since they don't exist.


    Why the chip on your shoulder, Paul? Why are you so invested in the idea that racism and sexism aren't valid issues?

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  71. Oh, he can have a valid opinion on issues regarding other demographics. He just can't contradict people who are in those demographics and keep that validity. Support is always appreciated.

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  72. I dislike Miley Cyrus and it gets on my last nerve to have to defend her in any way but I am an advocate of sensible discussion and not just buying into the opinions of those who can scream the loudest. She did not build her fame on the objectification of women of color. I find it interesting that when a WoC does it to women of other races, she is "entitled to experience and express her sexuality on her own terms" and if a white woman does it then...RACISM. What stands for one should stand for all.

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  73. No, you don't understand the point of this article. Caricature and cultural appropriation are different from celebration and participation. You are trying to conflate those issues to justify your attitude.

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  74. That is...just plain stupid. So just admit to wanting segregation and get on with it. You're extremely prejudice to view it that way. What about an interracial lesbian couple? How do you feel about that? Get your head out of the 1950's and into the present and stop looking at people's color! You are not being productive on the matter of women's rights, you are not a feminist, you are a close minded racist and I am saddened that someone like you feels they should have a voice on black culture when you are obviously such a bigot.

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  75. Who's to say that Miley doesn't enjoy or sincerely participate in black culture?

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  76. No one is saying he isn't allowed to have an opinion. We're just saying that as a white male, his experiences in life do not provide him with a complete, well-rounded, view of the situation at hand.

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  77. Oh, she might, deep down inside - and it might have come across at the VMAs had she not thoughtlessly used elements from this culture as part of an exploitative spectacle.

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  78. The misrepresentation suggests a lack of sincerity. If she were actually listening, her presentation would have been more inclusive and authentic. She also probably would not have been drawing as much attention or money to herself.

    Besides that, most media tends to filter out sincerity leaving only a hollow and commodified message tailored to privileged, white attitudes. I'm pretty confident this is the case for MTV. Which is to say that if she were sincerely interested in expressions of black culture, beyond the level of vain amusement, we probably would not be seeing her performance.

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  79. I agree with you. As a white woman, I thought it was racist. It was as bad as if she had performed wearing blackface. That struck me most. The whole thing was in poor taste. Very poor artistic choices, not to mention all the other aspects of this that put me off. I think a woman should be able to wear whatever she wants, her choice of outfit is her choice. The way she behaved was just gross though. Let's not defend her or Robin Thicke, who is equally to blame for this offensive spectacle. They rehearsed this and no one thought it was a bad idea? That says so much about our society. To everyone saying what happened to adorable Hannah Montana, I have to ask if you ever saw that show. Hannah Montana was an obnoxious brat, this evolution should come as no surprise. The fact that nobody seems to have had a god look at the Hannah Montana character in the first place is really disturbing. I watched the show with my friend's daughter and couldn't believe how rude and obnoxious the characters were. The whole entertainment machine needs to take a close look at what it is producing, because it is garbage. The garbage being created by the media and entertainment industries is creating our culture, so watch out.

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  80. I can't help it, I completely loved your response to this racist trash, lol. (sorry NinjaCate).

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  81. Thank you NinjaCate,for taking the time to break down the racist aspects of Miley's performance and her entire persona for this time period. I have a feeling that later on she's going to pull a Marky Mark and go straight back to mainstream white culture after misappropriating working class black culture in order to look rebellious. Disgusted by her and disgusted by anyone who calls themselves a feminist and chooses to overlook the inherent racism in her recent behavior and that whack ass display she put on at the VMA's.

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  82. Thank you for this article. And, for the comments/discussion below. I'm a 51-year-old white woman who fell in love with a black man and we have an incredible 15-year-old daughter. I grew up in an upper middle class whitey-white world, but when I was drawn to someone, his color and/or culture didn't matter—love is love in my book. I'm very grateful to my feminist, liberal, and political activist mother for opening my world despite the closed environment in which we lived. Your article just reiterated that I always have more to hear, listen to, ponder, consider and learn. Thank you.

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  83. Comparing a native American headdress to twerking is a major false equivalency. I kind of see what you're saying, but one of those things is tied up in tradition and honor, and the other is a dance move.

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  84. Simon Agirlandaboy27 August 2013 20:27

    So he can have an opinion, as long as it's the same as the author? And if he has an opinion that contradicts the opinions of people in the demographic about which he has said opinion, then it's not valid?



    Got it.

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  85. Simon Agirlandaboy27 August 2013 20:30

    By this token, NO ONE has a complete, well-rounded view of the situation, as all opinions are tainted by the characteristics of the observer.



    So again, he can have an opinion, it's just that it's wrong because he's a white male, which is not the same demographic as the author.



    Please don't try to tell me that I'm wrong about this. You aren't a white male, and thus your experiences in life don't provide you with a complete, well rounded view of the situation at hand.

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  86. 1. There's no need for condescension, and I will ban you if you continue.
    2. What Lorraine is saying, is that as a white male, he is almost literally floating above the issues that affect WoC. He doesn't get a say because he has no idea what he's talking about. However, due to white issues being everywhere, all the time, always, PoC, can comment with a degree of certainty about issues affecting white people.

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  87. And that's completely fine. As I said, black people are not a monolith, and you are entitled to disagree with me. I vehemently disagree with YOU, but that's also okay.

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  88. I'm glad you agree with me, but it's not okay to denigrate Miley's decisions to express her sexuality. She is an adult, and she gets to be sexual. There is nothing wrong with that.

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  89. That's what they all do. For them, blackness is a costume.

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  90. Thank YOU for sincerely listening.

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  91. Someone mentioned this earlier. This was my response.

    "It was the simplest comparison I could think of that I knew most people would have a reference point for. But I didn't say it was exactly the same, because you're right for all the reasons you stated. It was just my way of saying "this general concept applies."

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  92. Can we please stop calling black women who disagree with you angry and angling for a fight? I realize she agreed she was rude but I find the whole anger thing gets lobbed at us exclusively. It's the weakest form of either derailing or answering back without really answering the criticism that has been directed at you.
    I feel like posting to the#solidarityisforwhitewomen about how only black women get regularly called angry and violent when discussing issues of race/racism. I notice that white women can get pretty riled up and are not subjected to that.

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  93. And once again, a criticism written by a black woman is reduced to nothing more than anger...thanks for white mansplaining us angry black women with all of our chips on our shoulder that our opinions are invalid (b/c why on EARTH should we be entitled to be upset when we get SO much respect?)

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  94. Probably b/c they would threaten his as yet unchallenged white male privilege to insult us with impunity. B/c he's been getting to do that his whole life, as have his ancestors before that (only they could have smacked her for being uppity). I'm sure he uses his power in real life to kick WOC though.

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  95. See, why can't you get past the fact that black people are suggesting that you should not partake in modern day minstrel shows and equate that with black culture.
    And when Lady Gaga prances around naked she isn't seen as a representation of white women or white culture.
    Miley acted like a fool and both she and many non-black viewers would say she is "acting black". She thinks she is "acting black". Sharon Osborne thinks she is "acting black" (as she believes is the cause of Justin Bieber's bad behavior) It would probably be less offensive if white people emulated non-offensive pieces of black history or culture. But no, they'd rather pick the lowest common denominator, call it black, and then get a pass on it.
    I personally will continue to be offended by Miley and by you if you prance around half naked and I know that you and others think it is a representation of me as black woman. You don't carry the burden of her actions. She won't carry the burden/stigma of her actions.
    But black women/people will.

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  96. As NinjaCate pointed out, no one is going to complain about white jazz musicians or white rock muscians for that matter.
    It's the fact that Miley says she is acting black whenever she is acting crazy.
    But you are deteremined to miss the point.
    White people get the benefit of not being associated with the least flattering representations of music, dance, behavior engaged in by other white people. We don't have that privilege.
    We also aren't even complaining about Eminem, although there are other artists who do benefit from white privilege when they rap and some of them engage in racist behavior when they do so.

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  97. Yes, she can put on her "blackface" and not suffer any of the fall-out.

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  98. First off, wonderfully written article. As a white male who didn't actually see the performance, this issue never made its way into my thought process. When I first heard about this whole fiasco, my thoughts went to the thousands of 8-14 year old girls who were introduced to Miley by the Disney Channel. Now, I can respect he desire to change her image, if not the manner in which she's trying, but what disturbed me was the fact that she did this at the VMAs, when I can guarantee those thousands of young, impressionable girls were watching their idol act this way. I know performers are people too, and we can't expect them to care about our children the way that we do, but there IS a level of responsibility said performers have. When you establish your fan base as one of young girls, you must keep that in mind. If you no longer want to create music that is appropriate for your fans, then tell them as much, and do not perform where their eager eyes can watch. That may seem unfair to the individualism of the performer, but it is part of the sacrifice you have to make. These performers make obscene amounts of money for being creative and bringing joy to those who listen, but it comes at a price. The media hounds them, and they must take on the responsibility of being role models to people with whom they will never get a chance to speak. Everybody on this Earth must make sacrifices, even the highly privileged. Professional athletes pay with expensive, life long medical conditions. They are the gladiators of our day, destroying their bodies for our amusement. Performers give up a large part of their privacy. Freedom of speech and expression are two of the ideals that I believe every person has a right to, but when you're doing it on such a large scale, and to an audience who, make no mistakes, WILL mimic you, you owe them the respect to do so appropriately. I'm speaking absolutely nothing towards the racial or gender implications of this performance, because I have no ground to stand on with either, but if Miley wanted to do that kind of show, do it at an 18+ club, when the vigilant eyes of our young females won't be watching and learning.

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  99. Upvote FOREVER.

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  100. First, let me say, I am in 100% agreement with everything that was posted here. Her performance was a shame. It was a complete and total disgrace. I mean, Madonna was the QUEEN of shock value-type performances, but even she had the common decency and basic cultural "street smarts" to not pull this kinda stunt.

    But, unfortunately, it's part of a vicious cycle that won't be broken until we (African-American men and women) make more conscious efforts to break it, across the board.

    I understand the entertainment industry is wrought with glass ceilings, institutionalized racism, and is basically "new" slavery. Today's "big time record" deal is more often than not, a contemporary auction block.

    I get it.

    But, do we really have to continue to subscribe to it? Tolerate it? Do we really have to continue to play Jim Crow and pimp ourselves out in order to weave our voices into the pop culture narrative?

    I don't think so. But we do. We see it everyday. Nearly every new mainstream rapper on the radio, whether they are male or female, looks and sounds like the last. The songs all have the same theme. It's the same self-defacing "black face on black face" Billboard Top 40 recipe, slightly tweaked by region.

    Why? For cheap thrills? Quick money? Ten seconds of fame?

    As we continue to do this to ourselves; how do we have a leg to stand on against this type of gross misappropriation when it occurs? How is what Miley did any different from Sir Mixalot? Luke? Ludacris? Snoop? Lil Wayne?

    I mean, I've seen some nasty ass crap featured in late-night pop-rap videos over the years!!!

    Pop culture today is so twisted, so lost, so confused. There is no winning for losing. I could list dozens of white artists who harken to and respect black artists of all different genres, but they typically don't get heard. They typically don't get radio play. Their albums typically don't get millions of iTunes downloads. And even the ones that do, still get raked over the coals, whether they openly and honestly acknowledge their influences or not (a somewhat pertinent example is Macklemore, actually).

    I admit I might be over-simplifying a music career move such as this in the face of several other socio-economic less-than-desirable factors.

    But I honestly believe it is time we bring this sh*t in as a community and start working to set better standards, push better messages, provide better images and role models; and more importantly begin digging to do the hard work required to break the bonds of these vicious cycles we find ourselves caught up in.

    I'm not saying what Miley did was justifiable, by any means. But, I will say that she's not the only one, of any race or color, that has portrayed this sort of gross display of race/gender/sexuality in an on-stage and/or televised performance.


    How can we get mad at the gross images of us spit back in our faces; when it's simply a "minstrel" mirror of what we're doing to ourselves right now on BET?

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  101. Marc Bretzfelder27 August 2013 23:26

    I don't know about the auction block. Commercial artists either give the audience what they want or are accomplished enough to bend people's taste toward their artistic output. Often they lead a lifestyle people want to emulate, and then people follow their artistic output because they are hooked on the artists style or attitude. We are a long way from Cold Crush and the Sugar Hill Gang. African American artists own their own labels, hold onto their publishing rights and are getting rich either following a formula or creating trends. And those producing output people don't want to hear don't make money. Look at all the non-traditional artists making names for themselves, like Frank Ocean (not that I know his backstory). No one else is making decisions for Jay-Z, Kanye or 50 Cent. They are masterful businessmen and trendsetters. (As was Death Row before imploding.) That's why fashion icons, liquor and vitamin water companies are knocking down their doors with offers. If the majority of people aren't listening to Common right now, that isn't the label's fault. Kids, who's desires drive the industry (I'm not paying for music, I'll listen on Pandora or YouTube), want what they want for their own reasons. The artists or industry can't shove it down their throats. In fact, look at Karmen or Jessie J. They put their stuff up on YouTube (either before or after getting contract) and public response forced the labels to either pick them up, or stop sitting on their music. YMCB is kicking ass, and I don't think white record execs are simply pulling their strings. Kids don't want to hear their parents music, or engage in their parent's mode of expression. Their is a marketplace for art. Either people want your output or they don't. My biggest complaint about Miley is that her performance sucked. She was a caricature of what she was trying to project. Iggy, on the other hand, does it justice. I don't think Bob Marley was horrified that his artistic achievements influenced artists of all races around the world. And I don't know that anyone has the right to set standards for artistic expression. Successful artists may become commercially viable, but that doesn't mean we then get to enforce standards on their expression. I'm sure I'm caricaturing the industry myself, and there's plenty of variation, but it's come a long way since the days that MTV wouldn't play Michael Jackson videos and African American artists were "slaves" to white execs. How did Barry Gordy treat his artists? People with resources often take advantage of those that don't, and that's not a racial issue.

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  102. Well I am sorry that you feel this way. I do agree that racism does exist in the world and being a half chinese half white man living on a black Caribbean island, I know what racism is all about. I am too segregated and feel as though "out-of-place" but the mere fact is, I do not even care! I have a full black woman as my wife, we have a beautiful son at the age of 3 years old and another one on the way. As far as racism does, it's not even a factor. I mean, how do you ever get something to go away if you keep talking about it? Racism will always be there, not matter what. People are always going to be afraid of things that they consider different or the "unknown". But if you spend so much time focusing on the negative, then you will never see the positive in anything. Who cares about mainstream media especially when it comes to celebrities. With each word that you type about these individuals only gives them more power. You enable them to influence the public with their antics. Concentrate on improving yourself and your family. In then end, all this "foolishness" that we watch on television and deem something of importance will not matter. Blogs, such as this type, bring up issues that do not even matter or better yet benefit the world. The only way you allow those of negative character is allowing them to effect you. I just think there are more issued to focus on and not the "racial" implications of a privileged, white, suburban female who is only doing this for attention. Because at the end, she is winning and you are still complaining....

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  103. Marc Bretzfelder28 August 2013 00:02

    There is a quote in the analysis knocking Robin Thicke for his lawsuit against Marvin Gaye's estate. What I read indicates that the estate is essentially trying to claim they own the genre of music that Pharrell emulated in Blurred Lines. Pharrell produced it, which means the music is mostly his and all three of them wrote the lyrics. I don't think this is a simple case of a white dude stealing from Marvin Gaye's family. Thicke's camp offered them a six figure settlement that they rejected, so the counter-suit it part of their defense. It's whack for BTC to say he/she doesn't like Thicke anymore as an artist because he is defending himself in a lawsuit. And as my daughter pointed out after reading this, Mackelmore won for Best Hip Hop Video and Video with a Social Message, not for being the best Rapper. So have a look at the videos he was competing against and decide for yourself: http://www.mtv.com/ontv/vma/2013/best-hip-hop-video/ The VMAs are a popularity contest decided by the those in the public who choose to vote, not industry executives or fellow artists. And the idea that a white kid living a socially downtrodden life in Australia can be inspired by an African American artist who fought her way through struggles in the US two decades ago, seems like moving in the right, rather than the wrong direction. (And you have to admit Kim gets harder to recognize all the time and has not been a relevant artist in the lifetime of the average MTV viewer.) My older kids went to a school where many of the parents were of different heritage, say and anglo+latino couple, anglo+african american, african+latino, etc. My 4 year old is now in a school where, in many cases, each parent is the offspring of parents with different heritages, so in just 10 years the mixing has doubled. I'm glad they are beginning to shed the legacy we created for them. Talk about Blurred Lines. It's gonna just get harder and harder to characterize issues as simply racial as time goes on. Sadly, we'll still have as many f'ed up individuals, but the tribal fighting should start to break down. I can't wait for the day we'll be able to hate each other as individuals. ;-) Of course, I live in a cosmopoilitan city with gigantic social chasms based on education and finances, (DC), so not necesarily representative of the US as a whole.

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  104. I’m Logan and I’m a 26 year old white male. I read this and think that it is a well written article. I have only heard about [Miley’s] performance based on what people have plastered all over FaceBook. I can definitely see your points as a black female, but of course, I am sure I don’t see the entire scope, mainly because I grew up in a different culture. However, I can definitely say that white Americans grow up in different subcultures than do blacks. But blacks have just as many subcultures within the black culture itself. For example, my best friend is always criticized for being just as white as me, because he goes to school, doesn’t abuse the English language, and wears appropriate attire. One could say he’s just like Carlton. I will admit that this is one reason why I respect him, but only as a person, not because he is going “against” his culture. Therein lies the problem. While my parents were certainly not racist, society has literally engineered us to think that black culture (especially young black males) is solely based on that: baggy pants, terrible “ghetto” vernacular, and no desire for higher learning. That, to tell you the truth always confronts me within my own mind. I know that this is a stereotype, yet I find myself respecting my friend simply because he, as I mentioned before, goes against acting or behaving like that. But it isn’t a culture--it’s that stereotype that society and the media has littered our minds with.

    Just as my friend LaBron and I are on the spectrum of the decent side of our races, respectively, there’s always the other spectrum to or races as well. Walking past gothic, hardcore, scary looking white people wearing trench coats would give me the goosebumps just as much as walking past a group of young black males who presented themselves as “thugs.” This is natural to be wary of people, but at the same time it’s not fair. I have met more than enough people in my life, especially in the diverse United States Army to realize that (although people should ease up on the mascara and pull up their pants) the people behind the clothing, accessories, and moreover, the skin is what counts.

    About white folks literally hijacking black culture, I do agree with you. Society has not only taught us how to be prejudice, but also, in some sort of paradox, to immortalize R&B, hip-hop, etc. all the cool stuff that comes with it. We can actually credit Elvis with being the first to do this. While it’s certainly not bad in its entirety, it’s bad because the ones who may be due credit aren’t receiving it, as you mentioned. I will point out that no one is upset that Darius Rucker is fully-employed in a predominately white genre of music, so maybe what Elvis, Darius is doing now… It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

    Until then, we can only try to shake off what society and the media try to instill in us, and believe in our hearts that people are good until proven wrong, no matter what music they play, clothes they wear, or cars they drive… only through their actions and behavior.

    One last note: As a man who has had experience in interracial dating and a preference for beautiful black women, someone needs to tell Miley that unless her ancestry is from below the 30th parallel or from a continent that end in “-frica”, then she ought not to shake what she obviously doesn’t have.

    Very Respectfully,

    Logan.

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  105. As a white male I read this and am discouraged. Mostly because I recognize there's an entire aspect of the world I know nothing about fixing and feel completely incapable of fixing but somehow feel responsible for it none the less. So I guess my question is as a white male what am I to do except respect the women that are in my life? I'm readily open to suggestions. Also, although only Macklemore could confirm this but I assume that he respects black culture and recognizes that he is building off of a long tradition of culture. However, your analogy of someone wearing an Indian headdress was one I hadn't though of. It seems to me though, that if Macklemore is moved by hip-hop and feels a desire to create it, he shouldn't be told not to because of his race. But I'm open to the fact that I could be wrong and would be happy to learn something if I am.

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  106. I didn't say anything at all about her sexuality. In fact, I said she can dress any way she would like to. I am a feminist and am very clear that no woman should ever be shamed for what she wears or her sexuality. I said she made poor artistic choices and her performance was offensive in many other ways.

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  107. Thank you for this powerful piece - I hope it can spur some discourse around these issues. Your argument for the importance of intersection is well-made... I only hope young girls (of all races, colours, ethnicities, etc.) grow up in a world where they can feel like the strong, autonomous women they are.

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  108. Alexis Charles28 August 2013 01:57

    Very well said Dante. I agree. And I love Macklemore.

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  109. Yeah, as a feminist and radical I totally disagree. This isn't black culture. It's rap culture. And it is already so far injected with cynicism, bought and sold, and specifically targeted towards white audiences, that there is nothing sacred about it. What Miley did is no more or less cynical than the decision Nicki Minaj did when she reconfigured her career for commercial purposes and stopped doing things that excited herself. And no, I don't mean she started making pop music - I mean she started to make lousy music.



    As for the question of why Miley is harmless when she does it and Trayvon isn't, you could just as easily ask why Snoop Doggy Dogg is a loveable household name but someone who looks and acts like Snoop Dogg on the street is a criminal. We love the Robin Hood criminality that's bought and sold on TV but we never support it in real life. We can hear a Robin Hood fairy tale 24/7 and think it's beautiful to rob the King of England, but if someone robbed the corrupt assholes at a local Wells Fargo, the general public would be happy if they got the death penalty.


    Class warfare, greed, cynicism, nihilism and entertainment are the dominant reason for most of what you're talking about. Not race. Miley is prozac for the national depression at the end of the day, not the reason for anything.

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  110. Also I think it's completely sad and dismal that Miley used black people as accessories, but she also drew a highlighter marker over how rap culture uses black people all the time.

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  111. Bec Waterhouse28 August 2013 04:06

    I just wanted to say thanks for writing this. It was very enlightening for me.

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  112. If I'm not mistaken wouldn't you say Sir Mix-Alot spearheaded the movement to objectify black women's big butts both in song and video and he happened to be a black man, but when a young white girl plays on that premise (which tends to be accurate) it's a travesty? Believe me, the whole performance was a debacle and a huge mistake, but I think a greater concern should be for what thousands of little girls (white, black, or yellow) who idolized Miley as Hannah Montana had to witness overall. Maybe just like she and others her age may have witnessed when they saw Sir Mix-Alot's "I Like Big Butts" video...the grand original objectification of the female rump. Food for thought.

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  113. Your notion that white people cannot delve into and embrace historically black music is quite counter intuitive and to be frank it sits uncomfortably with me.

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  114. Jonathan J Lindsell28 August 2013 09:12

    This was excellent, thanks for explaining.

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  115. I have no idea if 'broodwitch' is black or not - she could be of any race for all I know. Hell, she/he could even be a man! How did any of what I say lead you to believe that? You need to change the people you hang around with, or broaden your horizons if you think that everyone believes that black women are 'angry and violent'. I don't know anyone that thinks that.

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  116. And why is that? I am yet to see you engage in any meaningful discussion about this other than responding to the obvious trolls and the people who blindly agree with you. You even deleted a comment of mine that pointed to faulty logic in one of your replies. Trust me, I am not in any way trying to inflame you. I am glad your post got attention and would love to see more coverage on this issue. However, if the messages you and other feminist bloggers put are not objective, coherent or just rooted in sensationalism, then it leaves the people who have a malicious intent where the progression of Black women is concerned with enough ammunition to tear down the cause. I am genuinely interested in WHY you vehemently disagree that Black women (such as the ones who allowed themselves to touched by Miley in her performance) should be held accountable for our actions and not just the canned responses that normally get thrown out (this is problematic...etc).

    Additionally, similar to the Indian headdress comparison that I know you already addressed, the Sarah Baartman reference is incorrect as well. I know that you were not the author of that piece but when you reference articles full of hyperbole, it does nothing to help what you are trying to achieve. This is of course assuming that what you are trying to achieve is not just attention and pageviews but helping to shed light on issues affecting Black women.

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  117. "Editor's Note: The response to this piece has become a little overwhelming and I'm having some trouble trying to reign it all in, but do know that while I may have to deal with derailers and trolls over on Groupthink, I will not tolerate them here. This blog is my safe space and I will not let anonymous commenters change that. I will be heavily moderating the comments of this article, so think before you post. If your comment accuses me of "reverse racism" or includes derogatory remarks. It will be deleted. If you slut shame Miley Cyrus, your comment will be deleted. If you derail the conversation in any way, your comment will be deleted. Be forewarned."


    So you're allowed your say accusing Miley of racism, but if we suggest reverse racism in our comment we get censored? How very grown-up of you

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  118. Hello, thanks for a great piece. I noticed you said that you spent three days dealing with this instead of looking for a real job, but something tells me a real job is going to be finding you rather quickly. You're an excellent writer and this is easily one of the most intelligent things I've read online in a long time. My question deals with the use of the term "racist" to describe Miley Cyrus and her actions. Because of the way "racist" and "racism" are used in the media, when I hear them I think of animus towards people of color, or the belief that people of color are inferior. As such, I think that when people are accused of being racist, their first instinct is to get defensive. If I had to guess, I think it is likely that Miley's performance is a product of profound ignorance rather than hatred for people of color or the belief that people of color are inferior. She probably doesn't understand 10% of what you discussed in your post because she is a product of white privilege. But I think that more than being told that what she did was wrong, she needs to understand why her actions were so problematic. And I'm afraid that using the word racist stops that discussion before it starts. No one wants to be accused of or perceived as hating people of color, so they immediately jump into the "I'm not a racist" mode and then they just don't listen. To fully understand why this performance was unacceptable, people need to listen to all the information you've presented. My initial reaction when I saw Miley was being accused of racism on social media was to think that is a little extreme. But after reading your post, I understand the problems. My concern is that other people, including Miley herself, won't understand because they'll simply shut down after racist or racism is used. Do you think anything can be done to change that? Is there a way to reshape the way we use the "racist" or "racism" so that their use doesn't end important conversations like this before they start?

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  119. Quite frankly, regardless of anyones performance (or lack thereof) on stage - I'm sure that they were all smiling when they got paid.

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  120. I agree with everything here, except the assertion that the media somehow found Miley's performance "acceptable" because she is white. I don't think the media or most people for that matter found it acceptable. However, I do think it gained more attention than any of Rihanna's similar performances, because of it's juxtaposition to her previous image of (in order of importance, in my opinion) innocent, white, young, folksy actress, which is quite simply unfair. If Rihanna were to suddenly change course and project an image that centered on those characteristics, she would not gain nearly as much attention from the wider media, yet would likely attract just as much ridicule from her current audience as Miley did from her past (Disney fans, teenage girls, moms, etc.).

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  121. I feel like she acknowledged "black" culture and sexuality in a very 'white-establishment' kind of venue. She wasn't using them, she joined them. It was only racist if you're uncomfortable seeing blackness on stage.

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  122. Good article. I think you articulated quite well why so many people are offended by Miley's performance, some I think don't even realize why they view is as distasteful.

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  123. She didn't join them. She paraded them around like they were zoo animals. There is a difference. The VMA stage was her space, not theirs.

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  124. That is not the conversation we're having here. Don't derail.

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  125. Respectability politics will not save you from racism.

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  126. You don't get to decide what is or isn't a racial issue.

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  127. I don't think that Miley has a responsibility to parent other people's children. I think she has a responsibility to not put socially unacceptable things out into the universe. But that's where her responsibility ends.

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  128. Almost always actually. Why would you think that when it comes to issues that directly affect PoC, that a WM would know their experiences better than they do? There is a level of arrogance in that assumption that is astounding.

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