I was just casually going about my morning; flicking channels, in my pyjamas, eating a double chocolate donut. When I was confronted with something so appalling at first it took me by surprise. “This can’t be real?” I screamed.
In between Cartoon Network ads for Adventure Time I flicked innocently to Channel V where I was met with a pseudo-badass gang banger, which I was told was once Miley Cyrus. But this was not the Miley Cyrus we were teethed on, the long blonde haired Hannah Montana; this was some sort of grotesque newly spawned crunk monster. Sure it had the eyes of the daughter of ‘achy breaky heart’, but the rest was a huge crap fest of confusion of such grand proportion, I didn’t know if it was racism or genius social commentary.
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In the video clip for her newest single “We Can’t Stop” Miss Cyrus adopts the Ratchet Culture of African American youth; gaudy lipstick, gold grills covering her teeth, Don King inspired jewellery, and delivering the profound lines To my home girls here with the big butt/Shaking it like we at a strip club. If you are unaware of what Ratchet is you should educate yourself with this video.
She does not just don the clothes or the ‘swagger’ or attitude of the group, Miley now ‘twerks’, a dance move established by the New Orleans dance movement in the early 90s, where the hips are wobbled in a certain “bitches and ho’s” way, made popular in rap videos. (Let’s just keep in mind this is the same girl who once sang Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah on a DisneyMania track.)
It was such a troubling image, it took serious over analysis both for and against before I set myself on the final conclusion of it being ‘distasteful’.
As anyone schooled on the systematic disenfranchising of minority cultures, or those with Google, know taking elements of a culture that has been oppressed, purely as a novelty is inappropriate at the best of times, racist at the worst.
This ‘ghetto’ image that Miley has now draped herself in is the furthest humanly possible from her own life. Born a rich white girl, heir to a one hit wonder empire and princess of Disney fame, means she has never struggled with the undereducated and discriminated culture that birthed the thug, she now seeks to emulate (Jezebel goes into depth of this topic with their article).
The gang symbols she manipulates her fingers into in nearly every scene and each increasingly disturbing twitter pic she uploads, are not part of her culture, and it can be argued that she has no understanding of their context. But is rather using them to change her appearance for greater sales, or because she is currently suffering from an acute personality disorder.
I think learning and embracing the cultures of others is a beautiful thing, it is this understanding and acceptance of cultures that makes the world a truly better place. But what this mish-mash video clip is showing is a lack of consideration, and definitely not any learning- but straight up stealing of certain aspects of Ratchet.
As Tamara Winfrey Harris says when speaking of Gwen Stefani’s Harijuku girl phase,
It matters who is doing the appropriating. If a dominant culture fancies some random element (a mode of dress, a manner of speaking, a style of music) of my culture interesting or exotic, but otherwise disdains my being and seeks to marginalize me, it is surely an insult.
And isn’t that what Miley is doing?
In the scene where Miley so gracefully twerks, she is surrounded by Africa American back up dancers, she is in all white, and is the centre of attention… Wearing all white, in a group of African American women, who have been relegated to the edges of the screen, while she dances in their style…
Let’s look at this from a less prominent person’s viewpoint.
I love reggae music; I love it so much sometimes I forget there are other genres of music- Bob Marley, Lee Scratch Perry, Inner Circle, Peter Tosh, even the new Snoop Lion stuff. But I don’t wear a Rastacap, my hair is not in dreadlocks, I don’t finish each sentence thanking Jah and calling out Rasta Man in a tuneful Jamaican accent. And there are a few reasons why I don’t do this.
- One, assuming that I know and am a part of a sub-culture of Caribbean and African heritage, when I am clearly not, is greatly disrespectful to those that have grown up in the area.
- Two, I don’t really believe in every aspect of Rastafarian religion, I don’t believe that Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia is the reincarnation of Jesus, and so prefer not to pick and choose aspects of the culture that I like and disregard other aspects that I think are not suitable.
- Three, I’m not Jamaican, so while I can enjoy the beautiful beautiful words of ‘Buffalo Soldier’ and I can get as many people listening to the genre to empower an otherwise voiceless culture, I will never be Jamaican, so all I can ever hope for is envious and longing gazes from the side line.
- And finally I am not in any way glamorising an otherwise poverty stricken area of Trenchtown in Kingston where the majority of reggae music emerged, because I have never lived in poverty.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Miley Cyrus’ and even Ke$ha’s ‘dirty south’ rebranding is picking aspects of a group from low-socio-economic areas and ignoring the issues that a predominately white society has forced upon that group, a system that has set them up to fail; where ‘twerking’ or acting like a stripper occurs because of a history of being strippers, for lack of jobs, education and constant underrepresentation.
Whether it’s supposed to be hip or cool or edgy is not important. What’s important is everybody understands just how stupidly awful this is, and how easy it can be rectified- don’t just say “HOLLA!” in an interview about appropriating black culture, embrace the uniqueness of the group you admire and draw attention to areas that can be helped by your high profile. Or don’t wear a thug bandana and pretend you’re some kind of Tupac or Biggie homey representing the bloods or the crips, because we all know you’re not. You are rich, you have been rich your entire life, I’m pretty sure you’re not a gangster and you’ve probably never shot anyone.
Now were she to give up her riches; trade it all in for a life on the streets of Crenshaw or the Bronx, if she truly did just come straight out of Compton, then sure twerk all you want, but until then, have some respect.