Pop Culture, Race & Politics

Miley Cyrus’s Funhouse Mirror of Black America

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***The Champ’s latest at Complex touches on Miley Cyrus, Kanye West, race, class, and…Superman***

“To them and people like them, hip-hop is simplistic, pathological, and (most importantly) Black. Too Black. Inescapably, undeniably Black. And, anything that Black cannot possibly be artistic. I no longer feel the need to remind them that that hip-hop is a Harvard fellowship, a movie score, and a quarter billion dollar tour deal negotiated in a throwaway verse. Although hip-hop remains inherently iconoclastic, it has a stout enough resume to be genuinely iconic. It is no longer the music your parents just don’t understand. Your 52 year old dad was 18 when “Rapper’s Delight” dropped; your 72 year old grandmother listens to “Umi Says” when she crochets.

Miley Cyrus was not alive when “Rapper’s Delight” dropped. She was three when Tupac died. Four when Wu-Tang Forever made fatigues and fishermen’s caps high fashion. She is very, very, very young. And while youth isn’t an excuse to culturally appropriate without any discernible sense of context, I just can not get too upset at any act done by any post-teen that doesn’t involve murder or my Chipotle burrito. Somewhere in America, Miley Cyrus is still twerking, and I don’t give a fuck.

Actually, let me rephrase that. I wouldn’t give a fuck about her twerking, her use of Black dancers as seesaws, her tongue, or her unauthorized use of “homie” if they existed in a vacuum. Context matters, though. It does not seem to be a coincidence that Cyrus’ very public shift in behavior occurred soon after asking Timothy and Theron Thomas to create a “Blacker” sound for her; a request that that eventually led to the ubiquitous “We Can’t Stop”—a track whose video became a national Rorschach test for feelings about race, class, and ass.

“If there are 40 million Black Americans” says Henry Louis Gates Jr. “then there are 40 million ways to be Black.” To Cyrus, though, Blackness seems to correlate with ratchetness. The fact that she’s become music’s Most Very Relevant Important Person At The Moment by doing this doesn’t add insult to injury as much as it reinforces the idea that Blackness is an accessory. A prop. The clown hats, lenseless glasses, and plastic machine guns available at wedding photo booths. It’s post-racial the same way a Prius with a Charger engine in its trunk is a muscle car.

She wakes up every morning as Miley Cyrus, the daughter of Billy Ray Cyrus, and one of the few mega famous child stars to successfully make a post-childhood transition to continued stardom. The costume she dons—the ratchetness, the minstrelsy, the hood language so over the top it borders on parody—is her idea of what it means to be more Black. Miley Cyrus is Clark Kent, and Miley Cyrus’ Clark Kent is a funhouse mirror of Black America.”

***Read the rest at Complex***

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • http://missrosen.wordpress.com/ esa

    reading this reminded me of a trip to Frankfurt. i was in the airport, waiting on a table when this young kid rolled up, stopped me, and started talking about my hair. told me, “it’s so Black…. like from the Bronx.”

    i told him, “I’m from the Bronx.”

    he was in awe. then he asked me if he could do his hair like mine. i said, “you need a weave.” he said, “what?” i said, “extensions. you need extensions.” his eyes were blank. he don’t know from the Bronx, or from Black, from that beauty supply spot up in Parkchester. he didnt know a daaamn thang.

    culture vultures and appropriators tend to move along the surface of things. once upon a time in Hip Hop one of the greatest sins was to bite someone’s style and try to rock it as your own. Miley is proud to be a cultural imperialist. her privilege is showing ..

    • Agatha Guilluame

      I agree with everything except I think cultural imperialist sounds too damn urbane…a whitewashed term for a terrible thing. Like gentrification. I need something more raw.

      • http://missrosen.wordpress.com/ esa

        you are right. it’s trite. in fact, most words that come to mind are too daamn banal. it’s athe space where ignorance, arrogance, and thievery all meet under the guise of white privilege.

  • http://testorshia.blogspot.com/ Testorshia Turner

    *Applause*

    I’ve been trying to explain this to friends and coworkers alike who insist I watch her Wrecking Ball video or read the lyrics to “We Can’t Stop” or have anything to do with Miley. I’m offended by her portrayal of youth, as well as her portrayal of “Blackness.” (And for that matter, I’m also done with my local “Hip-Hop” radio station who insists on playing “We Can’t Stop” every 13 minutes and Pitbull every 15, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    I guess I could say that because her idea of “black” and my “black” aren’t the same I shouldn’t feel any particular way about it but that’s not particularly true. Her idea of “black” is that most if not all of us relates to what she’s putting out there; most of us are sexual or overtly sexual, most of us dress in gaudy, inappropriate clothes, and most of us like crappy rap music with a good hook.

    My point is, I’m not here for it. I think what she does is cheap, classless and appeals to the basest of human entertainment.

    *steps down off step-stool/soapbox*

  • Val

    “I wouldn’t give a fuck about her twerking, her use of Black dancers as
    seesaws, her tongue, or her unauthorized use of “homie” if they existed
    in a vacuum.”

    That says it all. There’s just so much history to this sort of thing.

  • http://wildcougarconfessions.com Wild Cougar

    Don’t y’all know white trash when you see it? The kids at school who would eat their boogers and pee their pants and walk around in it. You know the girls who were rumored to be pregnant with their daddy’s child. That’s Miley. She deserves to be ignored, or at most pitied. She’s a parody of herself and no one else. Definitely not worth my anger.

    • Katherine McChesney

      Interesting as there have been many reports of black men raping dogs and dead women. Miley Cyrus IS white trash posing as an oversexed black woman.

    • Alisa Hyman

      “She’s a parody of herself and no one else.” I absolutely agree. Her relevance annoys me, but only because I’m tired of watching her make a fool of herself over and over again. We get it already. Cease.

  • blackphilo

    “The costume she dons—the ratchetness, the minstrelsy, the hood language so over the top it borders on parody—is her idea of what it means to be more Black.”

    Why not Miley Cyrus? In the tradition of Elvis and Vanilla Ice, et al., she’s an appropriate White vehicle/icon for the era. What would we expect Lil Wayne, Basketball Wives, WSHH, etc. to spawn?

    Anyway, who cares about this White girl’s representation of Blackness? It’s that politics of respectability again. Her audience has zero interest in the fuller range of who we are–so they’re hardly missing anything they would have paid attention to. We are merely their criminals, dependents, “preferential treatment” beneficiaries–and, yes, entertainers. Whatever.

    • Agatha Guilluame

      Her audience has zero interest in the fuller range of who we are–so they’re hardly missing anything they would have paid attention to.

      ^^damn

  • Katherine McChesney

    Kwame Kilpatrick – 28 years in prison.

    NEXT: Chokwe Lumumba

    HAHAHAHAHA.

  • LeeLee

    “If there are 40 million Black Americans” says Henry Louis Gates Jr. “then there are 40 million ways to be Black.” THIS!

  • Zeus_23

    I don’t find Miley’s cultural appropiation offensive. Her trying too hard to change her image is more-so annoying than anything

  • Julia
  • http://peontv.com/ PeonTV

    The fact is that she become music Most Very Relevant Important as need http://www.eloantv.com/2013/08/pink-tv-18/