“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.”