I feel like I’m supposed to have some opinion about this whole Miley Cyrus VMA performance. I haven’t actually watched it in its entirety, but I have seen enough clips, GIFs, tweets, and scathing critiques that I have a pretty good idea of what happens.
My first reaction is to say, ‘Little Hannah Montana done lost her goddamn mind.’ But as soon as that thought crosses my mind, I chastise myself–there is absolutely no reason to criticize or even shame her for doing something I’d do on a dark dance floor on national television. I won’t pretend for a minute that “face-down-ass-up” isn’t a position I find myself in from time to time, so I sure as hell can’t knock her for it. In fact, given my general feelings about openness with regards to one’s body and one’s sexuality, I almost feel like I should be applauding her for not giving a damn what anyone thinks. #doyouboo
But then people keep throwing this word “appropriation” around. And I’ll admit, appropriation is a concept I struggle with, especially with regard to something as complex, multifaceted, and thoroughly disagreed upon as “black culture.” The air-quotes there are legit–I can’t feel comfortable using that term in the singular. So Miley twerks. In order for Miley twerking to be appropriation, twerking must be a “black thing,” some part of our culture that she is using for her own benefit without any of the repercussions that face members of the actual group when they engage in this activity, right? Well, when as my friend R put it on Facebook, we’re seeing more media about Miley Cyrus twerking than we are about Syria, I think that Miley is facing repercussions. But that’s not even the part I want to push back on–why is twerking a black thing? Who decided that? Am I supposed to claim it as some inherent part of my culture? Because, uh, bump that shit. It’s a dance. I think of it as an American thing, I guess. As a Millennial thing. Maybe even as a ratchet thing. But I don’t think Black folk have a monopoly on ratchetness, even if we coined that term. (Did we? Ioneenkno.)
I am not rejecting our right to ratchetness out of some desire to appear proper or respectable or some such bullshit. All I’m saying is, as far as I’m concerned, shaking your ass is a fundamental human right. I don’t think anyone can own that shit, and so I don’t know that Miley can be stealing twerking from us as a people. I honestly don’t think I give a shit either way. It’s her body and she can do what she wants with it as long as she’s not hurting anybody–this is my philosophy about all persons at all times.
What I DO find problematic about her performance is the moment which she smacks the ass of one of her backup dancers and proceeds to pantomime rubbing her face in it. That crosses the line into using another person’s body as a prop, showcasing its difference from your own in a dehumanizing and stereotype-enforcing manner. I agree with those critics who are likening that moment to the way in which Sarah Baartman was made into a living caricature of black womanhood in 19th century Europe. And what I find most problematic about the discussion about her performance is that no one who is shaking their head at her is giving Robin Thicke any shit–he was just as much of a participant as she was, so cut him a slice of the shit pie if you’re serving it.
Tl;dr: In the wise words of Missy Elliott, “Girls, girls, get that cash/ if it’s 9-to-5 or shakin ya ass/ Ain’t no shame ladies do your thang/ Just make sure you’re ahead of the game”