Words || Mariah Hanna
In a recent cultural studies class we were given excerpts relating to how celebrities have been guilty of cultural appropriation and asked to discuss why it is important to remember the racial tensions attached to the origins of certain styles of expression. We didn’t get around to discussing this, however, as a boy in my group (we’ll call him Tim) first wanted to refute that celebrities are guilty of cultural appropriation at all.
Our primary example was Miley Cyrus, and her appropriation of Black culture.
Tim’s argument was that Miley Cyrus can release any kind of music she wants, she can dance in any way she wants, and she can wear whatever she wants because it is something that she likes. According to Tim, Miley simply took something she likes (that something being a part of black culture) and used it in an artistic form, and he “didn’t get why people think that is hating on black culture”.
Well, Tim. No one said Miley is hating on black culture by appropriating it. She is, however, completely disregarding the extremely complex and sensitive origins of black culture. Miley Cyrus has taken something inherently black and has turned it into a commodity. She has made money through exploiting black culture, and she has not given back to the community she has stolen these forms of expressions from. She has not raised awareness, she has not been at Black Lives Matter marches, and she has not expressed outrage at the overrepresentation of black people in America’s prison system, or the disproportionate amount of police brutality black people face.
Now please, Tim, understand that I am not saying Miley Cyrus is in any way required to be a black rights activist. She has done an enormous amount of work to raise awareness, and to support, the LGBTQI community and women’s rights and she should be applauded for that.
However, Miley Cyrus has failed to recognise the intersectional issues within each of those spheres. And to make matters worse, she appropriated a culture that she has forgotten in her ‘Bad Gal Miley’ rebellious phase.
Recently she has shed that image, and returned to her good girl country roots. Tim, if nothing else, please remember this. Miley Cyrus was able to take off the clothes that gave her a bad girl, rebellious image. Black people cannot take off their skin. They cannot remove the bias that is entrenched in Western culture, that people like you don’t even see as an issue.
Miley Cyrus was able to take an entire culture and make it into something accessible for white people. She was able to make it ‘cool’ and she gained some sort of ‘street cred’ (mostly from white people), and most of all, she gained a lot of money from it.
Meanwhile, black people are racially profiled every single day. They are called ‘ghetto’ if they wear door knocker earrings, or shake their asses in a club. Black men are shot for having baggy pants.
At the end of a very long debate in which Tim seemed more content to spout off opinions, rather than listen to where he might also be guilty of forgetting a very long and oppressed history of millions of people, Tim said, “It’s important to talk about all this. And it’s fun to stir the pot. I just don’t like when things get racial”.
It is extremely important to talk about these issues, and I feel privileged to be able to have such discussions at university. However, Tim, it’s not fun to stir the pot when it is something that remains sensitive and raw for people other than yourself.
And, it is a racial issue. The more you try to pass it off as an issue of political correctness, the more you add to foundations of systemic racism that people of colour are trying to deconstruct. When you say this is not an issue and people of colour have no right to be upset about it, what I hear is that your privilege will not allow you to see that you are a product of a society that has been built off the backs of slaves, and refuses to be sorry about it.