The Minstrelsy of the Moment: Miley Cyrus, Hank Green, and cultural appropriation
After the success of my writings on race I am experimenting with cultural critique as a genre. At the same time I’m experimenting with an essay style and a less academic, more argumentative voice. Though I’ll likely continue to publish material along those lines here (including my up-coming post on Common Humanity), I’m toying with other publication platforms for my less academic writing. I’ve published a piece on twerking and cultural appropriation (discussing Miley Cyrus, of course, but also video blogger Hank Green) on the ‘blogging’ platform Medium. An excerpt (and link) is below.
By now, I think, we’ve all taken in the pictures, read the commentary, and made up our minds on an opinion. Miley Cyrus, wearing a skin-coloured bikini thing, grinding her behind against an uncomfortably older man with her tongue stuck out and her face screwed up like she’s trying to unbutton his pants with her coccyx. It’s called ‘twerking.’ It’s a style of dance derived from Afro-Caribbean culture. It’s part of what’s called ‘ratchet,’ a low-prestige, ‘edgy’ culture associated with low-income blacks. You might call it ‘the new ghetto.’
We all know why she did it. She wants to shed her Disney image, to ‘grow up’ beyond Hannah Montana and saccharine tunes about cute boys and girl power. So she accesorises with blackness. She associates herself with black male artists from genres associated with urban black culture. She performs with black female backup dancers. She posts pictures of herself on Instagram where she displays her body to highlight (or create the illusion of) physical traits that are characteristically black. She performs blackness to build herself a cache of danger and transgression. She’s not a Disney girl any more, just look at how black she is.