Will Dancer Daughters End Up Like Miley?

No need to panic and pull the kids out of hip-hop. But do talk with them about cultural appropriation.

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Specific criticism:

Okay ... but can we talk about the problematic and racist nature of her performance? Her literal use of people as props? Her association of her newfound sexuality with the traditional codifiers of black female culture, thereby perpetuating the jezebel stereotype that black women are lewd, lascivious, and uncontrollably sexualized?

Historical backdrop:

[H]istorically, black women have had very little agency over their bodies. From being raped by white slave masters to the ever-enduring stereotype that black women can't be raped, black women have been told over and over and over again, that their bodies are not their own. By bringing these "homegirls with the big butts" out onto the stage with her and engaging in a one-sided interaction with her ass, (not even her actual person!) Miley has contributed to that rhetoric.

 

Motivations:

By expressing her desire for a black sound, then turning up with this mess, she is playing into the stereotype that this is all black people are. To her, and anyone else whose frame of reference does not extend beyond her, this is what it means to be black ...

Notice for instance, that Miley did not say "I want a black sound" and then head for the Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, or remake herself in the image of Janelle Monae and dabble in Afrofuturism. Nope. Instead she headed straight for the "urban" music, because that is, apparently, the entirety of black culture, and it represents all black people everywhere, regardless of individual experience.

There are definitely some distinctions between the performance that inspired this criticism and what it seems your kids will be doing. Just to name a few: They'll be embracing and mastering a dance form versus imitating it; they'll be performing with a diverse group versus using black women as props; and their interest in hip-hop is sincere rather than profit-driven, or part of some dramatic image makeover.

That said, there is far from any agreement on who owns what when it comes to culture, when embracing turns to borrowing, when borrowing turns into appropriation and when that becomes flat-out racism. (See this piece in which the author Noah Berlatsky -- who I'm pretty sure is a white man -- argues that Janis Joplin doesn't get a pass for talent, and that her embrace of traditionally black musical styles still makes her racist.)

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