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.

Miley Cyrus performs at MTV's 2013 Video Music Awards. (Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images)
Miley Cyrus performs at MTV's 2013 Video Music Awards. (Jeff Kravitz/Getty Images)

(The Root) —

“My girls, ages 8 and 10, have been in dance class since they were little. They do a variety of classes but both recently joined a diverse dance troupe that performs hip-hop around the county at various events. They love it, and honestly I don’t think they associate it with any particular race or culture.

“The recent discussion around Miley Cyrus’ performance gave me pause, though. I’m wondering whether, by letting them choose this particular extracurricular, I’m setting them up to offend African Americans or to be looked at as appropriating black culture. They’re not ‘twerking‘ (I don’t think), but I’m sure the criticism wouldn’t be limited to this one move. I really don’t know anything about dance but do aim to raise my girls to be conscious and respectful of and embrace other cultures. I thought having them in hip-hop might be a part of that, but now I’m questioning a lot.” –Troubled by Preteen Twerking

Sadly, I can’t offer any guarantees about how to ensure that your daughters’ performances will always be well-received across the board and across cultures. But I will say this: The very fact that you’re even a little bit concerned on their behalf means you’re a lot more responsible than Miley Cyrus, whose vapid response to the volumes of criticism of her MTV Video Music Awards performance and its implications was this: “You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it. Like, I didn’t even think about it ’cause that’s just me.”

Well, not thinking about what might be motivating your choices and how they affect others in the world is one choice. Good for you for making a different one.

Still, I’m not at all sure that you should be as concerned about hip-hop as an extracurricular activity as Cyrus (and her choreographers, or whoever’s in charge of her) were as they were coming up with the infamous performance. You seem to be thinking of it like this: “A young white woman did this dance move and people started talking about racism, so the same thing could happen to my daughters if they perform at the county fair.”

I think it’s more complicated.

Everything Cyrus did onstage that night, against the backdrop of her earlier declaration that she wanted a “black sound,” has, in many of the public discussions about it, been subjected to some extreme shorthand. People are just calling everything that happened on the stage “twerking,” I suppose, in part because it’s a fun, new (to a lot of people) word that provides great fodder for “scientific” articles and explanation. (Plus, there’s the theory that people just like saying it.)

But one word doesn’t capture it when we take a closer look at the nature of the reaction in a race-related vein — and it really wasn’t even about that particular dance. (And the other debates about sexuality, feminism, blame, age-appropriateness and whether commentators and HBCUs alike should be scoffing at the dance as if it were the worst thing ever are way outside the scope of my response.)

You should read this whole piece, but here are a few excerpts from Jezebel’s “Solidarity Is for Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of Her VMA Performance.”

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.