Writing at the New Inquiry, Ayesha Siddiqi argues that broad interpretations of styles that flow out of pop culture should never really be surprising, but in contrasting so deeply with her “white girl” image, Miley Cyrus earns both praise and scorn for her MTV Video Music Awards “struggle-twerk.”
[Miley Cyrus’] loyalty to the white girlhood she was born into via Hannah Montana is under scrutiny. No longer confined to a Disney contract, she dresses in cropped shirts, leather bras, and bondage-inspired Versace. She’s taken cues from Rihanna and hip-hop culture at large and added gold chains, even a grill. Sixteen-year-old Miley had never heard a Jay Z song (despite the name-check in her hit single “Party in the USA”). Twenty-year-old Miley tweets screengrabs of her iPhone, boasting songs from Gucci Mane, French Montana, and Juicy J. She’s recorded with the latter two.
It would be unfair to demand Miley remain faithful to her teenage aesthetic when no self-aware person does. And it would take a dull palette to assume she couldn’t sincerely recognize the appeal of rap music and gold accessories. Her sincerity, however, is irrelevant. Charges of cultural appropriation and the rampant slut shaming she now faces draw a narrow lens to her actions. In truth, Miley exemplifies the white impulse to shake the stigma its mainstream status affords while simultaneously exercising the power of whiteness to define blackness.
She ties a bandana across her forehead like Tupac, or struggle-twerks — her ever-present tongue lolling out in challenge as she looks back at us. Each time it’s a statement declaring this is cool because it’s atypical, and it’s atypical because according to her, it’s black. Miley’s look exists because racial drag carries cachet in cultures that commodify difference …
Aping the styles available in pop culture shouldn’t shock the way it has, but in contrasting so deeply with the “white girl” she’s supposed to be, Miley earns both praise and scorn. If Miley’s new look is acceptable, it requires a tolerance for undermining black women. If it is unacceptable, it means demanding an identity, sweet and unsexed, dictated by the anxieties of white patriarchy. And a country that commodifies blackness compromises its ability to judge those who try to buy in.
Read Ayesha Siddiqi’s entire piece at the New Inquiry.
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