Black Women's Empowerment

Miley Cyrus Isn’t the Only Dingbat Co-Opting What She *Thinks* is Black Culture.

So yeah, I watched with fistfuls of popcorn and copious amounts of tea as the media tore a hole into the ass-end of Miley Cyrus’ nude bikini over her debacle of a performance on the MTV music awards. She looked so…stupid…with the tongue hanging out, the ridiculous attempt at twerking with that junk-less trunk, and don’t get me started on the blind man who gave her that haircut.


Can somebody PLEASE explain the teddy bear mutilation???


The next day I watched the play-by-play of how mainstream media outlets universally panned her display along with average white folks who made it their business to distance themselves from this terribly misguided white chick who has co-opted her version of “black culture,” with the exception of feminazis who jumped to defend her right to look like a dirty slut simulating sex acts with a man old enough to be her uncle. However I was pleased that one feminist got it half right. Feminist blogger, Anne Theriault said this:

Miley is doing her best to promote herself as a part of rachet culture, which Jody Rosen describes as “the potent sexual symbolism of black female bodies,” while simultaneously treating the black women in her videos and performances as props. She is taking elements of black culture and using them to give her the patina of street cred that she wants so badly. She is playing at being black without even trying to understand what the lived experience of being black really is. She is appropriating cultural elements without taking any time to reflect on her position of privilege and how her use of the term “ratchet” or her twerking are contributing to the oppression of black people.

Even worse, in her performance last night Miley used black women as props — like, literal props — and barely anyone said anything. I saw very few people displaying any outrage over the fact that Miley was, at one point, slapping a faceless black woman on the ass as if she was nothing more than a thing for Miley to dominate and humiliate. I saw barely anyone discussing the fact that Miley’s sexual empowerment, or whatever you want to call it, should not come at the cost of degrading black women. I saw a whole lot of people giving Miley a pass for her behaviour because she’s young and naive and sheltered.



Yes, as a white girl who is a protected species, she has the ability to pick and choose what part of “black culture” she wants, a la carte. And when she’s done playing she can put that “blackness” back in her toy box right next to Barbie’s black friend, Christie. If Miley decides that next week she wants to start wearing Ralph Lauren and hang out at the  yacht club, all will soon be forgiven and forgotten.

Not so with us black women, who can’t take our blackness on and off like a pair of shoes. It’s with us all the time, and so is the microscope. That’s why it puzzles me when I see young black women, often in search of some identity, also co-opt some of the basest qualities of what is identified as black culture–loud, brash, cackling, booty-licious clothes, hyper-sexed, unfeminine–because they mistakenly think that’s what it means to be “black.” Problem is, that’s a lie some thugged-out gangster rapper told them, or some message they got from a movie. Or maybe…the messages and pressure they get from their own communities who deem themselves the arbiters of the blackness, otherwise known as the GAT-DL. Check out how black women looked in the 1940’s. They were the epitome of class and femininity.


And yeah, I know that even then racist society tried to pigeonhole black women into the ratchet trifecta–mammy, Jezebel and sapphire–but guess what? Most of the women I knew took pride in rejecting those labels and strove to keep it classy, and pulled it off splendidly.

But once we put on that ratchet persona on, unlike Mylie, we can’t easily take it off. It sticks, and sticks, and sticks, and sticks…


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