At this point, folks have heard a lot about Miley Cyrus’s VMA performance, and even as I write about this, I too feel a little sick of hearing her name. That said, when I saw the tumblr of Miley Cyrus twerking on “things we should talk about,” I have to say I felt some type of way. I had a hard time putting my finger on it until my good friend Avery pointed out that a lot of the folks on his social media were suddenly caring about Syria while trivializing real conversations around race and cultural appropriation that Miley’s performance brought up – that, when a cultural moment that brought up real issues for women of color, the internet was saying “Listen, that’s not important: this thing over here is.”
To some degree, I do get it – there are indeed many important, horrifying, and tragic things happening in the world, and I get that it is a larger critique of mass media’s ignorance of hard-hitting news stories for celebrity gossip. All of which is absolutely true. But here’s the rub though: culture both reflects and affects public perception of reality, and the way that the bodies of black women were used in that performance has real implications on the bodies of black women specifically and women of color more generally. Miley’s (shitty) appropriation of a black southern dance tradition, her ass-slapping of her dancer as if she were some modern Saartje Baartman, don’t go consequence-less in the world, and actually continue to reinforce the notions that black women particularly and women of color more generally are far less than human. This has real policy implications – from family cap laws for TANF recipients, to laws claiming to prohibit sex- and race-selective abortions, to Stop-and-Frisk, the devaluation of black and brown bodies has very real, often life-and-death consequences.
So yes, please do read about Syria. Please do care about what’s going on in Egypt. But to say that a deep cultural critique is not important when women of color are from multiple platforms saying that it affects us – our bodies, the ways we are perceived, the ways we live, the ways our lives are legislated – is frankly just racist. Get it together, internet – we can talk about multiple things at once. I get it that it’s easier for white folks in the U.S. sometimes to care about brown folks real far away, but the black and brown folks right here in your own country got issues too. Pay attention when we write about them.