But what about Syria? Why talking about Miley matters

Miley "twerking" on news story about Syria

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.

New York, NY

Verónica Bayetti Flores has spent the last years of her life living and breathing reproductive justice. She has led national policy and movement building work on the intersections of immigrants' rights, health care access, young parenthood, and LGBTQ liberation, and has worked to increase access to contraception and abortion, fought for paid sick leave, and demanded access to safe public space for queer youth of color. In 2008 Verónica obtained her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She loves cooking, making art, listening to music, and thinking about the ways art forms traditionally seen as feminine are valued and devalued. In addition to writing for Feministing, she is currently spending most of her time doing policy work to reduce the harms of LGBTQ youth of color's interactions with the police and making sure abortion care is accessible to all regardless of their income.

Verónica is a queer immigrant writer, activist, and rabble-rouser.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/elo11/ ELot

    “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.” Yes!!! This and your examples to illustrate how these are related are all spot on. All of this stuff matters and is related, and we most definitely can and should keep all of it on the table for discussion.