I tried to ignore Miley’s antics for as long as I could. After all, her catchphrase said it all – she’s just bein Miley! But when she dropped her video for We Can’t Stop, a catchy, summer-fueled jam made popular by famous hip hop producer Mike WiLL (who’s worked with the likes of Kanye West and Lil Wayne), it became impossible to look the other way.
That’s because We Can’t Stop – not to mention Miley’s Twitter, persona, and overall attitude – is riddled with cultural appropriation. (If you haven’t seen it already, go get ready to vom on your keyboard by watching it here.)
The video features Miley writhing around in an (aptly enough) all-white getup, surrounding herself with black people, who are supposedly her friends and party guests. She’s wearing a gold grill. Black women twerk around her in the background as she grabs their asses and sticks her tongue out cheekily at the camera. Basically, as VICE says, it shows her accessorizing with black people, using them as props to boost her authenticity as she tries a different sound in her music. AKA she literally said to her songwriters, “I want urban, I just want something that just feels Black.”
The message of the song is pretty simple, and matches the tone of most of Miley’s public image recently. She’s all grown now. She’s independent. Whatever, Disney Channel! She’ll do whatever she likes, because she DGAF.
Here’s why you should give a fuck, Miley. Because you grew up steeped in white privilege; with your father’s name, you’ve been wealthy your entire life. Because your simultaneous appropriation and stereotypying of black culture is harmful and oppressive. You can twerk and pretend to be “ratchet” but it only lasts for the three minutes and 34 seconds that you’re on screen, and then you can take it all off and live life as the privileged white girl that you are. Other people of color can’t do that. They have to deal with the awful stereotypes, the racism, the discrimination that comes attached to their non-whiteness.
A comment on the youtube page for “We Can’t Stop” really sums up why everything about this sucks: “I love how miley twerks. its not the casual black girl, big ass, twerk, but a white girl showing off her moves. loved it!” Great – so not only are we into the appropriation and exploitation of black culture for profit, but now we’re mocking and degrading that very culture when it’s authentically performed by black people, only to praise it when it’s performed by white people? Ugh.”