Not ‘Just Being Miley’

suzy berkwotiz

I realize the 2013 VMA’s were roughly two months ago, but there are still some components of Miley Cyrus’ notoriously controversial performance that need to be brought to the surface.

Unlike many critics, I’m not going to slut-shame Miley and tell her to put her clothes back on or tostop being an attention whore. I agree that she is an artist who, in the process of shedding her previous skin, is trying on whatever feels remotely comfortable.

It just so happens that the skin Miley is currently draping over her body is one many women have tried to shed in an effort to negate the racial stereotypes they have been plagued with for decades.

Even though the artist claimed in an interview with MTV days after the VMA’s that the media are “overthinking” her performance, it’s clear the 20-year-old’s current persona perpetuates derogatory and insensitive stigmas about women of color.

Black women have historically been treated as if their bodies were not their own and did not deserve respect. The Jezebel Stereotype, which was used during slavery to rationalize the sexual relationship between a white man and a black woman, paints women of color in a promiscuous, almost animalistic, self-disrespecting light, insinuating that their urges are beyond their own control.

When Cyrus graced the VMA stage with her tongue, butt and middle finger out, she ended up making a more deeply-rooted statement than she intended to.

After having just released her new single “We Can’t Stop” — one that Rihanna previously rejected, according to MTV News — and telling songwriting team Timothy and Theron Thomas that she wanted a record that “feels black,” Miley quickly begun trying a new “ratchet” persona on for size.

But such a gimmick that appropriates black culture instead of celebrating it is one littered with reoccurring themes that many members of the targeted community have tried their hardest to nullify.

Miley Cyrus’ entire performance, which included a one-sided interaction with a back-up dancer’s behind, only perpetuated the stereotype that women of color (or “homegirls with the big butts,” as the lyric states) have only their bodies to offer.

This pattern, commonly seen in pop culture, also gives privilege to white artists who strive to appropriate black culture, making their actions socially acceptable when juxtaposed against the media’s reaction to the same behavior from a person of color.

As pointed out in a brilliantly written article on Groupthink called “Solidarity is for Miley Cyrus: The Racial Implications of her VMA Performance,” Miley’s entire persona was almost an exact replica of Rihanna’s, from the haircut and the dominatrix-style outfits to the “good girl gone bad” gimmick.

The persona, which Rihanna has been rocking for the past three years while receiving harsh criticism for, is only now being socially accepted, once adopted by Miley.

I’m not discouraging Miley from exercising her newfound sexuality. She’s shedding her Disney skin, and that’s completely understandable. I’m discouraging her from displaying minstrelsy by associating this oversexualization with black female culture.

It’s racist, degrading and does nothing but shift the gears of progression into reverse.

It may seem like Miley’s VMA spectacle was just for shock value — and in large part, it was. However, it’s unfortunate that many women of color have been taking leaps and bounds forward as successful forces to prove that their value rests far beyond their bodies, the downright disrespectful behavior of one widely-broadcasted artist seems to have shifted the movement several steps back.