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Teasing racism out of Miley Cyrus’ tease

A professor called Pepper Schwartz, in a “special to CNN,” advises that “Miley Cyrus is sexual — get over it.”

I have. It wasn’t difficult. I knew nothing about Miley Cyrus until her lewd performance caused a fuss. And I’ve know about our debauched culture for a long time.

But not so fast, says this black feminist. It turns out that Cyrus’ performance was a racist “commodification of black female sensuality”:

[C]an we talk about the problematic and racist nature of her performance? Her literal use of people as props? Her association of her newfound sexuality with the traditional codifiers of black female culture, thereby perpetuating the Jezebel stereotype that black women are lewd, lascivious and uncontrollably sexualized? Can we talk about the straight up minstrelsy of that performance? Can we talk about how not a single black person won an award last night even though the people who did win awards have been mining black music and culture for years?

Of course we can, but would you mind going easy on the academic jargon?

I understood this jargon-free part of the rant against Miley better:

[A]ll of her backup dancers were “black women with big butts.”

I don’t quite get the use of quotation marks, though. Either the women were black and the butts were big or they weren’t. And I’d find the author’s outrage more convincing if she didn’t quote from a blog called “BigTittieCommittee.”

Cyrus’ use of “black women with big butts” is only the starting point of her racism, though:

The other major problem with Miley’s performance is the association with her burgeoning sexuality with black female bodies. . . .Essentially, what Miley has done here is indicate that 1. She wants to be sexual and 2. She needs to associate herself with black bodies to do it.

By doing this, she in inexplicably intertwining the idea of sexuality as part and parcel of black womanhood; that is, that black women cannot exist without sexuality and vice versa, and that the only acceptable way to be sexual, is to “be black”. That idea plays into deeply racist ideas about black womanhood, the idea being that black women are wanton and lascivious, and cannot control their expressions of sexuality.

I don’t get how the “intertwining” can be “inexplicable” when the author proceeds promptly to explain it as racism. Maybe she meant “inextricably intertwined.”

In any case, by this point the author senses that she is reaching (“if you think that I’m grasping at straws. . . .”). If anything, Cyrus’ performance is about her inability to control expressions of sexuality, not any inability of her backup dancers to do so.

I don’t deny that Cyrus’ performance was offensive on enough levels to perhaps have encompassed race. But it’s probably best to follow Pepper Schwartz’s advice and get over it.

Don’t expect black feminists to do so, however. Towards the end of her rant, the author quotes a feminist who predicts:

A doctoral dissertation could (and will) be written on the racial, class, and gender dynamics of Cyrus’s shtick.

I’m pretty sure she is right, and that the doctoral dissertation will be even more inextricably intertwined with the whiney, jargon-laden, standard-issue black feminist narrative than the author’s post, which comes from a blog aptly-named “Group Think.”

Hat tip to Bill Otis at Crime and Consequences.

UPDATE: For some reason, this story makes me think of a ditty that a veteran black civil rights advocate used to sing:

See that girl shake that thing.
We can’t all be Dr. King.

STEVE adds: This isn’t worthy of it’s own post, but by chance I’ll be talking briefly about Xenophon’s The Education of Cyrus in class today.  Looks like we need a modern-day Xenophon to provide us with The Education of Miley Cyrus.  Heh.

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