Miley Cyrus is America’s worst nightmare. Last night, with her performance at the MTV Video Music Awards, she proved that many people in this country are still pre-occupied with slut-shaming and coded racial condescension in the context of entertainment.
Her performance of “We Can’t Stop,” a catchy and otherwise seemingly harmless pop song, that transitioned to a duet with Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” is clearly the most talked about moment of the show, but for all the wrong reasons.
Her bawdy performance, that featured Miley and other dancers twerking on stage, drew criticism as lewd, grotesque and shameful. MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski went so far as to say Cyrus “is obviously deeply troubled, deeply disturbed, clearly has confidence issues, probably eating disorder,” on Morning Joe Monday. But what exactly is so disturbing about Miley Cyrus?
It seems that we still can’t handle what it’s like for a young woman to be able to perform, as she chooses, without layering in a heavy helping of insults as well. While Cyrus was condemned for grinding on Thicke, very little criticism has been laid on the singer himself for his role in the performance. The nastiest of the comments have implied that Cyrus is somehow diseased because of her preferred dance methods.
Add to this the fact that some people feel she is appropriating a certain amount of black culture without proper license and you’ve got a cauldron of ignorance and discrimination that even in 2013 is widely regarded as understandable, if not sensible. It is not.
When the white, 20-year-old, former child star and daughter of a country singer goes on stage and does something that the so-called ruling classes deem unseemly, it starts a firestorm. When scores of young women across the globe take the stage to express themselves in exactly the same way at an EDM concert by Diplo, and plaster their exploits all over social networks, no one bats an eye.
By implying that Cyrus is somehow creating a minstrel act of sorts by including black dancers in her act, you are implying that there is something lesser than about such an act. As if it’s completely impossible that she simply enjoys and respects the talents of those she chooses to work with. In short, it is inherently racist to imply that there is anything wrong with anyone other than black women twerking.
So, in 2013 in America, while we celebrate a young man from Seattle for having the courage to make a song out of exploring his thoughts on sexuality as a child, and eventually coming to the conclusion that hate is stupid, Miley doesn't get such a luxury. Even though all she's doing is precisely what we’re celebrating everyone else for: being herself.