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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 23, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Columns2013-2014

Cyrus’s twerking vulgarizes dance

Though she has gained recent attention in mainstream media for her twerking and revealing costumes, what people have to be conscious about is Miley Cyrus’s racial power play.

Cyrus’s scanty clothing certainly grabs attention, but the slut-shaming reaction to her wardrobe that consumed the Internet distracts from the less-discussed issue. Cyrus has been accused of many instances of cultural appropriation and stereotyping within the past few months, including being quoted about wanting her new album to have a “black sound.” She has used black women as props in her Video Music Awards performance and “We Can’t Stop” music video, smacking them and grabbing them at will.

As an upper-class white woman, Cyrus has the privilege of dressing and dancing the way she does without suffering the criticisms that a black woman would. People have defended her, saying that Cyrus is just going through a phase of acting out, trying to be seen as an adult and breaking away from her innocent “Hannah Montana” persona. But that doesn’t excuse this racism.

Cyrus has been quoted as saying she feels unfairly typecasted as a “white Nicki Minaj,” after claiming to love “hood music” and wanting to be more “urban.” Cyrus also said she was likely Lil’ Kim in another lifetime. To the people who accuse Cyrus of being racist, her controversial response came in the form of a tweet: “i know what color my skin is. you can stop with the friendly reminders b—h.” Her response was received with mixed reviews — people either supported her statement or accused her of trying to be black.

One of the most obvious examples of Cyrus’s cultural insensitivity is twerking. Though twerking is believed to have originated in West Africa, it has been part of U.S. culture since 1993 by way of the New Orleans bounce music scene. It did not become mainstreamed until recently. This example is often overlooked because people are distracted by its controversial qualities — most of the attention given to twerking is critical of its sexual nature and vulgarity.

The majority of us haven’t stopped to consider the bigger picture, because most attention is focused on her “sluttiness.” There needs to be an awareness of this racism that is occurring when people use these terms or participate in these trends. No one can keep you from dancing the way you want to. However, twerking as it appears in modern pop culture is racist, and there’s no doubt about it. We have to keep the larger context of the situation in mind.

Ramya Vijayagopal can be reached at rvijaya1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @itsramyav