Miley Cyrus & Modern Day Minstrelsy

This post is written by Cynthia, CT NOW board member. Its views express her own and are not indicative of anyone else’s on the Board nor does it represent CT NOW’s official stance on any issue.

I’ve never watched the VMAs and never had the desire to. I didn’t understand why they were such a huge deal, but even I heard about how  this year’s, in particular, caused an explosion on the internet due to Miley Cyrus’ performance.

So for those of you who don’t know what happened, Miley took the stage in a rather bizarre looking outfit that blended in considerably with her skin, and proceeded to prance around with a background entourage of Black women. There were several moments where she then used their bodies as props, ranging from ass slaps/grabs to simulating other sex acts with these women.

White feminists: Yes, I know that there was an immense amount of slut-shaming over Miley’s outfit. Yes, I know she should be able to wear whatever the hell she wants and that it’s immensely unfair that nobody’s judging Robin Thicke, when really, we should all be judging the hell out of him.

But people who focus solely on that are missing a HUGE elephant in the room, and it’s WHY IS SHE JUST GOING AROUND GRABBING AT BLACK WOMEN? Like seriously? No one sees that this was egregiously wrong, due to oh, the HUNDREDS OF YEARS OF APPROPRIATING BLACK WOMEN’S BODIES? Of the stereotypes and caricatures of Black women being animalistically sexual? Of Black women being violated? This portrayal of Black women hearkens back to the minstrel shows of not too long ago, and it’s incredibly frustrating that again, no one in the mainstream (read: white feminists) are really talking about it.

As a WOC feminist (but not Black), it’s been weird sometimes when issues like this or the #solidarityisforwhitewomen hashtag pop up. Because I’m fairly privileged in terms of my education, economic background, and have grown up around white feminists, taught by white feminists, and have read works by white feminists, I sometimes realize that I inadvertently overlook injustices facing other WOC, even ones of my own ethnicity or race. Also, since one of the common criticisms launched against NOW is that it seems to be a “white” woman organization, I thought it’d be especially appropriate to write it here.

For more reading about this issue (as this is what inspired me to write this post), go here, where Tressie McMillan Cottom talks about this from the point of view of a Black woman.

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