Politics & Policy

Miley Cyrus Doesn’t Have a ‘Race Problem’

But her critics most definitely do.

Yesterday, we approached peak “racist,” moving one step closer to that welcome point at which the frivolous, often downright ludicrous, accusations of prejudice that invariably punctuate our national discussions will begin to deliver diminishing returns and an exhausted American public will stamp its collective feet and shout, “Enough!”

The media’s interminable focus on the gyrating non-entity that is Miley Cyrus was dippy enough before the ugly legion of the professionally offended arrived to make it somehow worse. Afterwards it was unendurable, bringing to mind that refrain of tired conservatives everywhere: “Can a society this stupid really survive?”

Chief among the purveyors of critical inanity was The Nation’s Aura Bogado, a woman who is so obsessed with race and sex that her takeaway from the Manning trial last week was that “Bradley Manning was found guilty of wanting to make the world a better place for women of color like me” and claiming in an open letter that Manning’s statement had improved upon the Declaration of Independence. Reacting in a similar vein to the MTV Video Music Awards, Bogado ranged from the incomprehensible assertion that “White is the new Miley” to the self-parodic confession that “Every time I see ‪@MileyCyrus slap that black woman’s butt, I think about the way that enslaved blacks were whipped for white entertainment.”

If this is true, I would suggest Bogado seek professional help. During her act, Cyrus wore a skin-colored latex bikini, ran a foam finger down another performer’s crotch, and “twerked” (a dance move in which one shakes and twists ones hips in a sexual fashion). Tasteful or not, none of these things has anything to do with race — let alone with slavery. It takes a particularly depraved mind to link a glorified pop concert to the transportation and subjugation of an entire class of people. It is reasonable to conclude that those that are capable of so doing lack even the most basic political judgment.

Bogado’s take on Miley Cyrus’s hit song, “We Can’t Stop,” was similarly impressive in its monomania: It is, she contended, “actually a song about how some white people can’t stop doing really racist shit.” Well, isn’t everything these days? New York magazine’s Jody Rosen certainly thinks so. “The shock that Cyrus was peddling wasn’t sex,” he wrote. “It was all about race.” And just how badly was he shocked? Well, Rosen claimed, “her act tipped over into what we may as well just call racism: a minstrel show routine whose ghoulishness was heightened by Cyrus’s madcap charisma.” Color me cynical, but one suspects that “we may as well just call it racism” is not a novel instinct for this author.

Rosen went on to observe, apparently without irony, that “a doctoral dissertation could (and will) be written on the racial, class, and gender dynamics of Cyrus’s shtick.” But of course it will. Graduate liberal-arts schools, the only places in the country in which such preposterous nonsense can make it far enough past the hysterical laughter to gain any respect, are primarily devoted to teaching students to discover things that are not there. This is not just an academic instinct, but a financial one too. To ensure the future of the college, the faculty must ensure that America’s debt-laden and probably unemployable perpetual students feel as if they have gained something concrete from their efforts, and, in the modern era, this something is the ability to see in a dimension that nobody else can. (This is a skill that is apparently better suited to inviting universal mockery on the Internet than to ensuring success in the job market.)

Nevertheless, if such a dissertation is to be thrown unread into the ever-expanding graveyard of post-graduate tosh, I nominate Isabelle Nastasia to write it. Her column, peppily titled “The VMAs Were the Racist Sprinkles on a Horrible Summer for Racial Justice,” was utterly inspired in its silliness. “Miley Cyrus’s minstrel show ‘Can’t Stop’ filled the room with the sounds and sights of the cultural appropriation of working class Black culture,” Nastasia wrote, with all the erudition of someone who has just discovered that there is literally no limit on what she can get away with. She went on to claim that rapper Macklemore only sells records because he is “a white dude” (because black rappers find it notoriously hard to sell records and win awards) and that Justin Timberlake has been “busy whitewashing R&B for over a decade,” as well as to complain that watching white artists’ “clean sweeps of the award winnings as white artists in traditionally Black music genres like Hip Hop and R&B” pushed her to put her “head in her hands.”

Per Nastasia, there is only one thing for Cyrus to do in order to atone for her sins: “She needs a racial justice consultant.” Well, naturally. In the real world, phrases such as “racial justice consultant” are regarded as the ugly child of Corporatespeak and Progressiveclaptrap; in graduate school and the small enclaves in which calling yourself a community organizer isn’t a punchline they serve as access cards to an exclusive club. And here we find ourselves in something of a bind: Upon graduation, there will presumably be no shortage of people in Nastasia’s program who are qualified to serve as such “racial justice consultants” yet they will only be needed if the likes of Nastasia continue to see and publicize what the rest of us cannot. This will thus require the consultants to both identify and fix society’s problems, creating the very perverse incentives that obtained in the first place. It’s almost as if the whole thing is a sick hoax.

The Huffington Post’s Kia Makarechi demonstrated that he, too, was able to identify Miley Cyrus’s “race problem.” This “problem,” it seems, primarily consists of Cyrus’s going “around telling people she wants to make music that ‘sounds black.’” Forgive me if I don’t call the Department of Justice right away but, as anyone with even a cursory knowledge of music history will know, artists have been copying one another in this way for a century now — and music has benefited enormously. Indeed the only way that one can stop this process of mutual copying is to segregate music completely, thus ensuring that a white woman will never have black backup dancers and that the terminally thin-skinned will never be subjected to the indignity of their fevered imaginations’ turning a music awards show into the American Civil War.

This, of course, is the road down which the conviction that every last thing is indicative of structural oppression takes a person. Music is one of the least racist industries in the United States: Not only are collaborations between artists common — both ways around — but the crossover appeal of historically racial genres outstrips anything seen on television or film. If Nastasia has her way, this will change. “Why not listen to music that doesn’t just ‘sound Black’ but is Black?” she suggested. No, thank you, Isabelle. As it was not dangerous when former slaves picked up European instruments in the post bellum South and invented jazz, it is not so when Miley Cyrus shows an interest in a traditionally black genre. “Appropriation,” of which Nastasia finds white musicians guilty, is how the game works.

Ultimately, what Nastasia and her fellow travelers are demonstrating is that they want it all ways: They want an America in which the melting pot pushes different people closer together but also in which those people are kept apart. This is their prerogative, but if they are going to see ghosts in every belfry and to struggle so manfully from the weight of their own pathetic contradictions, they might at least have the decency to stop complaining about it to the rest of us.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.


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