Why Miley Cyrus' VMAs Performance Has Racial Implications


After Miley Cyrus’ risqué VMAs performance, a few things specifically struck the audience.


Some people made mention of the creepy age gap between Cyrus and Thicke.


Several more thought Miley’s performance was “trashy.”


Many analyzed why the world was “slut-shaming” Miley, and acting as if her production was somehow new and more scandalous than her predecessors, Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. They rightfully pointed out that literally no one should care about Miley’s sexuality and that they should just let her have autonomy over how she presents that, even if it includes a foam hand as a sexual prop.





And others, they realized the dangerous racial implications of Miley’s new image and the components of her performance.


There’s a clear line between showing interest in a different culture and being exploitative of that culture; Miley crosses that line.


For one, Miley Cyrus reloaded is a prime example of cultural appropriation.


Cultural appropriation refers to adopting aspects of a culture that is not of one’s own. The taking of another culture’s style, dress, language, music, religion, etc., becomes increasingly damaging when there is an imbalance of power i.e.- dominant culture taking from minority culture without having ties or acknowledging the culture they are taking from. This is often done in a manner that dishonors the culture that has been appropriated. 


This is not a new concept.


Elvis Presley adopted black culture, sold it to a white audience, made millions, and got named “King of Rock ‘N’ Roll.” 


Madonna appropriated black and Latino gay culture with her 1990s song and video for “Vogue.”


Gwen Stefani got called out back when she was heavily influenced by Japanese culture and had a group of Asian women, her “Harajuku Girls,” follow her around everywhere.


And most recently, Lady Gaga successfully adopted Muslim culture with “Burqua.”


Taking issue with Miley’s twerking is not to say that shaking one’s behind is inherently a black thing and only black people can do it, no, no, no. Just, no.


It’s about getting credit and profiting from black culture while having no ties to black culture.


Before Elvis got credit for his moves and soulful sound, and before Madonna vogued—or whatever she was doing—black men and women were doing it. How long were black women twerking before Miley? It’s also about adapting part of black culture and then “validating” it through “white-washing.” Put a white face on black moves and all of a sudden it’s not a worthless form of dance, but now, it’s a scandalous and sexy move that young Miley has adopted to show the world she’s no Disney girl anymore.




Miley Cyrus is not black culture literate. Her performance of wearing grills and (trying, but failing miserably at) twerking in the middle of a group of black women, speaks more to how she and her camp view “urban,” (a direction she said she wanted to go to) than anything. Her being recognized by pop culture for twerking gives her notoriety under the pretenses that she will gain the comradery of “ratchet” culture while appearing cool to her peers.


It’s sort of relative to the tinge of discomfort that accompanies the exclamation by a white girl “that’s so ghetto” when talking about something trivial like a scruchie that popped, tied back together.


It’s like, do you even understand or have the capacity to decode language used in the black community and then use that language to associate, not alienate?


Another problematic aspect of Miley’s performance is that it literally uses black women as props.


As Jezebel’s Dodai Stewart points out, the black women in Miley’s “We Can’t Stop” are basically there to put emphasis on Miley’s All Grown Up narrative. 


Stewart writes:


“In the video, Miley is seen with her "friends": Mostly skinny white boys and girls who appear to be models. But in a few scenes, she's seen twerking with three black women. Are they also her friends? Or is she just hoping for street cred? Note that she is wearing white, in the spotlight, the star of the video — and they are treated as props, a background for her to shine in front of . . . In a white-centric world, putting white women quite literally in the center of the frame while women of color are off to the side is a powerful, disrespectful visual message, and it really must be said: Human beings are not accessories.”


Moreover, at the VMAs, Miley simulates anilingus on this one black woman’s behind and brings a whole other dynamic to her performance.




Firstly, we don’t even see the woman’s face. She is, in this context, nothing more than a black body used as a symbol.


This perpetuates the ideal that is still upheld in pop culture, be it movies, music or our language. It lends to the idea that black women are either three things: the Mammy, the Jezebel or the Sapphire. It sexualizes and fetishizes black female bodies in a way that has damming historical contexts and is still dangerous today. It reminds me of times when people (including POC) believed they could help themselves to my body whether it was grabbing my behind or touching my hair.


It’s tiring.


Finally, white privilege means Miley is just being ‘young, wild, and free’ when she poses for pictures with her middle finger up and her grill showing. Yet I know of a late 17-year-old who got labeled a thug for the very same thing.

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