Miley Cyrus, Appropriation, & Ratchet Culture



mileyPhoto: Courtesy of RCA.
While The Great Miley Cyrus Twerk Scandal of 2013 marked the moment mainstream media latched onto the notion of white celebrities appropriating "ratchet" culture, it was actually nothing new. Fellow singer Ke$ha is also known for integrating over-the-top "ghetto fabulous" visuals into her videos and performances, but irritated considerably less people in doing so. Then there's Cyrus-influencer and Tumblr-era queen, Brooke Candy, and everything she represents. Meanwhile, almost two years ago, Vogue Italia was scrutinized for their March 2012 "Haute Mess" editorial, which depicted models Jessica Stam, Joan Smalls, and Coco Rocha as baby mamas with grills, candy-colored weaves, and urban-viber accessories. It goes back even further: As early as 2005, Brooklyn hipster-culture collectively came under media fire as trendy "Kill Whitie" hip-hop parties, in which white kids "ironically" acted "black" for the night. The list goes on.

These instances can be casually linked as circumstances in which people of privilege made unscrupulous choices. Others may see it as the natural free-associative consequence of hip-hop culture being the dominating pop form of the 21st century. Bullett Magazine spearheaded the polarizing topic from multiple angles, asking 13 fashion-industry and media professionals their take on the matter of race appropriation. The full feature is a well-considered and worthy read that goes way beyond usual fashion discussion and gives voice to the many sides of this complex issue. Here are some highlights: (Bullett)

"Fashion can be very powerful politically. It can bring into question or ignite a very radical idea or thought process through the power of a single image and that image can spread and spark new ways of thinking on it’s own. I think we need to just watch culture play out, say something when we feel something needs to be said, and call into question what we feel needs to be questioned. Self-righteousness is the cancer to creativity. Nobody likes a watchdog, watchdog’s aren’t lovers, creators, dreamers—watchdogs are political bloodhounds and what everyone needs, in my opinion, is more freedom." -Mykki Blanco, musician and artist.

"As we enter the second and third (plus) generations of white kids globally who have ideas of what it means to be white and align oneself with black culture, we’ve gotten to a unique moment where white women, white gay men, and other races are playing with blackness; its notions of coolness, hardness, urban-ness and specific forms of hyper-sexuality.Racism doesn’t exist less, but the merger of black cultural expression with any idea of authenticity or entitlement-to has faded as the internet archives and makes accessible any and every fetish desire, including the desire for or admiration of another culture." - Juliana Huxtable, writer.

"I read an interview with Miley Cyrus where she said she can put on a white crop top, white leggings, and white Nikes, and nobody is on her level. I’m like, girl, you know that’s what girls wear every day because they can’t afford anything else? Why do rich people want to feel poor? Classism is the new racism." - Prince Franco, Fashion Editor at Studio Formichetti.

"Appropriation occurs when bodies, typically white, popularize styles that didn’t originate with them, across a matrix of power: the power of visibility, the power to define what is “ethnic” in the market. The gains that follow are reserved for the appropriator, not the appropriated." - Ayesha Siddiqi, writer.