So, I totally get why T-Swift — the perennial preteen who just wants to be included — decided she wanted to chronicle herself trying (and failing at) a bunch of different styles for her new single “Shake It Off," which is about dropping pretension and just "being you." And, if you believe the video is racist, well, it probably means you haven't watched the whole thing. (Earl Sweatshirt hadn’t!)
By now, you are probably at about the same spot in the Taylor Swift-dance-video news cycle that I’m in — you’ve seen the video, and you’ve heard from a lot of people who are uncomfortable or even straight-up angry about some of the stuff in it. Pundits are saying that Taylor is simultaneously appropriating black culture and tokenizing it. Headlines proclaim that yet another white pop star is using people of color as props. For example: Some People Are Saying Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off' Video Is Racist; Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off' video sparks accusations of racism on Twitter; Earl Sweatshirt slams Taylor Swift for 'perpetuating black stereotypes'; Is Taylor Swift's New Video Offensive?
Look at Miley Cyrus or Sky Ferreira; appropriation in pop happens all too regularly. So, I wanted to see how tone-deaf Taylor was for myself, and I found myself strangely surprised.
Taylor is portrayed dancing goofily and adorably amid professional dancers in a variety of styles, including ballet, popping, breaking, finger-tutting (which, by the way, is not a complicated gang sign), contemporary dance, ribbon dancing, cheerleading, and twerking. But, of course, everyone saw that one GIF of her wearing a hoodie, carrying a boom box, and crawling between twerking butts, and an uproar began: Taylor Swift is a racist.
Calling pop culture on its frequent participation in racial stereotyping is endlessly important. Yet, in each segment of dance in the video, including twerking, Swift danced with people of all races. In fact, in that infamous butt photo from the video, there are white legs and butts in it as well. No one here is a prop, unless every dancer, regardless of race or whether they're booty-shakers or cheerleaders, is.
Ultimately, Taylor Swift’s video thesis is summed up in her last dance-style segment. She and a bunch of other “regulars” (read: non-trained dancers) — as Taylor has always marketed herself as the every teen — dance goofily to the remainder of the song. These people are various ages, races, genders, and sizes are dressed like an early-aughts Gap commercial, and are having a tremendous amount of fun. Interspersed with this are the professionals we just saw, "shaking off" (see what I did there) their professional training and just having a good time. I’ll admit that it was touching. It made me want to dance.
I’m not a huge Taylor Swift fan; I think I’ve aged out of her demographic. But, people are so ready to be outraged without any information that I can’t help but feel sorry for her. Swift may be many things — boring, overly twee, and an opportunist who capitalizes on her "approachability" — but she’s probably not a racist. THIS is racist. A fairly inclusive dancing session is not.