When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland

This may meander.

Miley Cyrus made news this week with a carnival-like stage performance at the MTV Video Music Awards that included life-size teddy bears, flesh-colored underwear, and plenty of quivering brown buttocks. Almost immediately after the performance many black women challenged Cyrus’ appropriation of black dance (“twerking”). Many white feminists defended Cyrus’ right to be a sexual woman without being slut-shamed. Yet many others wondered why Cyrus’ sad attempt at twerking was news when the U.S. is planning military action in Syria.

I immediately thought of a summer I spent at UNC Chapel Hill. My partner at the time fancied himself a revolutionary born too late for all the good protests. At a Franklin Street pub one night we were the only black couple at a happy hour. It is one of those college places where concoctions of the bar’s finest bottom shelf liquor is served in huge fishbowls for pennies on the alcohol proof dollar. I saw a few white couples imbibing and beginning some version of bodily grooving to the DJ. I told my partner that one of them would be offering me free liquor and trying to feel my breasts within the hour.

He balked, thinking I was joking.

I then explained to him my long, storied, documented history of being accosted by drunk white men and women in atmospheres just like these. Women asking to feel my breasts in the ladies’ restroom. Men asking me for a threesome as his drunk girlfriend or wife looks on smiling. Frat boys offering me cash to “motorboat” my cleavage. Country boys in cowboy hats attempting to impress his buddies by grinding on my ass to an Outkast music set. It’s almost legend among my friends who have witnessed it countless times.

My partner could not believe it until not 30 minutes later, with half the fishbowl gone, the white woman bumps and grinds up to our table and laughing tells me that her boyfriend would love to see us dance. “C’mon girl! I know you can daaaaannnce,” she said. To sweeten the pot they bought our table our own fishbowl.

My partner was stunned. That summer we visited lots of similar happy hours. By the third time this scene played out my partner had taken to standing guard while I danced, stonily staring down every white couple that looked my way. We were kicked out of a few bars when he challenged some white guy to a fight about it. I hate such scenes but I gave my partner a break. He was a man and not used to this. He didn’t have the vocabulary borne of black breasts that sprouted before bodies have cleared statutory rape guidelines. He didn’t know the words so he did all he knew how to do to tell me he was sorry this was my experience in life: he tried to kick every white guy’s ass in Chapel Hill.

I am not beautiful. I phenotypically exist in a space where I am not usually offensive looking enough to have it be an issue for my mobility but neither am I a threat to anyone’s beauty market. There is no reason for me to assume this pattern of behavior is a compliment. What I saw in Cyrus’ performance was not just a clueless, cultmileyurally insensitive attempt to assert her sexuality or a simple act of cultural appropriation at the expense of black bodies. Instead I saw what kinds of black bodies were on that stage with Cyrus.

Cyrus’ dancers look more like me than they do Rihanna or Beyonce or Halle Berry. The difference is instructive.

Fat non-normative black female bodies are kith and kin with historical caricatures of black women as work sites, production units,  subjects of victimless sexual crimes, and embodied deviance. As I said in my analysis of hip-hop and country music cross-overs, playing the desirability of black female bodies as a “wink-wink” joke is a way of lifting up our deviant sexuality without lifting up black women as equally desirable to white women. Cyrus did not just have black women gyrating behind her. She had particularly rotund black women. She gleefully slaps the ass of one dancer like she intends to eat it on a cracker. She is playing a type of black female body as a joke to challenge her audience’s perceptions of herself  while leaving their perceptions of black women’s bodies firmly intact.  It’s a dance between performing sexual freedom and maintaining a hierarchy of female bodies from which white women benefit materially.

The performance works as spectacle precisely because the background dancers embody a specific kind of black female body. That spectacle unfolds against a long history of how capitalism is a gendered enterprise and subsequently how gendered beauty norms are resisted and embraced to protect the dominant beauty ideal of a certain type of white female beauty.

Being desirable is a commodity. Capital and capitalism are gendered systems. The very form that money takes — paper and not goods — is rooted in a historical enterprise of controlling the development of an economic sphere where women might amass wealth. As wealth is a means of power in a capitalistic society, controlling this means of acceptable monies was a way of controlling the accumulation, distribution and ownership of capital.

For black women, that form of money was embodied by the very nature of how we came to be in America.

Our bodies were literally production units. As living cost centers we not only produced labor as in work but we produced actual labor through labor, i.e. we birthed more cost centers. The legendary “one drop” rule of determining blackness was legally codified not just out of ideological purity of white supremacy but to control the inheritance of property. The sexual predilections of our nation’s great men threatened to transfer the wealth of white male rapists to the children born of their crimes through black female bodies.

Today much has changed and much has not. The strict legal restriction of inheritable black deviance has been disrupted but there still exists a racialized, material value of sexual relationships. The family unit is considered the basic unit for society not just because some god decreed it but because the inheritance of accumulated privilege maintains our social order.

Thus, who we marry at the individual level may be about love but at the group level it is also about wealth and power and privilege.

Black feminists have critiqued the material advantage that accrues to white women as a function of their elevated status as the normative cultural beauty ideal. As far as privileges go it is certainly a complicated one but that does not negate its utility. Being suitably marriageable privileges white women’s relation to white male wealth and power.

The cultural dominance of a few acceptable brown female beauty ideals is a threat to that privilege. Cyrus acts out her faux bisexual performance for the white male gaze against a backdrop of dark, fat black female bodies and not slightly more normative cafe au lait slim bodies because the juxtaposition of her sexuality with theirs is meant to highlight Cyrus, not challenge her supremacy. Consider it the racialized pop culture version of a bride insisting that all of her bridesmaids be hideously clothed as to enhance the bride’s supremacy on her wedding day.

Only, rather than an ugly dress, fat black female bodies are wedded to their flesh. We cannot take it off when we desire the spotlight for ourselves or when we’d rather not be in the spotlight at all.

This political economy of specific types of black female bodies as a white amusement park was ignored by many, mostly because to critique it we have to critique ourselves.

When I moved to Atlanta I was made aware of a peculiar pastime of the city’s white frat boy elite. They apparently enjoy getting drunk and visiting one of the city’s many legendary black strip clubs rather than the white strip clubs. The fun part of this ritual seems to be rooted in the peculiarity of black female bodies, their athleticism and how hard they are willing to work for less money as opposed to the more normative white strippers who expect higher wages in exchange for just looking pretty naked. There are similar racialized patterns in porn actresses’ pay and, I suspect, all manner of sex workers. The black strip clubs are a bargain good time because the value of black sexuality is discounted relative to the acceptability of black women as legitimate partners.

There is no risk of falling in love with a stripper when you’re a white guy at the black strip club. Just as country music artists strip “badonkadonk” from black beauty ideals to make it palatable for to their white audiences, these frat boys visit the black body wonderland as an oddity to protect the supremacy of white women as the embodiment of more and better capital.

My mentor likes to joke that interracial marriage is only a solution to racial wealth gaps if all white men suddenly were to marry up with poor black women. It’s funny because it is so ridiculous to even imagine. Sex is one thing. Marrying confers status and wealth. Slaveholders knew that. Our law reflects their knowing this. The de rigueur delineation of this difference may have faded but cultural ideology remains.

Cyrus’ choice of the kind of black bodies to foreground her white female sexuality was remarkable for how consistent it is with these historical patterns. We could consider that a coincidence just as we could consider my innumerable experiences with white men and women after a few drinks an anomaly. But, I believe there is something common to the bodies that are made invisible that Cyrus might be the most visible to our cultural denigration of bodies like mine as inferior, non-threatening spaces where white women can play at being “dirty” without risking her sexual appeal.

I am no real threat to white women’s desirability. Thus, white women have no problem cheering their husbands and boyfriends as they touch me on the dance floor. I am never seriously a contender for acceptable partner and mate for the white men who ask if their buddy can put his face in my cleavage. I am the thrill of a roller coaster with safety bars: all adrenaline but never any risk of falling to the ground.

I am not surprised that so many overlooked this particular performance of brown bodies as white amusement parks in Cyrus’ performance. The whole point is that those round black female bodies are hyper-visible en masse but individually invisible to white men who were, I suspect, Cyrus’ intended audience.

No, it’s not Syria but it is still worth commenting upon when in the pop culture circus the white woman is the ringleader and the women who look like you are the dancing elephants.

445 thoughts on “When Your (Brown) Body is a (White) Wonderland

  1. Really interesting analysis – have to admit hadn’t even heard of Cyrus (disabled, housebound and obviously out of the zeitgeist on this one!). I’m a white woman in the UK, and I know you’re not writing this to ‘educate’ people like me. But I have noticed a trend for having ‘curvy’ black women backing up skinny white female singers, either as singers or dancers, on tv here in the UK too and it makes me instinctively uncomfortable. With my lack of experience though, I couldn’t get further than that. Great to read your take on it, and disturbing to understand its roots.

    In my experience as a member of a very different oppressed group (disabled people), it can take a lot of effort to stay angry instead of rolling over and taking what’s thrown at you, but my god that anger is needed! I admire your energy in keeping that righteous anger and channelling it into pieces like these.

    P.S Sorry for adding to your follower count on Twitter, I’m afraid you’re just too interesting…!

  2. While I think this is an excellent and insightful piece I did want to pass on my personal experience to you as it adds complexity to what we’re working with…the oppression of women. Particularly women that are, because of body shape, sexualized without their consent and presupposed to enjoy it. I am a white feminist and an historian of 20th century social justice movements in an international context. I both understand and struggle with the rift in the women’s movement over class and race – and to be fair, over size… But on to my experience. I’m tall. I’m pretty. I don’t stop traffic, but I turn the occasional head. I’m mostly normal weighted. I have a nice round bottom – and freaking huge boobs. A 34G. Black and white women grab them. White men motorboat them (and are bloodied for it). People assume I’m down for sex or lewd suggestions all based on their desire for or fascination with my breasts. They use them to try to control and degrade me. And to hell with that. Now, I am entirely sure there are differences. I am aware of my privilege. And, isn’t interesting how no man of color has ever approached my chest without respect? But women have. But then we are taught not to respect other women are we not? Anyway, just some thoughts your excellent post inspired. My petite friends have never had similar experiences – I’ve checked, obsessively.

    1. Dont know if this will clarify but:
      I am black and busty. I can differentiate racial fetishisation from large breasts fetishisation. I have experienced what the author has experienced and what you have experienced. Not sure how I can specifically describe it but I can tell which is which when it occurs to me. I only wish I wasn’t as shocked each time as I was the previous times and I wish I had some quick way to react to those situations.

    2. There is a stigma with women and having various parts of our anatomy larger than those of others. I am a petite woman with large breasts. I have no rear and no hips and am quite short, but I have very large natural breasts. I remember beginning in middle school that if you were a female with large breasts, you were pegged as a slut by all of the other girls. For no reason other than the large breasts that none of us could possible cause with our own will. I did not grow mine until immediately after middle school, but in high school they brought upon me an entirely different experience. I was looked at as a disgusting POS with my lack of care for fashion trends and fitting in. I wore large t-shirts and large jeans and hid my body. But, you can’t hide large breasts from young male eyes. I would be treated like a product for my breasts. I’ve been called “titties” by strangers, loudly in public. It’s humiliating.

      I spent my entire 9 months of pregnancy working as a teacher at a very small private Christian school. My superior was always watching how well my breasts were covered. Nearly every single day she would approach me and ask me to cover myself. It didn’t matter if you couldn’t see anything until I leaned forward – it was enticing those young men with my nasty breasts. As a large-breasted woman, you know that we can only hide so much without wearing turtlenecks. It became infuriating, but it wasn’t the first time I’d had a female employer treat me unfairly with disdain over my breasts. It’s apparently a point of contention for many women who do not have large breasts. It’s an absolute shame that men feel we should be treated extra rudely for our large, naturally grown mammaries or rears and other women feed into that by treating us like enemies.

  3. And another thing. . .while I am clearly not Beyonce/Halle, shoot even Gabrielle Union. . . .and yes, Gabi is BEEYOOTIFUL but you know what I mean. . . . folks get really angry when I step out of the Mammny-confidante/eternal bridesmaids role. Really angry. Like tear up your life angry. I remember a co-worker here in Portland saying to me “You seem so confident in your beauty. . WHY is that?” and she really wasn’t tryna be mean. Another co-worker when I was talking about being hit on and my boyfriend at the time’s difficulty with same, was dumbstruck. She coul not imagine someone finding me physically attractive. You could see the wheel turning in her head as she asked question after question. . to determine how this could be.

    1. So many people have it totally wrong…including you. Sexy is not about looks, it’s about attitude. I’ve seen gorgeous women who acted like they were the preacher’s wife and didn’t have a sexy bone in their body, and then I’ve seen women who wouldn’t place in a beauty pageant, but the way they carry themselves and talk to you, makes them the hottest thing on the dance floor… When your friend was asking you about how you can be so sure in your beauty… it had NOTHING to do with your looks or race…PLEASE… but nice of you to give your “friend” the benefit of the doubt…she was honestly asking you that because you could do something she couldn’t… she really wanted to know because 99% of women have a problem with their image and how other’s view them.. I’m sure she wanted to know how you do it so she could love herself more and give off that confidant vibe. I just don’t get women like you…the first thing you always think in any situation with someone of another race, is to be the victim and come up with all these outrageous scenarios on what you think they are really thinking… when 9 times out of 10, it is what it is and just maybe someone is actually admiring you!

      1. Phil – I’m a white woman who saw what the author saw. A young, socially inept young white woman using large black women to bolster her ego. I found her performance far from ‘sexy’. it was raunchy and inappropriate for a mixed age audience.

      2. Great response, Phil. I agree. The vast majority of women in the US are uncomfortable with their looks, no matter how unattractive or attractive they are. I would ask another woman the same question – “How are you so confident in your beauty?” I really do want to know. Not because I think you have no right to be confident, but so I can learn to be confident in myself, as well. To embrace whatever beauty I may have.

      3. No, Phil thanks for the attempt to discredit my life experience, but you got it soooo wrong you prove the rule rather than the exception. I know when I am being admired and I know when I am being treated like a zoo animal. I’ll pass on the mansplaining. . .

  4. Thank you for talking about this. I’m writing a horror novel set in antebellum New Orleans, and my protagonist is a slave. The horror comes from the mundane and accepted treatment of black bodies. I’d love to talk with you about this more if you are interested.

  5. I never thought anything of merit could come of Miley twerking. Thankfully, your thoughtful perspective has opened my eyes quite a bit.

  6. Thank you for this. When the performance first happened it actually took me back to days when I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa, where fishbowls at dive bars with a 98% white crowd were also the thing. And the same thing happened to me because I have large breasts – even more of an anomaly to them because I am not fat and my other features fall in line with traditional beauty standards (I’m a light skinned black woman with relaxed hair).

    I have never been able to articulate why those moments didn’t sit right with me, and truthfully when they first began to happen they just baffled me, and sometimes I would play along. But my gut reaction to the Cyrus performance and your analysis have helped me name it as a benign (because of race factor) sexual objectification. It also helps to flesh out why for so many years I have indeed had a problem with the idea of me personally being in an interracial (with a white man) relationship. Because for most of my life, the type of white men I interact with are more likely to treat me as described above, than as a human being who they genuinely found beautiful and not just a fetish other who was fascinating.

  7. Thank you, thank you for writing/posting this brilliant analysis, and so quickly. I’m sharing widely, and especially with students, whose read on the situation seems to be quite limited.

  8. Profound piece of writing. Thank you. I hope that this piece enlightens multitudes of people. Your mind is gorgeous.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences through your blog. This is one of the smartest, most insightful pieces I have ever read and offered a perspective I would not understand, had I not read this. Amazing!

  10. I think people shy away from talking about it because 1) You have to be already conscious of history and privilege to understand what Miley is doing. 2) Without a white, pointy hat, it’s hard to convince any white people that anything else might be racism so you will be fought tooth and nail to try to get your point across.

  11. This is a fascinating and insightful article. Thank you for writing it.

    I do have a question, though. This debacle was the product of many, many people. There were costumes designed, dance moves were professionally choreographed, and the entire thing was greenlit by management. Thicke was in just as visible a role, and he approved the performance by doing it, while singing a song which is incredibly objectionable, yet he isn’t being criticized.

    Why are you assuming that Cyrus was the one who made all the decisions? I expect the media at large to fail to see the implications of that, but I’m seeing the same behaviour from people I would have expected to not reinforce such patriarchal nonsense, and it puzzles me.

    1. ted, i think tressie and others are focusing in on miley because:

      a) she is the one doing the majority of appropriation (not just at the VMAs, but in her new look/sound/etc),

      b) as a wealthy white woman, she still has more privilege and agency over her production than her back-up dancers, or producers (ie she didn’t *have* to slap a black woman’s ass), and

      c) she has the most to gain from this–she juxtaposes herself with curvy black women and is promoting herself and her brand. all those other people who green-lighted this production are not going to profit from this spectacle and appropriation the way miley will. not even thicke, since this is not a departure from his previous look/sound.

      i agree that there is patriarchal nonsense in the way this is being discussed, but i don’t think it’s necessarily patriarchal for a black woman to point out the problems associated with appropriation and its reinforcement of hierarchy in this moment.

      1. Cyrus certainly enjoys privilege over the other women on stage, but she has far less than Thicke does, and neither has the clout of the people running the show.

        I don’t for a second think that Tressie intended to portray Cyrus as being the sole authority here, and thus the only person responsible. That’s something the media is doing, and her reflection of it really just indicates that she was focused on something else.

        Still, I’d like to hear what she thinks on the topic. If this article is any indication, it would be well worth reading.

        1. i don’t like to speak for tressie, because i know that she is more than capable of speaking for herself. however, i do know that this post (and the comments above) have morphed into added work for an already over-worked phd student. so i’m just going to say this: knowing that tressie is a scholar of organizational theory, i’m sure that your point about the hidden structures are not lost on her. however, this doesn’t mean that miley has no agency. and this spectacle does not stand alone. there are the twerking videos of miley in a unicorn outfit, the recent music video (same theme–white miley with curvacious black women, sexual overtones). and the direct quote that has been flying around about miley wanting her new sound to be “black.” this didn’t start at the VMAs…it’s just a more public display.

    2. Part of the reason people are focusing on Cyrus is because she declared herself the “Queen of Twerking.” Repeatedly. Why that’s appropriative and problematic should be obvious; this would be like Vanilla Ice declaring himself the Greatest Rapper Who Ever Lived, as if he’d invented the genre. (It’s been going on for decades, both more and better, and nobody felt the need to even try to claim ownership until… Miley Cyrus??) The desperate grasping, the lack of self-awareness, and the sheer unbridled entitlement is absolutely breathtaking. And when people said it was offensive, she basically gave them all the finger and kicked it up a notch.

      Worse, her offensive posturing— jigging??— has been backed up by (mostly glaringly white) industry media, which is an intolerable slap in the face. Again, imagine Rolling Stone accepting and enthusiastically retransmitting a Vanilla Ice “World’s Greatest” claim. It’s… perverse. And it’s just plain suspect. The t’s-cool/sexy/revolutionary-when-a-white-person-does-it thing has simply happened too many times.

      So understand: this VMA performace, coming months after the initial outrage(s) was merely the last straw for a lot of people. It’s not that it was qualitatively worse, it’s that it put the quantity well over the limit.

    3. […continuing]
      As for why few people seem to have a problem with Robin Thicke’s part in this? Well, I’m going to put that down to:
      1) prioritization/overload. There’s a limit to how much insult one person can deal with at once. Again, the racism nightmare came first, both in general and that night specifically, so it’s probably stolen some outrage oxygen from the sexism nightmare.

      2) sexism/patriarchal culture. Not only is it completely nontraditional to call out a man for heterosexual behavior, taking what’s “available” (however symbolically) is just a male right! It’s her job as a woman to be a sexual gatekeeper and to control her dangerously tempting female body, but he has no responsibilities there. Hence the uni-directional callouts. Meh.

      3) ambivalence. This isn’t pretty, but… truth? I suspect some people are less inclined to wade into what they feel is, relatively speaking, a “white people problem.” It may be “illogical,” but it’s a sad fact that dealing with constant racialization has a very erosive effect on empathy. Should she be taking fire as a woman? No. But would her defenders come to my aid when I’m taking fire as a black person? I don’t believe they would. At times like this, it can really feel like sexism is a problem for everyone, but black exploitation is only a problem to black people. It’s like a leaky boat: sure, logically, a leak anywhere hurts everyone, but when you’re the only one who seems to care about the leaks in your cabin and your stuff is getting wrecked (and when you mention that it’s, “but, the common room!!”) sometimes it’s just like, “my room is half underwater. Screw the leaks in the common room. Most of what’s in there isn’t even mine.” (And, to continue the analogy, the common room is leaking due to age, whereas a lot of the holes in my room are drilled by the other passengers. Why would it ever cross my mind to leave my family’s heirlooms to be ruined so I can go help them save their drill bits?)

      It’s also highly worth noting that the sexism issue is very much a part of the racism issue here (see point #2), and that this is a very complicated intersection. There is some history of blackness being viewed as a corrupting force for white people, particularly white women, which means particularly in regard to sexuality. So when Miley Cyrus wraps herself in black female sexuality stereotypes in order to feel “freer” and more “outrageous,” and dry-humps a (white, hmm) man on a PG13 stage, two things happen. Some take her at her word, and treat her as they would a black woman— unworthy of protection. She forfeits her right to the Pedestal and becomes an “oversexualized” “hussy,” potential “homewrecker,” and a threat to white femininity. OTOH, others see her as a victim (of blackness??) to be rescued and defended. Either way, though, all of the focus is on the woman and her sexuality and none of it is on the man’s. A fairly classic sexuo-racial pattern.

  12. I am a gay, Caucasian male in my mid-40’s living in the USA and I found this analysis fascinating, thought-provoking and extremely intelligent! At first I found it amusing that everyone was so “outraged” and “sickened” at Cyrus’ performance, assuming that they were offended by the overt sexuality of her display. I believe sexuality is a gift that should be celebrated and expressed freely…in the home, in the bars, on the stage and in the streets. I know I am not in the majority here, at least not in my country where most people have a repressed, puritanical view of human sexuality. Why must sexuality be something that is private, hidden, and secretive…as if it’s something about which we should be ashamed?

    After reading this analysis, my thinking has broadened and I am able to see this issue from a different perspective. Well, I am able to “see” it to the extent that my gay, white, middle-aged, male eyes and brain will allow me to identify with and have understanding for the experiences of black women. I do not know what it is like to be viewed as a black female by a white male, but I do know what it is like to be marginalized and judged simply for being who you are.

    There are social and political disadvantages to being a gay male in US culture. But one of the many things that I love about being gay is that I can admire, appreciate and adore the female form without having any sexual attraction or desire to fondle, “motorboat,” or otherwise cross any personal boundaries. I must confess, however, I do “objectify” women’s bodies because I believe they are beautiful works of art in all of their shapes and sizes. So, I will apologize if my choice to make the female figure an “objet d’art” is offensive, but I will not cease to admire the beauty, diversity and splendor that Mother Nature has gifted to us in the female form.

    1. Kevin I totally agree with you. I knew there was something about the performance thatI didn’t like, besides the song which I hated, the writer articulated something that I couldn’t. So great.

  13. I hadn’t really considered Cyrus’s performance this way. I thought it was tasteless and silly, but I chalked it up to “sex sells” and the bizarre expectations of people in general to be shocked and titillated by performances so they can later complain about being shocked and titillated.

    I hadn’t really thought about the other dancers in relation to Cyrus, and now that I am thinking about it, I’m having to re-evaluate not only my opinions on her performance, but my own opinions which I have apparently not examined in any great detail.

    Thank you for this, for opening my eyes a little, I am going to give this a lot more thought.

  14. Let me join the chorus here…great analysis. Especially in light of how much everyone was willing to dismiss the Cyrus performance as irrelevant and not worthy of talking about.

  15. Excellent perspective! It’s so common to confuse diversity/inclusion with tokenism/fetishism. No doubt that Miley thought that her show was in service to all women by including exaggerations of less popular body types. However, the danger always arises when we attempt to make such statements without engaging in inclusive conversations with people different from us. As a gay black man…..I struggle with my attraction to white men and my appeal to the white male physique. As a physically fit, educated, black man I get far less physical attention than my white counterparts. The reality is that we live in a world of power and privilege that is meshed with personal preference and psycho-social identity. If we seek to move beyond the pain of ignorance and self-loathing, we must accept such controversial Miley-like performance’s as opportunities for constructive conversations in order to bring about cultural enlightenment.

  16. Wow. Thank you for writing this. I wrote a post about this yesterday, and just updated my post with a link to yours. People need to realize how their actions affect others and what it communicates. Absolutely brilliant.

  17. Wow. This really made me think. Just curious, if Miley’s backup dancers had looked like, “Rihanna or Beyonce or Halle Berry” would that have made the performance (for lack of a better word) “acceptable?”

    1. A good question. However, it will never happen. One thing about this phenomenon is that she would never place a black woman who didn’t fit the caricature next to her. Then people would size her up and compare, and she wouldn’t measure up, and she certainly couldn’t have that.

    2. Yep would never happen. They’d have to put her boyish figure against the backdrop of the common black caricature the media is familiar with to explicitly keep her from such comparisons. She would not fare well at all. Furthermore, no one wants to see Beyonce, Halle Berry or Rihanna twerking, the women who would make Miley look bad do this dance for either a profession or for fun/likes on Vine/Youtube etc… they are not singers and actresses.

  18. It seems a little negligent that she wrote this huge article without ever discussing the actual lyrics that drove Miley’s decision to include black backup dancers.

    “To my home girls here with the big butt
    Shaking it like we at a strip club
    Remember only God can judge ya
    Forget the haters cause somebody loves ya”

    So, yeah. Miley is trying to affirm the girls with the big butts,their bodies, and their right to have fun however they choose. Meanwhile, the professionally indignant are trying to convince these same girls that they’re somehow a combination of laughingstock and livestock.

    1. Even Miley’s own words “to my home girls here with the big butt shaking it like we at a strip club” proves the premise of the article. By which I mean, it’s Hottentot Venus all over again. The mere fact that the (black) bodies are curvier and the butts are larger places them in an overly sexualized “strip club” place. As if, there’s something inherently more sexual, more risque, and more deviant about the movement of a larger black body than of someone else’s. What part do folks not understand, or not want to understand, about why this is a problem?

      To put it in simpler terms. When I met my now-husband’s parents for the first time, I was wearing a very tame round-neck top that, when I bent in a certain direction, showed the barest bit of cleavage. I am a brown, curvy black woman and they are really Catholic immigrant asian folks. Well, my husband’s mom sent him into the living room to ask me to change my shirt because it was making his dad (who I already know to be very hateful towards black people) uncomfortable. This is the same man who has said, “You can satisfy yourself sexually with a black woman, but never marry one.” Anyway, I got extremely offended and insulted, cried, and refused. And I calmly explained to his mother why I felt this way. Basically, I said to her, “I am a child of God and there is nothing shameful about my body. I won’t be made to feel as though there is, and I certainly won’t participate in my own harm by going along with this request. Further, why is no one concerned that this man is so preoccupied with what’s going on under my shirt?” Anyway, I’m not at all sure she understood, but one of the things she said in explanation was that, if my breasts were smaller (like hers and her daughters’), it probably wouldn’t be a problem. Smh. Meaning, again, that there’s something inherently more risque, sexualized, and inappropriate about a hint of my breasts literally just by virtue of how my body is made. That it’s acceptable for people to project their exoticized “wonderland” ideas onto my body, just because of how it looks. Not because of anything that I am, that I’ve done, expressed, etc. And this disgusting logic is rooted in the age-old race theories that used the body type and appearance of black women’s bodies to rationalize and justify not only slavery, but rape, forced breeding, etc. by saying that we were “designed” for sexual exploitation, that we liked it, and it’s all we were good for.

      I would also mention, when it comes to Cyrus’ supposed affirmation of curvy black women, what in the world makes you or her think that black women want or need affirmation from her? What, other than our perception of this young, wealthy, thin white woman as representative of a powerful, privileged, white feminine ideal, places her in a position to affirm or empower these less privileged women with just her words? By motorboating a big black butt on tv? Really? She’s not black or curvy, but is cashing in on the dance artistry and musical style of mostly queer, poor, black people. Claiming it as her own and using these anonymous black bodies to lend credence. Are you really suggesting that we curvy black women should be thanking Miley Cyrus for giving us permission to shake like we’re at a strip club and love ourselves? Particularly in this context? Gosh. That is quite a notion.

      1. thank you for sharing your story, danette! i’d also like to add–i’m pretty sure miley didn’t write the song, and the simple act of choosing it–much like her new identity and “rachet image” is wrapped up in appropriation and making money.

    2. Affirm? Nope. As a white woman with a similar build to the black dancers in the video, I had to ask myself “what if they looked like me?” The answer is obvious: “it would be blatant mockery of fat women”. I mean, the star was thin and dressed “sexy” while the fat women paraded around ridiculous teddy bear costumes and got spanked. They were clearly portrayed as the (ahem) butt of a joke. If they were white the indignity would be obvious to everyone, but directed at black women, apparently it passes for affirmation. Ick.

  19. Fabulous stuff, this. Thank you. The moment I saw the “slap”, I was in shock. Probably should have been before, but…

  20. It was quite and interesting and very well written piece, but I think I may have missed something. To know the contexts of these occurrences is to what end exactly? Are you going to continue to be the black girl who is a sex toy for the entitled set, simply accepting it as a general behavior? Will you choose to have none of it, staying out of the college town clubs and their cheap drinks, self-relgating yourself to the second-class America, where black men will sexualize you in some other manner? Or is such an access in itself where you may get to bat at that power and privilege as some white male may slip too far into your divine, and find himself putting a ring on your finger as the women he dreamed of originally, spurn him for the last time?

    1. “…Will you choose to have none of it, staying out of the college town clubs and their cheap drinks, self-relgating yourself to the second-class America, where black men will sexualize you in some other manner?…

      I didn’t know that black women had the ability to avoid racism and sexism by not going certain places. Thanks for the lack of empathy shown by your comment. The white women on this thread showed more concern and compassion. Yes I am a black women.

      “…Or is such an access in itself where you may get to bat at that power and privilege as some white male may slip too far into your divine, and find himself putting a ring on your finger as the women he dreamed of originally, spurn him for the last time?”

      This was a pretty way of saying that black women are whores that will sleep with privileged white men for a “bat at that power” when those men have been spurned by the really valuable women (white women).

      You black man stay devaluing and insulting black women don’t you.

      #BlackPowerIsForBlackmen … Ain’t that the truth

    2. Yep, women have all the choices. Thanks for mansplaining.

      LOL “Wisdom Seed.” Perfectly ironic handle.

    3. Umm, have you considered the possibility that she writes insightful commentary on these issues in order to make people think and generate social pressure to change the status quo? Since she clearly has a partner already, I doubt she’s concerned for her personal opportunities.

    4. Can you PLEASE tell me how you got “she must really want a white dude to wife her” out of this piece? I’d at LEAST expect some support from…you know what, I gotta go.

  21. I don’t entirely get why white males are pointed out with regards to displaying offending behaviour: Are you telling me that this behaviour (unwelcome sexual approaches) are not done by black men?
    Other than that, while I not entirely agree with you, I like your analysis.

    1. The white men who approach black women are almost always fetishizing and making exotic their blackness and shape, treating the woman as an IT rather than as a woman. Women with large breasts also experience this,
      The woman is treated as if her color, shape, breasts are *who she is* and not simply part of her appearance.

  22. While I didn’t catch the VMAs until after the event, I did happen to see Miley’s We Can’t Stop music video a few weeks ago as I channel surfed. Similarly to LucyInBed, I too am a white woman (living in New Zealand) who was also instinctively uncomfortable with imagery I saw – a tiny white Miley grabbing the ass of her bigger, black female ‘friends’ – but didn’t have the language to explain why. It felt false, exploitative and eye-rollingly unbelievable. Obviously what I was picking up on was the power/status disconnect you’ve elucidated so brilliantly. Thanks for writing this. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

    1. Thank you Anu…I feel the same way… as a Feminist I wanted to let Miley own her sexuality, as a Humanist I wanted to let her make her mistakes and be a fool, but as a white woman I had no idea how to talk about the discomfort I felt at what was going on as far as race was concerned..is it my right to be angry at that? I didn’t even know how to explain what I was angry about. Miley is trying on black culture like it’s a brand while at the same time using it to emphasize the contrast between her body and theirs, her skin and theirs her “clothing” exactly matched her flesh tone and emphasized her complete lack of curves and they found the tallest thickest darkest women to contrast her and she strutted around like “look how much I love my cool black friends!” I wonder what the dancers thought of their use as her accessories? and what of the black artists who have been seen hanging around with her? are they making fun of her and she doesn’t even know it?

  23. I appreciate the analysis. Your perspective is valuable to me. The only premise I question, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that Cyrus chose her dancers. I’ve always assumed she has an army of people who put all of this stuff together for her. I feel Cyrus may be complicit in what you’re saying, but is she truly the engineer or that performance?

    1. Miley Cyrus has been in control of her life, money, career and brand for a very long time. The choice to display and degrade Black bodies as her backdrop was entirely hers and is the culmination of a myriad of social and mainstream media reinforcing her un-fascinating propensity to promote and engage in minstrelsim. It is time we stop sugarcoating blatant racism and disrespect and blaming it on anyone other than those who present it. Robin Thicke is not off the hook either, but that’s another conversation.

    2. Singers many time have some say in who they perform with, but by talking about miley it deals with the fact that most performers have the final say in the plans for the performance. She didn’t create the performance but she did sign off for it.

  24. Completely ridiculous and as if its only black women that are accosted this way as she twists it to fit her view of the world. Black men accost white women constantly in the same manner as she complains about and tries to twist into it only happens to her and those with bodies like her. Everyone doesn’t want her as she portrays and maybe she is just running into drunk people that would accost any woman regardless of race. Why anyone would attest that her good writing style in this story is anything but cobbled together ideas strung out to only meet her obvious goals to making it all about black women and her false view of how others look at them. I wouldn’t use the word brilliant for her thought process, more like retarded.

    1. She isn’t suggesting or denying that there aren’t other forms of harassment interracially (which is a whole ‘nother can of historically, racially, and socially tainted worms), she is speaking to her experience which is shared by lots of other black women (as is evident in the comments, not my experience as I’m a white woman). I find myself getting harassed by men across the board and it isn’t because of negative stereotypes and over-sexualization of my race. Thanks for chucking in a slam towards (dis)abled people at the end, you’re a total MRA gem.

    2. While I can certainly understand your perspective, this author is speaking for herself and no one else. I am a white woman and have been treated as a piece of meat by strange black men. I’ve had them grab me and tell me to “come over here and let me look at you”, and that is the mildest of experiences. However, she is not saying that it doesn’t happen to women of other colors. ALL women are objectified as a rule. For example, Asian females are looked at as a fetish in the US. We must all do our best to fight against such treatment and it starts with conversations like this one that the author has started.

    3. Tom, you are denying the validity of the author’s own life experience? That she actually lived through? That’s some chutzpah (where by “chutzpah” I of course mean racist, misogynist BS. I see you also managed to include some ableist language, way to go for the trifecta).

    4. Well, I’m a white woman who has been sexually harassed by black men and I don’t think it was “the same manner” at all. The balance of power is a lot closer to even, I would guess, than when someone with both white and male privilege harasses someone with neither.

      1. To clarify:
        I would never say I had the impression that the men in question thought of me as “harmless fun” or an “amusement park”. I won’t try to guess what they were thinking, but I didn’t get that impression.

  25. Thank you. Great post, wonderful writing as always. Your thoughts and perspective are always needed and always appreciated.

    I find these comments responding to you in the third person a bit strange and very demeaning.

  26. Very astute analysis of the objectification of Black bodies. For those who want more of the same, I would highly recommend bell hooks–she has several books of essays analyzing same & related tropes in popular culture, especially feature films. I still use her “Cultural Critique and Transformation” lecture in humanities courses–it’s available on YouTube. And, huzzah to anyone who “bloodies” any man or woman taking unwarranted, uninvited bodily liberties! Even as a relatively boring-looking white woman, I’ve had to LOUDLY tell off more than a few people over the years, including one drunk man at a club who felt he could paw over every woman he asked to dance–we women were counting down how long it took each woman to slap him or walk away–finally had to get the club to oust him!

  27. This article was an epiphany for me. Here’s why:

    I used to workout in Georgetown, DC every week with 2 girlfriends. We were in our early 30’s at the time. On this particular day, we were leaving the studio and walking to our cars on a very crowded, narrow G’town street. We soon found ourselves on a collision course with a group of college-aged, white guys, so we had to single-file it in order to pass them. I headed our group. All of a sudden, one of the white guys jumped out at me, squatted & began to forcefully simulate a humping motion. It was so abrupt, it literally scared the sh!t outta me. I jumped back and turned around wide-eyed looking for my friends. Needless to say, we were stupefied, as the “guys/assh*les” proceeded merrily on their way down the street, w/o a word.

    I was in a state of utter shock for the rest of the day. I never repeated this story to anyone, but, after reading this article, I now, at least, know why it happened and why I felt so traumatized by it.

    Thank you, tressiemc, for your brilliance. I have no children, but I do have 4 sisters, 2 nieces, many cousins & a bunch of friends. I’ve forwarded this to all of them as a “must read” and a “must have conversations” with your sons & daughters.

  28. As a “pretty for a black woman” with a curvy body, I feel like non-black men will want to “sex me” but never “wife me.” I have had this discussion many, many times with all ethnicities, and no one believes how devalued black women are sexually, not even black women themselves.

    1. I never realized how right you are about black women being devalued until I joined an online dating site. You can choose the demographics that you would like your potential mate to have including race. You can check off multiple boxes and the majority of men (yes even many black men) checked off white, Hispanic, Asian, “other” and even Native American or Pacific Islander but leave African American blank. I’m not bitter in any way, I believe you should go for what you want and I pay attention to who wants me ( REALLY wants, not lusts after) not worry about who doesnt. I had my fair share of hits on the site, including my current beau. But it was a shock to see just how “out of style” we are!

      1. THIS!!!!! And, I can’t tell you how many non-black men have sent me messages about fulfilling their fantasy of having sex with a black woman (not just me as a woman, but a “black woman” specifically). This is even though I explicitly state I’m looking for a relationship, make no mention of sex in my posting, and share no suggestive pictures of myself. To these men, it’s just implicit.

  29. I really appreciate your perspective on this and agree about the objectification of women in this performance and the caricature of black women portrayed as well. I do find it interesting that no one mentions Robin Thicke who is married to a black woman and thrusted his genitalia as Miley bent over in front of said genitalia during the same performance. Entertainment or not, it is completely inappropriate. Additionally, we have to stop objectifying women on a mass scale via pop culture. Robin Thicke perpetuates this in his Blurred Lines video and even on the most recent America’s Got Talent 2 talentless knuckleheads were in the semi-finals singing a song called BOOTY and Mel B was their biggest fan. As idiots looking to make a dollar manipulate the overall message by producing these performances, female performers/dancers should deny these jobs as they do have the choice of what jobs they can take. While the concept wasn’t theirs they are allowing the objectification by getting paid to be objectified. And for the black-strippers who get paid less – have higher standards! Demand more! I am all for a women’s choice and have no problem with strippers, but as women, black and any other shade, we have to all demand the highest standards of ourselves. This includes tshe work we take and the equal income we command. Thank you for this multi-dimensional view on this moment of pop culture and women’s portrayal in it.

  30. You are right about this.

    It amazes me that the youth of america are this vacant. Have you seen Springbreakers? Would love to know what you think of it. It’s a morality tale, for sure, not just a movie about sex. Appropriation of black culture is okay to party to, until the girls actually have to party with black people, and then they’re all scared and nerved out. It seemed like Korine was trying to say something interesting about all this.

  31. Wow. As a feminist who lives in a racially diverse big city, with friends of all colors and sexual persuasions, I thought I knew all about women and women issues. I’m white. I never would have seen this. Thanks for illuminating.

    1. But you see Jennifer, that’s precisely the difference. you live in a “racially diverse big city, with friends of all colors and sexual persuasions”. I do as well and I am a black woman. I believe in the complete opposite of the author because my experiences have been different. I am dark skinned but always get the most attention and white men love to date me. I am not “white-washed” (for lack of a better term), I am just open to friends and boyfriends of all races.

      I believe my environment has a lot to do with that. The author’s writing is compelling, but should be taken with a grain of salt, and not as the voice of the black women.

      1. As a black woman “open to friends and boyfriends of all races” and living in a “racially diverse big city, with friends of all colors and sexual persuasions” I have seen and lived both.

        I have been wanted, respected and loved as an individual. And I have been approached as the “safe and acceptable choice” for a “little strange” or “non-threatening exotic,” particularly since I am light skinned with an advanced Ivy League degree.

        So while I can recognize that the author’s experience is not that of everyone, I also recognize that it’s not an anomaly either.

        I also recognize that your voice nor mine is that of black women. See we black women have many voices. It’s when we try to dismiss one of them that we diminish them all.

        1. “So while I can recognize that the author’s experience is not that of everyone, I also recognize that it’s not an anomaly either.

          I also recognize that your voice nor mine is that of black women. See we black women have many voices. It’s when we try to dismiss one of them that we diminish them all.”


      2. So does that mean that just because homosexuals are beaten up in New York that people in Calforina shouldn’t see stories from New York as a reason to take action? What you’re getting confused about is the people the author speaks about. She is not saying every single while guy is like that. She is speaking about the numerous amount of people that do fit into this category because the ones who don’t fit also do not act the same.

      3. I find it interesting you think your personal experience is somehow more dispostive than hers. It’s also interesting that you take the two portions of her narrative (the personal, and the social) and try to conflate them.

        The author said, “this is what I have experienced” (and in several places, not just the area around Chapel Hill). Then she took a step back, looked at larger social behaviors and trends (frat boys and strip clubs, pay for porn starts, systemic marriage patterns and added historical contexts (related to slavery, the movement of property, and the retention of wealth in the form of humans held as assets).

        You misunderstood that (or chose to pretend you did) to dismiss it as, “one woman’s story”.

  32. Replace all of the words “white” with “black” and “black” with “white” in this article. You would have Al Sharpton, Oprah and Jesse Jackson screaming racism about this article. MLK had a dream 50 years ago, which never came true. What is happening now is that the race that used to be oppressed is now priding themselves on oppressing their former oppressors. I am a black woman.

    1. Um, if you replace the work black with white the whole slave history thing wouldn’t make much sense because white people were never…

      Well, never mind. I’m also a black woman.

      1. lmao! tressiemc22. right.

        Mousebrown…you’re reaching. The author hasn’t expressed oppression at all. She hasn’t expressed hate or racism, but I do think she is reaching as well..her stories are very personal and definitely not the experiences of all.

        1. You can usually tell I am writing from my experience when the posting is on a blog with my name in the header.

          I do think many individual white men love individual black women. However, for me to confuse that with structure and ideology is to accept that the stratification of black women as less desirable, masculine, immune to pain, “ghetto”, etc. is functional. Those are all empirical realities of the social construction of black women, by the way. Recent empirical evidence at that. I am afraid I am unwilling to exchange the individual experience of being found genuinely desirable by a white man for the empirical reality of black women’s structural marginalization. You are, however, free to believe as you would like. I even invite you to do your own analysis at your own space with your name in the header. it’s the beauty of the internet.

          1. Your writing is brilliant. Your insights, broaden my understanding of something I sensed, but could not quite name- and, I thank you for that.

            Additionally, your articulate explanation of painting the picture of the structural (cultural & systemic) marginalization of black women through the lens of personal, lived, experiences brings a level of intimacy to the conversation that’s imperative.

            It gives readers the option of “coming alive,” getting close to something that might otherwise repel, and reaching a knowing or understanding or way of seeing at a level beyond the persona/ ego, which can often prefer to remain cold & distant when faced with something that challenges old, outworn, albeit convenient, constructs.

            I look forward to reading more of what you have to share.

            Thank you for putting yourself out here.

  33. When I first saw the video of this, I was, naturally, uncomfortable and disgusted. I also wondered about the backup dancers, and why they agreed to participate in this. Thoughts?

    1. i’m guessing the answer is: it’s a job in a rough economy. it’s actually a helluva job, considering the exposure and the line you can add to your resume “danced at the VMAs.” lots of people in show biz make huge sacrifices to get big.

      1. I am glad that Cicely Tyson, one who I hold as the epitome of an actor, and so many other fine entertainers who paid their dues, held on to their morals and ethics, and rejected those “helluva jobs” that compromised their training and profession. Selling out for a dollar is a poor excuse for any person, regardless of race, religion, or national origin, “to get big.”

  34. Its time that black women come to the relization that in oder to achieve equality you have to act as an equal. If its ok for you to twerk its ok for cyrus to twerk. Equality isnt a one way street. Ive never owned slaves nordid my poor irsh sharecropping ancestors who arrived to america in the same deplorable manner as the africans. I dont read this and think of you as a victim. Because i am a white woman married to a black man in south georgia i have experienced more then my share of racially charged situations because of the simple fact that some black women arent willing to accept the fact that black men have options now. They too can en joy the wonders of a beautiful white womans body as a white man can a beautiful black woman. YOU ARE A SET BACK TO THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT. Your holding yourself and your people back because you dont view yourself as equal or worthy.

    1. I suspect my training as a sociologist is relevant here. I believe it entirely possibly to empirically observe the social construction of who I am as distinct from how I view myself. Put another way, I can say I am orange, believe it mightily and still recognize that others see me as brown. Similarly, I can hold a healthy opinion of myself and still observe the subjective reality of how I am socially constructed.

      Having said that, the next time I see the Civil Rights Movement, I will be sure to apologize to it. It’s been through enough. It surely doesn’t deserve being set back by a black woman doctoral candidate in this day and age. Rock on for putting that on my radar.

      1. I am a black Associates Degree holder and I totally agree with Bella. Just because you are a doctoral candidate doesn’t give you the right or knowlege to spread your self hatred around and speak for other black women. I couldn’t believe the crap you said about comparing black skin to an ugly dress or calling café au lait “more normative”. Whose book of rules did you get this from? Yes, you are setting back any young and impressionable black girls who may not quite understand your pretentious incoherent babblings for what they are. An attempt at self importance and desire to see your meaningless, overly long groupings of adjectives in print.

          1. GOLD! LOL…. these people who don’t understand what you are saying… they just need to… SMH… I can’t.

            Loved your article.

          2. Wow, at the responses. So glad we have Bella to speak for the civil rights movement. People are ahistorical. If the history behind your article and how it is lived out today is lost on them, Bless their hearts. Thanks for taking the time to write this very real reflection

        1. Actually, to anyone who has a degree in sociology (like myself) this is entirely coherent and brilliantly illustrates the juxtaposition of the immaturely simplistic surface message of the performance and the social constructs of beauty at play, which most viewers didn’t and couldn’t extrapolate because they are so deeply ingrained in our culture.

      2. I love you. That was one of the most racist things I’ve seen all day (though the rest of these comments are running a close second) and you handled that beautifully. Her comment literally proves Trudy Hamilton’s post about the purpose of some interracial relationships, too. Sad.

      3. As always, people project their own realities into eloquently written commentaries, and their interpretations say more about them than the piece. I think we can all see what’s going on here…

        I, for one, thank you for speaking your truth. Your clarity and insight as a writer and scholar is an inspiration.

      4. *wall slide* Fantastic response!!

        “Black men have options now” <– ICant! How smug is that?

        Her IRISH ancestors came to America as chattel? Among, dead bodies and fecal matter? Chained together so when one was thrown overboard, several went overboard? I think not.

    2. So a white woman married to a black man is telling black women that ‘it is time’ they realize how to achieve equality – and that is just to act equal. I guess since she is married to a black woman she’s is an expert on advising black women on where they aren’t as wise as she is on equality and civil rights. I bet her black husband tells her all the time how much better and wiser she is than black women, and now that black men ‘have options’ they don’t have to accept a black woman because she doesn’t know how to achieve equality.

      She tells a black woman that SHE (we) is holding herself AND her people back because SHE doesn’t feel worthy. So a black woman spoke about the negative way others treat her, and a white woman married to a black man tells her that the real problem is her (black women) for herself and her people.

      Wonder if she thinks white women hold themselves or their people back? Black men have OPTIONS now! They don’t have to be held back by black women, because surely it has been white women saving and nurturing the black community.

      And oooh, she even thinks her Irish sharecropping ancestors arrived here just like enslaved African-Americans did! Irish people were grabbed out of Ireland by slave traders, put in iron shackles – men, women and children – beaten or murdered if they resisted, stacked like objects in the filthy hull of a ship, then upon arrival to the Americas, stood on auction blocks like cattle, families often sold apart, or taken directly to a planned owner, and they were legal property of their owners, as were any children they bore – children they could be traded away from them at any time – and the Irish lived this way for centuries?

      No, this white woman married to a black man is so wise but seems to have no intellectual grasp on the distinction between Irish sharecroppers/indentured servants and enslaved African-Americans. Funny how her black husband didn’t teach her history. Maybe he doesn’t even know better himself. What if her ignorance is a setback to white anti-racist thinking?

      And below the black associates degree holder is upset with Tressie for being uppity and hateful, but TOTALLY agrees with the white woman who thinks black women hold back themselves, their people and don’t know how to get equality so she needs to tell them.

      Bless your little, really really little, tiny, sort of dank and papery hearts.

      1. Well they were starved out of their own country where they had no rights and the famine ships were pretty heinous and many worked as indentured servants which was, effectively, slavery. BUT. The thing with an Irish “slave” is that if you ran away you could reinvent yourself. You did probably speak English. You could change your name and represent yourself as a person who was not indentured to someone. You could become a wealthy person though your own efforts. Because you were WHITE. You could even still acknowledge that you were Irish. Black slaves did not get this option. There was nowhere to hide. Because of the way they looked. Skin colour could not be reinvented as that of a wealthy landowner or educated lady.

        Just because very crap things happened to the Irish (and I am one of them; my own father is the first man of his family, so far as I can tell, who was ever able to vote, his family was denied education etc etc) doesn’t mean what happened to Black Americans is not worse. It’s OK to acknowledge that. It’s not a competition.

    3. You sound ignorant and delusional Bella. You missed the whole point of what she said. “Her experience, what she went through”. You having a black husband does not mean anything. You and your family/friends probably call him racial slurs and tell him “oh, but honey, you are equal”. Your husband is a set back to the Civil Rights Movement by being an oppressed black country cooing idiot for marrying you. How dare you privileged agents try to say everyone is equal and keep a straight face? Seem like your train of thought is not running and your husband is just as dumb as you if he thinks he is equal. It’s not only black women who have a problem with interracial marriage, check your mother, father and grandparents, bet they were not pleased you are tainting their bloodline with black blood.

  35. First and foremost, TWERKING IS NOT A BLACK DANCE!!!!!! It is a stripper dance! And I am unsure why this writer used this term, other than to be provacative.

    1. Oh, sweetpea, do you really think that strippers came up with the dance? You might want to do a little research…

      1. “Twerking” (not called that then) not only 30 (plus) years ago in West Africa–also at Black cabarets (private clubs & club parties) & private hours parties at least 43 years ago, at least in Detroit, by my experience.

  36. I’m grateful for your perspective. It’s an interesting take on it, especially because I had a related but different take on it. Here is what I wrote on someone else’s page yesterday… As a white girl who’s taken a lot of dance classes and done some performing… I think a white dancer surrounding herself by black dancers is a mistake unless she is a really phenomenal dancer. I tried a little hip-hop and even less African dance and failed miserably at both. Most of us white girls just don’t have the moves or body to pull it off. I have also been to West Africa and spent some time in a village there (30 years ago). Twirking is nothing new. Girls in the village were very good at it and it wasn’t because of anything they saw on TV. There was no TV, electricity, running water, etc.. There was pounding millet, pulling water up from the well and herding goats. Dancing was something they did to entertain themselves and each other. Twirking was fun and playful and a little bit sexy but not in a slutty way. I think the reason I’m even interested in what Miley did is a combination of not wanting to judge without having seen it myself, wanting her to succeed, feeling a bit sorry for the girl because I think she was giving it her best effort. She just ened up being embarrassing… To the point where I’m a little confused as to whether or not she was serious or just making fun of white girls… What’s interesting is I found Miley’s failed attempt at trying to shake her little white butt more demeaning to Miley (and white women in general) that to the amazing black women around her. The black women did not, in my eyes, make her look better. If anything, what I observed was how much classier the black women looked. Hell, even the woman who was “spanked” by Miley walked away with the dignity of a woman dealing with a silly child. If Miley was trying to show that white girls appear silly and childish with a background of strong black women, I think she succeeded. Maybe that’s why all the fuss over her performance. Maybe white women were embarrassed in general. I’m not trying to argue with the article here at all. It’s great food for thought and it’s interesting that we both had related but differing perspectives. Of course, I am also exercising white privilege by comparing white women with black women in this context and finding white women lacking. And, I am generalizing to a point, there are some white women who could have pulled it off, strong, talented women who don’t make silly faces by sticking out their tongues in the beginning, middle and end of their performances.

    1. @Rose: My reaction was similar to yours. Cyrus’ own performance was so bad that I wondered if it was a serious effort or if she was intentionally mocking herself and white girls in general.

      Still I appreciate the thoughtfulness of Tressie’s piece.

    2. That’s how I felt about the performance, too. She did look silly and childish, while the other dancers looked like, well, professional dancers. Talented, graceful and strong.

  37. I’m black and i only date white men because i find that more white guys are attracted to me more than any other race. I am tall and slender slim thighs,small butt, boobs and I don’t dress in an “urban” way. I was told directly by an ex boyfriend who is swedish that he would have sex with very voluptuous black women but he will never date/marry a black woman with that type of body because it isn’t classy. So yes that aspect of this article is true.

  38. Hello,

    I really enjoyed and respect your thoughts on the subject. I am saddened at the pathways Miley is taking, but then again, I truly don’t know if I want to waste my energy on someone that is *enjoying* objectifying herself or others. After all, she’s not forcing anyone to do the same and it’s her choice to do so. I’d hope that women and young girls will be smart enough to assess their own lives and decide for themselves, or at least, have a positive mentor to help guide in those choices upon viewing the performance and other life toils. Sometimes though, experiences and mistakes need to be made in order to learn. (In no way am I saying it’s ok to objectify women or girls).

    I believe that every woman/girl has the power to be perceived as or to be whomever or whatever she chooses, it’s just a matter of if she chooses to be A or B or C, or if she chooses to be manipulated by what society thinks she should be. We need to instill positive morals, values and good judgement making skills in our children so that they can have that power. If we do not, we should be fully aware of the potential negatives situations that can arise.

    Seems like it’s an easy decision to be a strong, intelligent, beautiful woman, or one that enjoys being sexual and objectified or whatever. I imagine those lines can be blurred, (no pun intended), and am sure many woman do a little of everything because they can and like that no matter their ethnicity.

    I can relate to your experience with couple’s coming onto you, about another’s response of feeling that she was only valuable for fun instead of marriage material as well as unwanted ‘cat calls’ from men. Unfortunately, all women regardless of ethnicity deal with this in some form or another and know I am not wishing to understate your feelings as a curvy black woman. I am a white female and have had my share of life experiences,( good and bad), and yes, have made some choices that led up to such things. Sometimes it was fun, others times definitely not but I can certainly look back/ahead and know that ultimately, I was in charge of me. For any offenders, well shame on them for their bad choices, their parents for raising them poorly and karma will surely get its due.

    In the photo of Miley tonguing/spanking the woman’s behind, if I am correct, the woman’s name is Amazon Angela. I recently saw her on an episode of Double Diva’s, where she was in need of a new bra/costume as she is a burlesque dancer. She is a very tall and curvy, as a result of a growth hormone issue from childhood. For whatever my perception of her is worth, this woman inspired me because even though she has dealt with adversity, (probably on levels most could not), she chooses to be a positive, beautiful, curvy, girlie, proud black woman that loves herself, her body and that she is a burlesque dancer. Now, I could be wrong and perhaps inside she sees herself differently, but in regards to your comments about the curvy black women background dancers being objectified and if black women dancers would demand more equality, what about the ones like Angela? Perhaps she’s truly happy because she’s getting to do something that she loves, dancing? Perhaps she does not feel objectified and instead saw that job as an amazing opportunity to further her career? No matter what Miley may have been doing to her or on what unconscious level or not you/others felt she was being objectified in a negative way, I’ll always choose to view Amazon Angela for how truly proud she made me for being a strong woman, in charge of herself regardless of color or curve status.

  39. Thank you for sharing your experiences and perspective. I am writing from my partner’s page, but I am a white woman with larger than “expected” features (big butt, curves, big lips, 6″ tall) and I get the same reaction from petite women, to a much lesser degree (men like to ask my ethnicity). Reading your words, especially “Only, rather than an ugly dress, fat black female bodies are wedded to their flesh. We cannot take it off when we desire the spotlight for ourselves or when we’d rather not be in the spotlight at all,” made me burn. I had to stand up several times and pace around just to absorb it. You have done a tremendous job tracing your experience into history, law and sociology. I am furious that so many people, acting in such a stupid and typical way, have made you and women like you feel as if your flesh was something you would want to separate from. I don’t know what you look like, but judging by what I can see (your words) I am convinced you are beautiful and that I would feel that way after talking to you for any short amount of time. Unfortunately, I am reminded of one of my best friends (a black woman) and how low her confidence was before we went through an AmeriCorps service together. I always saw her as beautiful, but she had a lot of body issues, didn’t feel comfortable sharing her opinions with white people and was struggling with homosexuality. Over our service, we found ways to embrace our bodies and find something new in them (the most impact came when she decided to get a fro and I got a perm), but there were things she told me I could only listen to, things I would never experience as a white woman. It brings me to tears even now… Clearly, you are a confident, brilliant woman so you need no beauty bumping, but in the end, our intellect is what really matters. When our bodies wither with time I hope it will be the quality of our jokes, character, opinions and ideas that drive others toward us. You are a brave example to other women for writing and reacting with such grace.

    1. I too was struck by these particular words, and I am more than a little saddened by the fact that the author considers the backup dancers to be “particularly rotund.” I am 5’9″, 170 pounds, and built exactly like almost every one of those dancers. I won’t comment on of the remainder of the article as I agree with the points made, but I take issue with any of the dancers involved being called “fat.” Granted, the woman who was dancing alone on stage whose ass Cyrus appeared willing to spread on a cracker was larger than the other dancers, but none of these women are fat. What I saw was a group of beautiful, confident, fit and sexy women surrounding some skinny young thing who is starving for much more than just attention.

  40. My heart I still having trouble beating. That was so well said. I’m a white man – a gay white man. A gay white man who lived in midtown Atlanta for 17 years until last October. I have seen black women be imitated and emulated. For who does this more than gay white men – especially in the south, especially in Atlanta. Who imitates fear-striking, voluptuous, outspoken, angry black women more than gay men? Kim loves us, but we love Nene.

    Admittedly, I’m an extreme introvert and not “in the scene” whatsoever, but I do see this behavior. Often. I will NEVER look at it the same way. It will NEVER be funny to me again. I don’t suspect this was a lesson – only a very eloquent articulation of your feelings. And Wow! You articulated well.

    I didn’t ignore that it is happening knowing what it is. I didn’t overlook it. I would NEVER disrespect ANY woman the way you were disrespected. It isn’t bad upbringing. It really is ignorance. Simply.

    A great writer who I like very much posted this link on her Facebook page. I hope many others do the same.

    Thank you for sharing.

  41. This is so well-written, timely, and very pertinent as racism and bigotry has reached a very popular and alarming subliminal acceptance. I’m not AA, but I am a dark skinned South Asian who has experienced similar prejudice and stereotypical behavior from whites and non whites here in the South. The hardest thing about it is that many of us just accept it and continue to be subservient and imprisoned to beliefs that we are inferior and less attractive than people of whiter complexion. What’s even harder is that white people will never understand, therefore the problem never existed.

  42. The author made a fabulous point when she said “marriage confers weatlth and status”. I can’t tell you how many men I have met that, after they have married and divorced white women, provided them with a home, children, and resources for life in the form of massive amounts of alimony, decide to do what they didn’t feel comfortable doing 20 or 30 years ago: explore the dating black (or other “ethnic”) women. They have no intentions on marriage and are usually drained emotionally and financially, but expect that you will jump at the chance to be seen on their arm. It’s like in their mind “Providing and Protecting” is reserved for a certain group of women and “fun nights” are for another. No thank you. Treat me as a woman too revere and respect, not the chance to get your cafe au lait fantasy out of your system!

  43. Thank you for sharing – this is a unique and in-depth perspective to me. I have been reading the analysis of the VMA performance, and wonder why no one has suggested that it was a parody of the sexism seen in any number of hip hop videos. No one has compared the ludicrous, over the top sexuality that Miley demonstrated, to the way black women are used as props in hip hop music. Do you think this is possible? I went on a YouTube search and found a Lil Wayne/Drake video that showed black women in ‘teddies’, in cages, and turning into snakes, complete with long forked tongues slithering in and out of their mouths. It seems so parallel to her performance, and I can’t understand why no one else is noticing. She is being ridiculed for her clumsy and embarassing moves, yet condemned for the overt sexuality, when it seems that she is not trying to be sexy, so much as pointing a finger at the ridiculousness of such over the top sexuality.
    It’s a parody of sexuality in pop music… can’t anyone else see that?

    1. This critique and analysis has been going on both inside and outside of the Black and hip hop communities for *decades*. You may not have seen it because you’re not familiar with or looking in the right venues. These conversations have been and are still happening.

      Considering that this is the persona Miley has taken on, explicitly talked about as “who she is” and wants to be, and has defended against detractors of various stripes for months and months, I doubt she was aiming for parody.

    2. There is an active, ongoing critique of sexism in hip-hop and rap, and has been for decades.

      I doubt if Miley Cyrus was aiming for parody, as she’s been polishing this persona for months. She “aged out” of her Disney channel career but is still very young, desperately trying to stay relevant despite not having as good a voice as most other pop singers. People would probably barely remember who she is at this point if she wasn’t giving us a steady flow of stunts to deconstruct. Herself, Miley Cyrus is just a sad and desperate kid probably heading for a bad ending to her story. It’s what she has behind her that’s really worrying.

      I wish I could just cosign this entire original post, though. One thing I will add is that I didn’t realize just how overpowering and widespread the shaming of black women is until I signed up for a dating site. The majority of the men on it had every ethnicity available checked as a possibility (white, Asian, hispanic, native, etc) except black women were always left unchecked. White and Asian men seemed to be the most guilty of it, but no one (even black men) was innocent.

    3. I’ve noticed it. Leaving aside the race piece (for just one second!), I think it’s a kind of tomboy (shoes, hair, finger, tongue) kiss-off to porno/stripper culture. As if Miley is saying “oh, you want me to be like that?” And then doing an anti-that. And I have to say the tongue bit for me is crucial; it’s a nasty, ugly version of the slight-mouth-open, tongue-sticking out porno kitten pose.

      Putting the race piece back in of course way complicates it and may undo this; I don’t know. I can’t really thrown down with cultural studies types; I don’t have the language. (Trained in history.) But I want to ask a question, tressiemc, because I was pretty much with you, except for “But I believe there is a pattern in the cultural denigration of bodies like mine as inferior, nonthreatening spaces where white women like Cyrus can play at being “dirty” without risking their sexual appeal.”

      Because it seems to me that she did risk it, and she is being publicly slut shamed and humiliated for this performance. There is real patriarchal rage out there (see this dude: http://jodymckinley.tumblr.com/post/59404558085/an-open-letter-to-miley-cyrus), partly for the fact of her refusal to abide the (white) porno girl norms, but also for, I think, “race-mixing.” This latter perspective comes from my own experience, in dating a black man, and I got it from both sides: my white friends & family and esp. (random) white men in public places, but also (random) black women. There are a lot of people out there who feel they have the right to police your (intimate) relationships!

      In other words, I think some of the (black) anger is that she didn’t keep her hands (and mouth) to herself, as a someone put it, but that is also the source of (white) anger. She touched, and simulated sexual activity, with “undesirable” (as per your post) black women. (So she was also kinda acting lesbian, I guess. Which white men generally like, but maybe not when it’s mixed race and/or they’re not the intended audience?)

      Anyway, I appreciate your sharing this piece, especially because I know you’re getting a lot of blowback!

    4. You make a very interesting point. Is Miley Cyrus really sophisticated enough to be creating parody? Twerking as tongue-in-cheek send-up of Lil Wayne and crew, etc.? Somehow I doubt it. No one suggested Madonna was creating parody back in the ’80s (e.g. channeling Marilyn Monroe for “Material Girl”). And her act hasn’t really changed much over the years. Miley comes across as sincere. Maybe time will tell.

    5. While I’m sure that could have been true in other circumstances, I highly doubt Miley Cyrus is thinking that politically. I truly believe she is trying to “be cool” with the hip-hop community by emulating what she sees rather than parodying it.

  44. This probably could have used some editing. It seemed to be making the same point over and over again without providing any additional data. I felt like I was being given one of those morality tests where they ask you the same question in 17 different ways to see if you’ll always answer the same.

    Yeah, there’s nothing “black” about twerking. And your experiences of white people coming up and wanting to dance with you? You obviously don’t live in Chicago or anywhere remotely progressive because that sounds like some bizarre-ass, backwoods shit. lol

    “White men want to touch me because they don’t value black women and thus aren’t concerned with falling in love.”


    By that estimation then these white men would also behave exactly the same with ANY woman who they would have no desire to ever date. Their partners would equally not give a shit (by your estimations) if they went and wanted to bury their face in some big fat nerdy girl’s chest.

    I know it’s easy to blame things on race, but I think it’s probably more accurate to blame it on stupid. If you find yourself being surrounded by stupid people (which it sounds like you are), you should probably move someplace else. When you get to New York…let me know if any of what you’re talking about here ever happens again.

    I’ll pay for your plane ride home if it ever does.

    You’re hanging around the wrong sort of people, darlin. And shame on you for bringing your poor boyfriend to these places.

    1. Raised in New Haven, CT and a graduate of an ivy league University in the Northeast, I have witnessed sexual harrassment with a strong racist current. My roommate junior year was a beautiful dark skin woman. We would socialize at campus parties. When the majority where white partiers, i witnessed walking through the crowd with her leading the way wnd heard white college men make rude and disrespectful propositions as a means of saying hello for the first time. Going to the movies on the student shuttle bus during the day on a weekend also encited similar propositions. Despite dressing conservative, she was often propositioned. I faced similar situations growing up from black and white men alike as abrown skin Latina, yet the blatant racially motivated sexual harrassment thrown in her direction left me feeling scared for her safety and then mad at how wealth and white college boys felt their comments were acceptable. They would never dare approach a stranger in front of their momma that wwy. Later, this same negative beha vior was clearly present in my volunteer trip experience in Tijuana Mexico. Disrespecting and objectifying any woman is unacceptable, and wrapped in a thick layer of racism, increasing the likelood that women of col stated as to or sta experience this more. Hip hop had a strong social justice message in the beginning and was taken over by capitalistic values. Selling music by dehumanizing women and people of color in geneneral. Ignorance is dangerous, and deniel of racisim works to maintain a certain group of the human race struggling to make ends meet.

    2. Um yes, it does happen in places like Chicago. I’ve lived here my entire life and my best friend, who’s African American and I (Latina) are mostly only approached by white men when they are drunk and want to dance up on us as a joke. This happens in both “classy” bars and even dive bars. It’s sad that we aren’t approached by them when they’re sober or because we’re smart (Northwestern grads… she has a J.D. and I a M.S.)… instead they think it’s ok to slap our ass while we’re in line for the bathroom or touch our hair and ask if it’s real. So please. … next time do your research before you generalize a region and belittle the author.

    3. Uhmmm, I live in New York and happen to be around 3 women who are black women with large breasts and brick house shaping. Just MONDAY night I was in a pizza shop with one of them when a drunk white woman who was with her boyfriend hugged onto her and then bit her nipple, ya know, as a compliment o-O. It’s not just in the back woods. I could fill the comments on this to the brim with the experiences I witness being around my friends. I am a thin Black woman but also have a round ass. Drunk white people think it cool to just reach out and touch… Did I mention I live in New York?

    4. I swear my post vanished. I’ll try again. I live in NY and can think of three women I’m around fairly often who are brick house luscious that this happens to and not just at bars. Just Monday night I was with one of these women and a drunk white woman with her boyfriend at a pizza parlor decided to nuzzle into her breast, telling her how fabulous she was and decided to nibble her nipple, ya know, as a compliment.


      I could fill pages with what I witness them go through. I am thin but have a round, large behind. White women, in particular, feel at liberty to just touch, squeeze and grab it (some even ask if it’s real & do a tap check) O-o… I am in places like Del Frisco’s to dive bars, it makes no difference the type of place. Did I mention that I live in NY?

    5. “And your experiences of white people coming up and wanting to dance with you? You obviously don’t live in Chicago or anywhere remotely progressive because that sounds like some bizarre-ass, backwoods shit. lol”

      This black woman lives in Chicago, and this has happened to me. Multiple times.

      1. Know what else has happened to me as a black woman living in Chicago?

        My first year here, I made the mistake of leaving my apartment during the St. Pat’s festivities (I know better now). White men literally walked up to me-as I returned from the grocery store, with bags in my hands-and groped my breasts. There were cops standing by (as there usually are on St. Pat’s, though they may have been drunk) and I [foolishly] tried to appeal to one of them for help. White cop said, “Calm down! He’s just having a little fun with you!” So, yes, our bodies are something seen as something to sexualize for “fun” (though obviously not our fun, as I certainly don’t enjoy being sexualized by drunk white men. It wasn’t fun for me). It should also be noted that the white women they were with were laughing hysterically. The more angry I became, the harder they laughed. We are nothing more than entertainment because we are not seen as people.

    6. It happens in New York all the time, too. Plus the description of Atlanta stripper culture is actually universal. Taxi loads of Wall Street stuffed shirts love slumming the Bronx strip clubs.

      More important, though, don’t discount her experience with racism as anomalous. Just because she can’t chart the number of white people who proposition her vs appearances of Miley Cyrus’ tongue does not make her experience invalid. Don’t minimize.

    7. What an entirely dismissive and brainless comment you’ve made. Again, this editorial is really hitting a nerve with myopic racism deniers, probably because it’s accurate.

    8. This black woman is from Chicago and lives in New York. And it happens. So go have a stadium full of seats. Grown folks are talking.

    9. “Their partners would equally not give a shit (by your estimations) if they went and wanted to bury their face in some big fat nerdy girl’s chest.”

      Speaking as a big fat nerdy girl, I can assure you this scenario would never happen, because big fat nerdy girls are not considered sexual beings. A guy who would be given props for going after a voluptuous black woman would be considered damaged somehow if he ever expressed the same sexual interest in a fat white girl.

      I think the best example of how fat nerdy girls are perceived is this bit done when the PS3 and Wii consoles were first released, where the PS3 was personified as caring about boring stuff and difficult to work, whereas the Wii was seen as fun and easy.


    10. Stay out of the South
      I agree you should probably stay away from Chapel Hill. The southern states such as the N. & S.Carolina, are so far behind the rest of the country intellectually, especially in terms of empathizing with non-whites, analyzing issues of race, and abandoning old, bogus beliefs, that to equate miley cyrus’s actions with the pattern of racism by patrons of southern bars is somewhat unfair to cyrus. She may have been catering to a white male audience using one of the older tricks in the book, but all I’m saying is it might not matter.

      Race may have been a factor @ the VMAs, but the blog/article makes it seem like white people’s opinions of us matter more than they actually do. If they think cyrus is more desireable when compared to a black woman, what do you get out of changing their minds? What do any black people get out of it for that matter? What is the price white women really pay for a crack at that white male moola, privilege, and property? I’d argue a high one. If white males did not have privilege, money, and power, would we (black people) even care what they think of us? By our deep concern for their thoughts on our bodies, do we betray that we have been utterly ensnared so that even without chains we are captives?

      Less tactfully put, it sucks that some anglos suck sometimes and that their opinions seem to dominate the air. It hurts all the more when the majority treats you like “non-threatening space,” and you have no choice but to interact with them.We as human beings are super sensitve to community acceptance or rejection. It can shorten our lives. But intellectually we can overcome simply by being preoccupied with life and purpose.

      Each of us should strive as individuals to create exacting standards for ourselves and that will take up a lot of time already without worrying about white affirmation. While the pursuit of equal rights, equal protection, and equal treatment is necessary, the pursuit of categorical acceptance by the majority is perhaps the greatest boondoggle in African American history. We must live as they do, without concern for approval of other races. Sorry. We just must.

      1. @E.M.

        I agree with much of what you wrote. The problem is that white people’s oppinions of black people impact their behavior toward black people on jurys, in job interviews, in hospital emergency rooms and during police stops. Do we have the luxury of ignoring what white people think of us?

    11. Karolina your comments are very off-putting and sadly uninformed. Maybe you need to read up on this country’s history of slavery and possesion of black bodies, which the writer discussed at length. At least watch Django unchained. You need took beyond your experience if you want to understand the world. I grew up in NY, and have experienced and witnessed, I’m Latina, what the writer describes. Maybe you need to be around more people of color, or socially conscious people who are not afraid of seeing the realities of our world.

  45. This is such a powerful piece, Tressie. Whatever backlash you’re facing is because you’ve hit such a deep, deep nerve. I actually think it’s easier for people to just accept that Cyrus is being racist by misappropriating a segment of African-American culture than to face the idea that women of color are often deployed to heighten the femininity and desirability of white women.

    Your critique moves beyond cold institutions, systems, and structures and points at at the intimate interactions many would rather ignore because so many are complicit in this equation that elevates white womanhood at the expense of black women.

    For the record, I know from firsthand experience that you are spot on when you write:

    “I am no real threat to white women’s desirability. Thus, white women have no problem cheering their husbands and boyfriends as they touch me on the dance floor. I am never seriously a contender for acceptable partner and mate for the white men who ask if their buddy can put his face in my cleavage. I am the thrill of a roller coaster with safety bars: all adrenaline but never any risk of falling to the ground.”

    There are two sides to that equation, and while they are not equally oppressive (far, far from it) they are both pretty ugly.

    Looking forward to reading this with my students when we read Lucille Clifton later this semester.

    1. Case and point. This article is so poignant it’s incredible. The VMA’s have been a subject of high discussion at work and when I even remotely tried to discuss the issue of race I was met with nothing but blank faces and slow nodding heads cemented with a casual reply of “I didn’t see that.”.

    2. Thank you for supporting this article with your also very powerful words. Too many people here are casually dismissing her truth. Saying that she wants a white husband or is jealous of white women or even shaming her for hanging out with the “wrong” white people. Truth is white sexuality likes to dip into black sexuality as a pastime because of the social implications that female black sexuality is a chaotic, constant, and free for all thing, and white women have this sweet ability to then throw off the mantle of “black sexuality” and go back to being white. Black women and their bodies have been used as props for white pleasure and entertainment for hundreds of years.

  46. This is the best article I have read in this gruesome hallowing performance. Thank you for writing it. I will share on facebook tomorrow.

  47. The best commentary on this gruesome hallowing performance. I will share on fb tomorrow. Thank you for writing it,

  48. I am not as articulate as you, but I will try.

    It seems to me that the progression here is that of the gangsta culture. rapper and hip hop culture who tend to idolize and objectify the large black woman. Where in this article is your disdain for those black men who invented this culture?

    So many want to emulate the hip-hop culture and therefore are also idolizing and are degrading the large-bottomed black women and women in general.

    This spills over to small framed women wanting large asses even to the point of surgery. Personally I do not understand any form of plastic surgery except for corrective surgery in cases of gross disfigurement.

    I think the problem here is the general objectification of women and the glorification of sexuality in general. To couch this in racial overtones only propagates racism.

    I was listening to an excerpt from Dr King’s I have a dream speech the other day and was weeping for the oppression of the black race that has gone on for so many years now. I wept because of the hatred of one another that is held so dearly in the hearts of so many today 50 years later.

    I have four children myself. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

    1. I love your response, especially your point: “To couch this in racial overtones only propagates racism.” Why hasn’t this objectification of women been a a huge problem before… why weren’t people writing a bunch of blogs. It happens all the time, everywhere, everyday.

    2. There are plenty of places to discuss how black men are responsible for the problems of black culture. This isn’t one of them.

      I’m not sure how people got it into their head that it’s a good idea to counter people’s accounts of racism by saying “But Black people did it too!”. It’s not.

    3. As I read through the first portion of this article, I completely understood and identified with what was being stated. As I began to read the “meat” of it, my thoughts slowly crept from this posture to one the your statement sums up:

      “I think the problem here is the general objectification of women and the glorification of sexuality in general. To couch this in racial overtones only propagates racism.”

      A: I believe that if we are to hold anyone to a standard of recognizing a black woman’s body to be just as valued and protected as a white one, it would be those that are the fruit of said “amusement”.

      B: Without undermining the intelligence level of another woman or degrading her business savvy, I would go out on a limb and state that Miley Cyrus had just as much to do with her selection of dancers and details of concept as my mother had with me getting tattoos and piercings. My mom said I was an adult and I took that and ran with it to make my own choices. Miley may have stated “I want to stake my claim as an adult” and her team of “people” executed all of the other work (firing choreographers, selecting dancers, hiring stage hands, etc)

      I COMMEND you for speaking up and voicing your vantage (and clearly that of others as well). It’s what has made this nation great. Unfortunately, I will have to state as mentioned in the beginning, when our own people stop objectifying us, then maybe the social norm will not be to look at a brown body as one to stand in line ready to hand your ticket over to the ride operator.

    4. Actually hip-hop culture and “gangsta” culture as you call it are too different things. Where gangsta culture was produced, funded and created by white males during the rise of hip-hop in order to make people believe that hip-hop equaled gangsta. Hip-hop culture was originally a movement that highlighted the harsh reality of the ghetto and urban life as a black person well also reflecting the negative stigmas white associate with blacks as a result of the treatment they get. In other words hip hop pointed out things like blacks have poor vocabulary skills because the public schools they good to are run down and poorly funded. These ideas you have about hip hop culture are in fact exactly what was thought to you by oppression and is a construct of hate towards blacks. Realizing that your current perception fogged by individuals you disagree will help you come closer to your dream.

    5. Here’s the problem with your argument. You’re saying that Miley—in her quest to create music with a more “black” sound—is appropriating Gansta culture in the hiring of her backup dancers. While I agree with this in many other areas of her career, can you really look at the girls in your average rap video and say that they are no different than the ladies Miley hired for the VMAs? Maybe read this section of the piece again:

      “Cyrus did not just have black women gyrating behind her. She had particularly rotund black women. She gleefully slaps the ass of one dancer like she intends to eat it on a cracker. She is playing a type of black female body as a joke to challenge her audience’s perceptions of herself while leaving their perceptions of black women’s bodies firmly intact. It’s a dance between performing sexual freedom and maintaining a hierarchy of female bodies from which white women benefit materially.”

      Thanks, Tressie, for sharing your opinions and experiences.

    6. One thing at a time. She is not taking focus off of the problem of women in general being objectified. Don’t pretend there aren’t gradients of objectification based on ethnicity.

    7. Having despaired at some of the comments on this piece, I appreciate your sincerity and thoughtfulness. And yes in a broad sense the problem of women’s sexual objectification underlies this debacle. But I see a disconnect between saying, on one hand, that “[t]o couch this in racial overtones only propagates racism,” but then expressing on the other hand (sincerely, I don’t doubt) “a dream that my four little children will one day … be judged not by the color of their skin ….” The problem is that we can’t just dream that dream, go to sleep, and wake up to find it true. (I say this as a white person, suspecting but not knowing that you, too, are white.) To get from our current nation to that dream nation, we have to “couch things in racial overtones,” i.e., actually talk about the racial aspects of social phenomena. Even though doing so is tough and touchy and depressing. And *plainly* this performance was not just about objectifying women or objectifying skinny women contrasted with curvy/large women, but about objectifying skinny white women contrasted with curvy/large black women. Cyrus and/or her producers didn’t put out a casting call for large, curvy female dancers and happen by chance to get only dark-skinned black women. The people who orchestrated this performance calculated that it would resonate in our culture and media and draw profitable attention to Ms. Cyrus. And evidently (sadly), they calculated right. It’s important to understand the social history and current social realities underlying that calculation. And I think that Ms. McMillan Cottom’s piece does an admirable job of exploring that (while also sharing a powerful set of personal experiences and insights).

    8. The issue is black men haven’t invented this culture. You can go back to the 1800s to see this “culture” in vaudeville shows organized by whites in power. Even now the rappers who get signed and get mass exposure are chosen and directed by record labels owned and operated by white men. That’s not to say I think white men are some evil monolith but the point is that this isn’t a culture being held up and built by black people, the majority of rap music consumers are white and the majority of the owners of the music are white. Most rappers are just middle men. I mean black people only make up 12% of the population and considering the number in poverty do you really think they could support an entire industry financial to the extent rap exists now?

  49. It sounds like you want to marry a white guy. I know plenty of them who welcome the concept. But if you’re big into inheritance, you’ll need to find a lonely old rich guy. Plenty of those too.

  50. the only item in this piece that i take exception with: it supposes miley had a choice or hand in what her back-up dancers would look like… no way she, herself, put any thought into a her performance. miley is a formulaic, no-talent, self-imposed slave for fame and money; she does what she is told (down to the last twerk) to keep the large paychecks coming. plain and simple. the machine behind her image decided this. they are cynical, she is tragic and western culture is on the decline

    1. I think your point is important and amplifies what the author is touching on, repeatedly, throughout the brilliant essay. This is the system within which we are all operating–the paradox of which elements are so completely overt for many and yet, completely unconscious for others.

      Taking the view that the macrocosm (Cyrus- as the collective) mirrors the microcosm (the individual and what we choose to become conscious of, or ignore) and the microcosm mirrors the macrocosm, it is a sleep-inducing poison we drink if we say, “I’m just doing what I was told (Cyrus/ the individual)… THEY have all the real power.”

      It is this false innvocation, an ill-placed abdication of responsibility, that is at the root of the oppressive nature of our society. If we want to create change, we can no longer live in our little bubbles, abdicating responsibilities for that which we are an intricate part of creating.

    2. Even if Miley herself did not select the dancers, somebody did and the same reasoning could be applied to that person. I still haven’t watched the performance, so I can’t comment directly on it, but this does apply to a theory I’ve been working on.

      I often hear people claiming racism for a variety of transgressions. Black and harassed by police? Racism. Mexican and politicians don’t want to give citizenship to people that have come to the country illegally? Racism. Asian and someone assumes that you are good at math? Racism. I’ll gladly admit that racism is still prevalent today. It’s not often as overt as 50 years ago, but it is definitely still around.

      I think a lot of what minorities are experiencing is simply the classless, rude, mean-spirited behavior that so many of us experience regardless of color. Some police do profile, but police of every ethnicity harass people of every color. Some rich white people are rude and condescending to people in the service industry. Minorities may take this as racism, and in some cases it is. But I can tell you that I see the same behavior from people of all colors towards people of all colors.

      Miley’s performance may not be about discounting fat black women’s sexuality, but about discounting the sexuality of fat women in general. Look at comedy as a whole. Being overweight is only socially acceptable if you are making a joke of it.

      About Tessie’s comments on interracial marriage laws, I don’t believe they were passed to keep black women from gaining white inheritance. I doubt most men of the time put nearly that much thought into it. I believe it was about the fear of black men stealing white women. Racism isn’t logical. It’s hate bred of fear.

      Tessie, thanks for an informative article. It’s given me lots more to think about.

    3. My thought, exactly. When has Miley (or any other entertainer of her “stature”) made their own decisions re: back-up dancers, costumes, etc.?

    4. I agree, Ms Cyrus, of all the people involved with this production likely had the least control of everyone as to who the backup dancers would be, or even the choreographed dance that she performed. If you are going to be angry or disgusted at the performance or any element of it, you must direct your ire where it belongs, to the producer/choreographer of the routine. It is misdirected to blame someone who likely had zero to do with the decisions at all.

      1. In reading Tressie writing about “MIley,” I assumed that she was using the most prominent performer to stand in for the entire performance machinery, just as when we say “Columbus” we know we are referring to the entire exploration/invasion/conquest/exploitation project of Spain, or we may say “Lockheed” or “Monsanto” as the most prominent archetypes of the military-industrial complex or corporate food control.

  51. I realize this is probably going to sound horrendously trite & even shallow, but I have to say it: Who ever told you that were not beautiful? Unless you are using someone else’s picture, people have been lying to you & you have sadly believed them.

    (& yes, I only said that because everything else had been said. Your piece was amazing – painfully insightful. Thank you for not only being so incredibly observant, but even more importantly, for sharing it with us)

    1. I too was forced to find an image of the writer, and I can’t understand why she would write “I am not beautiful” unless she is using herself as a vehicle to comment on society’s standard of beauty and the lack of images of women that look like her… and her subsequent compare/contrast of herself not being a threat to a white woman’s sexuality.

      In terms of the piece, I kinda get what she is trying to say. But I don’t like it.

      You are beautiful.

  52. Really insightful. Thanks for bringing the racial inequality to the surface. So many young people don’t understand the historical aspects and implications. – As a white woman with big boobs, I also know what it’s like to be grabbed, and have all sorts of unwanted attention. It’s weird how people think that big boobs are somehow part of the public domain. Blatant sexuality is so accepted now that people don’t seem to see how objectified it is. I worry that young girls feel like they have to look and act “slutty” just to be popular. It’s more important that they do what they really want to, or not. Does Miley feel like she has to keep up this act, or is it really where she’s at? Another thing that made me uncomfortable with the situation is that she looked like she was 12 years old in comparison to a 30 something man. I don’t think it’s cool to perpetuate Lolita fantasies of sex with underage girls.

  53. As a preface: I’m a 21 year old white stripper. According to this article, all three of those things seem to matter greatly.

    I’d like to ask why no one has looked past the surface of this performance and questioned the things that REALLY MATTER:

    Celebrities are nothing without their managers, PR team, choreographers, costume designers, makeup artists, financial planners and advisers, legal teams, contracts, etc etc.

    I’d like to make sure everyone is on the same page here: Miley didn’t just shit this performance out. A team of people planned up, funded and executed this whole thing. And THEY thought this was a stellar idea. All she had to do was act it out and gain the publicity to further the profits of her record label and so fourth. If you’re trying to tell me a 20 year old celebrity with a celebrity father is *totally* capable of saying “No, thats a bit much for me.” – You’re delusional. Its the job of the adults to say “We shouldn’t do this. It’s a bad idea.”

    I’d love to place all of the blame on Miley- besides, it only adds more negative stigma to my already stigma-ridden job description. And I can say a few things, but what would it matter? I could be mad at her for wearing a bra/panties set that was meant to make her look naked, but she has a team of people fitting her into it, reassuring her its a good idea. I could be mad at her for setting the new precedent that in order to be edgy and “have a good time” as a young adult girl and dancer of any kind (patron of a bar, stripper, at a house party, whatever) you have to sign up for this insane craze of “twerking”.

    If you’re mad that frat boys want to spend money at strip clubs on black girls but expect more from a black girl than a white girl, you should be even more terrified that some of these frat boys grow up and create these venues where the notion is perpetuated.

    If you’re mad that her music videos portray the same thing as her VMA performance did and have been for months, you should be livid that educated white men- not your petty, “Im-not-from-the-big-city” back country boys- are drumming this whole thing up.

  54. When are people of color going to shut off that damn television and boycott all other forms of media that portrays us as the white man’s stooges?
    I’m all for the next three generations of blandness; that is , turning our backs on all this jitterbugging and buffoonery and focusing on STEM degrees… only then will we ever be able to compete internationally and be treated with respect.

  55. Have not finished reading all the comments, so don’t know how many people got your masterful John Mayer reference.

    This post really resonates for me both because it hits multiple topics I was writing about two decades ago in my Sapir Prize-winning Yale senior essay, and then tried to follow up on in grad school at Berkeley only to be viciously bullied and terrorized for so doing (first by a sociopathic White male fellow grad student from the South who instructed me to “keep your ‘privilege’ critique at home, then by professors who had zero interest in having a “very dark-skinned South African” analyze racial hierarchy, embodiment, and White supremacy in the US).

    Again, really masterful post, especially for connecting your analysis to John ‘I don’t date Black women because I don’t find them attractive’ Mayer’s paean to Jessica Simpson’s ideal(ized) White/blond/busty body.

    Glad you’re not ‘keeping your ‘privilege’ critique at home’. And what a contrast between the epidermalized hierarchies of this post and the platitudes one heard all day to day about how far we’ve come since the “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington: so much for not judging people in the color of one’s skin…

    1. For me, the story of Saartjie Baartman also sprang to mind (no one here seems to know who I am talking about when I mention her name). The humiliation, use and abuse, dehumanization, and disempowerment of Black women is so obvious in this performance that it is outrageous that we have not heard a louder feminist roar. I liked what you said, No Racist Anthropology, about not ‘keeping your ‘privilege’ critique at home.’ I, too, am glad to see your piece, Tressie.

    2. It’s actually not about Jessica Simpson – it was at one point speculated that it was about Jennifer Love Hewitt, and apparently Meyer says it was about his first girlfriend ever – but the point still stands.

  56. Thank you so, so much for your writing, and for this post specifically. It has been a relief & a pleasure to read phrases of yours – too many to highlight – that so boldly capture thoughts that have flown around my brain my whole life as a Pinay from Hawai’i living within the dominant white cultures I studied, lived & worked in as I grew into an adult in the mainland United States. Living & working back home in Hawai’i now for over a decade, I seriously still trip-out on 21st century pop culture on a daily basis because it all seems so oblivious to its own semiotics & history, so foreign, so literally & figuratively distant from my life experience in the middle of the ocean, yet always up in my ever-tech-connected face.

    The outrage at Cyrus’ performance (which didn’t drop into my radar until a beloved and highly academic friend of mine posted her description of why she had to find out what “twerking” meant) didn’t make me search for the VMA footage, but her original music video, which had apparently been playing widely all summer; is EXACTLY like the purported VMA performance in its subject matter use, imagery & choreography; and which I heard & read no protest about. I didn’t need to see the VMAs to know all the succinctly put points you laid out above, but I did need to read your writing tonight to get schooled. I thank you, again.

  57. Ok, I read your piece before watching Cyrus’ performance and agreed with all of it. Then I watched the video and I still agree, but at the same time her performance is deeply strange and contradictory. Her dancing is so bad that it’s clearly meant to be bad, or she’s “embracing” being a bad dancer; or something; also the tastelessness and racism is so over the top that it’s almost punk; it doesn’t seem to add anything to her career (does she really plan to make big money as a rapper? She has far easier and more reliable ways of making money at her disposal), and it certainly doesn’t make her any sexier to white men. What would make her sexier to men would be genuine fawning over Thicke, but she doesn’t; in fact she makes him squirm; he looks pathetic and guilty as Hamlet’s uncle at the play when she grinds him, and she clearly knows and enjoys that she’s making him squirm. That doesn’t seem self-serving on her part. Her performance is without a doubt at the expense of black women’s bodies, but it seems to be at her own expense, too, although clearly not in equal doses… But still the badness seems so over the top as to approach being a situationist prank. Some commenters chalk it up to self-destructive behavior on her part but she didn’t plan this alone; Miley Inc is a team of scheming people looking to make money. Nevertheless this seems like an odd way to do it. There’s nothing accidental about this performance; her handlers know she’s a bad dancer, SHE knows she’s a bad dancer, and they all knew how offensive her act was. As far as I can tell she has sabotaged her own possibilities in urban music, and that must have been easy to foretell for those who prepared the performance. Who has really done something similar to this?

  58. “I am not surprised that so many overlooked this particular performance of brown bodies as white amusement parks in Cyrus’ performance.”

    Have you considered the possibility (I would say probability) that you are over-thinking this? I doubt that Miley Cyrus is an arch-fiend with the diabolical intentions that you ascribe to her. She’s more like a confused young woman who is struggling to find her identity.

    You will probably say that I am not seeing the bigger picture. I get that. I understand that there are deep-seated sociological realities at play. But from where I’m sitting it seems like you’re analyzing this to the point of absurdity. You are taking an anomalous occurrence and using it as a platform to excoriate Western civilization.

    This is my problem with ideologues and dogmatists. They see things myopically. It’s kind of like McCarthyism where people were seeing a Communist around every tree. When your worldview doesn’t permit alternate explanations, you begin to see everything through a very limited lens.

    It may well be that there is validity to some of the things that you are saying. I don’t doubt that you have experienced discomfort as a result of systemic race issues. But to call the Founding Fathers “white rapists” and to categorically negate the good that they did and the privilege that you enjoy as a citizen of this country seems a bit harsh and ultimately self-defeating.

    1. I agree with Jimmy’s characterization of Cyrus as “a confused young woman who is struggling to find her identity.” Frankly, I doubt that Cyrus is smart enough to have thought through the deeper implications of her carny act with its black-bottomed side show. On the other hand, not calling the Founding Fathers white rapists would be to overlook the historical legalization of their crimes and the continuing demonization of their victims. Jimmy apparently confuses the privilege of voluntary transplantation from Europe and being kidnapped and transported like cattle from Africa. Peoples’ history isn’t right or wrong, but it’s different. The more we try to understand each others’ perspectives, however uncomfortable that may be, the better we will all be for the effort. Tressiemc’s article shares an important point of view, one that isn’t as rare as Jimmy may think. She does it with thoughtful literacy and no more anger than the subject merits. That moves it from “It’s a black thing … you wouldn’t understand,” to a message that the intelligent reader (which Jimmy is) can find nourishing, if not tasty. It takes more than one read to digest. Chew slowly, Jimmy. You’ll learn more about your fellow citizens if you identify with them instead of your long-gone ancestors. The Black woman in front of you is a whole person, and should be more valued than a dead white man who’s face fits in your wallet.

    2. jimmy, i think that you’re missing the point–this isn’t, as you put it “an anomalous occurence,” which is why tressie took great pains to demonstrate for us that this is a pattern in her personal life. and i believe that if you’ll scroll down and look at the chorus of “yes! this happens to me, too!”s in the comments, you’ll realize that just because *you* don’t see this pattern doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

      1. You may have missed *my* point. I didn’t say that the pattern doesn’t exist. I acknowledged that her perspective may be valid from a certain vantage point. My opinion is simply that her point of view could be perceived by others who don’t share it as narrow. Moreover, an argument based on a “chorus of ‘yes this happens to me toos'” is flimsy at best.

        1. So who gets to decide which ‘truth’ is the ‘truth,’ Jimmy? You have one reality you live in, the woman who wrote this article lives in another one, very different from yours. You’ve made it clear that you don’t share her point of view, but you also seem to be saying she shouldn’t even be stating her point of view. This is her blog. It’s her life, and her experience. It also happens to be the experience of many other women of color, particularly Black women… so to me, this would provide a great deal of evidence of the destructive consequences of racism and sexism. And yet you seem to be labeling all of their collective experiences as “flimsy at best.”

        2. Jimmy,

          Your post screams of privilege, best displayed by your line “…her point of view could be perceived by others who don’t share it as narrow”.

          And your whole founding fathers speech is weak. YES, they were in fact rapists & what gratitude should be paid to a country by those who were kidnapped, raped, tortured & murdered in its founding?

          Get real.

          BTW an argument based on “yes this happened to me too” is far stronger than your narrow minded opinion.

        3. @Jimmy May I ask why you are commenting? I am just curious…You seem hellbent on denying a truth that black women deal with daily–all perspectives are valid–constructivism 101. And the fact that academics have been writing about objectification of the black female body and black women’s standpoint theory for decades… I am not sure what purpose you serve. You are not really offering any insight. Is it your blessing of your male authority we should celebrate? (not sure your gender) or you white authority we should celebrate? Please let me know so I can be appropriately enthralled by your commentary.

        4. “My opinion is simply that her point of view could be perceived by others who don’t share it as narrow.”

          Exactly Jimmy. YOU(the “others”) haven’t experienced it, so of course it sounds ridiculous to you. “what’s the big deal?” right? “It’s not even that serious” “we’re all treated equally”, Only in your mind is that true. As a black man myself, I was equally confused with why Miley(and her people) chose THOSE dancers instead of ones who looked more like her.

          Until you walk a mile in tressie’s shoes, you won’t ever have the right to call anybody “narrow”. I mean seriously, what could possibly be the “alternate explanation”??

          For once, just once, I wish people with opposing views on internet articles would simply express them without the snarky “myopic”arrogance. YOUR opinion is YOUR opinion. It’ll never be fact no matter how you try to break it.

        5. Jimmy, I don’t think anyone suggested that Miley Cyrus is intentionally pushing these buttons. I doubt she’s even aware of them. I think the larger issue is that Tressie is articulating is that these patterns of behavior have become so ingrained in white culture that we don’t think about them when we act upon them, when we see them, or don’t even notice them. This “luxury” of ignorance is afforded us through white privilege. It is a desperately sad situation, which I don’t believe Tressie is “over-thinking” at all.

        6. Of course the points of view of black women are perceived of as “narrow” to you. There aren’t that many of us anyway, so who cares what we think? Who cares about our feelings and our collective life experiences? Who cares about our female children who we have to watch grow up dealing with the same shit that we did and our mothers did and our grand mothers did and our great grandmothers did? Who cares about respecting us and our voices and our bodies? That’s clearly not as important as Jimmy making sure we all know how our day to day observations aren’t historically, socially or morally relevant. Because everyone knows that the opinions of black women are inherently “less than”, no matter where we may be speaking and who we may be speaking to.

          Dear, Jimmy
          How dare you. This is a space where your clearly, non-black and male opinions are not needed or valued. Sit the fuck down and let us share our pain and lick our wounds in one of the only places we’re allowed to.

          And as for your stipulation that the agreement of other black women reading the article about the behaviors mentioned in the article doesn’t strengthen an argument…. This isn’t some detached debate held in a university classroom for credit, like you seem to think it is (mostly because you never have and never will have to deal with anything black women have to deal with on a daily social level.) These are black women reaching out to other black women and saying “this has happened to me too”. We are not saying these things to bolster the “correctness” of this article. We are saying these things to offer comfort to the author and to each other through personal justification and testimonials.

          We don’t need your opinions jimmy. We don’t need the approval of your justification. What we need is for you to leave us and our safe spaces the fuck alone.

          1. Dear skittleface,
            This is an open forum initiated by tressiemc. Did she ask you to moderate? If so, please accept my apology If not I think she is more than capable of addressing responses she may think appropriate. I may or may not agree with jimmy but since this is an open forum I support his right to express his opinions.

            I also noticed that at least he was able to express his opinions without resorting to profanity

            Your own opinions would doubtless be better received if you refrained from using such language, especially in a public forum and especially on a page written by one so articulate as Tressie.

            If the problems of prejudice and racism are to be resolved we must first learn to at least listen to one another. If we disagree then how do we communicate our opinions if we are denied our right to speak. If we deny others the freedom to express their opinion we are no better than the closed-minded bigots that promote racism. Is that something you wish to associate yourself with?

            Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. Dr Martin Luther King

            Personally I have read nearly, if not all of this thread. I find the variety of opinions thought provoking. I hope everyone reading this article and thread feels comfortable expressing his or her opinion.

          2. I didn’t see you named as a moderator either. Presumably if the author has a problem with the comment you’re replying to she’ll redact or remove it.

            For that reason I ask where the fuck you get off with the tutting about profanity and tone policing in a blog you don’t moderate or own.

        7. Jimmy, her argument isn’t based on that at all. You’re making a common mistake—you misunderstand analysis of racism as “harsh and self-defeating,” because you think when we notice racism that we are reducing something to racism. Maybe you don’t want racism to be noticed except in cases where it’s unambiguously evil, maniacal? — something YOU can distance yourself from, something in which you’ve no risk of feeling complicit? The news for you is that this pattern of racism (that you claim to notice) is something we’re all complicit in, and that’s why this essay is what it is. I’m sure Tressiemc can talk about botany or hardwood floors if she wants to, or even the “good things” about Miley Cyrus … but just because her essay happens to be focused on an important topic (and no, she’s not “vilifying” Cyrus) that makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t mean you get to whine about what she happens not to have discussed.

          Instead of saying that we’re “over-thinking” it, to try to cushion yourself against this reality—if you truly do recognize the pattern, as you say, then why not step in and be part of the solution?

        8. If her point had been and ‘broader’ it may not have been a point worth making anymore though, would it? Who’d be listening to something vague and relative and still consider it an opinion worth considering or agreeing with? Ultimately, things aren’t always obvious or one-sided, and we may never know what Miley was really thinking or what stereotypes prevailed in her head or the heads of people watching her performance. But I do believe it’s worth taking the possibility into consideration that blacks are up to this day, even in secular, enlightened countries, subconsciously (perhaps sometimes even consciously) treated in a way that brings them discomfort, based soleley on their skin colour. It’s a recurrent theme and not unlikely, I should think.

        9. the trouble is not that Miley Cyrus is somehow being a nefarious villain engaged in a diabolical plot against women of color but that Cyrus, like so many women in our society, has internalized this “white women on top” imagery and in all likelihood never gave more than a first thought much less a second one to how she portrayed herself and the backup dancers on the stage.

        10. I think I’m there with Jimmy to an extent. I find it clear that this blogger perceives the world through a certain lense. One which I know I could never see through. So I understand I might not fully understand the frustration. However, I do think that Miley’s performance is a tad over-analyzed in this sense. I know it was atrocious, tasteless, racist, artistically void. But when one chooses to consistently view things from a sociological and racial perspective, you will begin to find race elements in just about everything, even where they might not exist or might not be as pervasive as you think they are. I will agree, there is a problem here, things do need to change. But if we overstate it, give Miley too much credit for being some racist mastermind objectifying black woman for her gain, then I think we do a disservice towards finding the real source of the problems. Miley I think very likely feels she is celebrating a culture. She is totally delusional or misinformed, but I think this post took this performance to air out frustrations that exist in other areas of life and existence, ones that don’t have much to do with the VMA performance. Those make for a totally relevant and worthwhile argument where Miley Cyrus isn’t the backbone of your thesis.

        11. A double-whammy of whitesplaining and mansplaining! You must be very proud. Remember, white dudes: it’s ALL ABOUT “from where I’m sitting”! If you don’t agree, it must be because the writer of a long, thoughtful post just “hasn’t considered the possibility that she might be over-thinking this”!

          Holy crap, the privilege is strong in this one.

        12. why is that her vantage point would be considered “narrow” and not those who don’t share it? Why is her lived experience and the detailed examples of historical parallels narrow? Why are we not experts in our own experiences? given that you do not have to live the experience could it be that you are “under-thinking” it? meaning you do not ever have to think about it as it in no way reflects your lived experience. What do you lose by reading this and finding the ways it could be true rather than looking to disapprove an experience someone with far more experience on the subject than you, is sharing?

        13. Hmmmm…this phenomenon of commodifying black womens’ bodies is well researched and documented, with much history to back it up. Yet, here you are, trying (I think) to insist that because “other”–i.e. white–people CAN interpret it with a different perspectives, that means that the interpretation of experiences of black women OF THEIR OWN LIVES is less valid.

          If that’s the case, you need to either check your privileges, or if you can’t do that, have a seat and just keep your wrong “opinions” to yourself.

        14. I don’t normally respond to things like this because usually the person on the other end has no interest in actually changing their opinion due to facts or valid argument, but your comment is laid out nicely and you seem to have some good intentions here.

          When Cyrus chose the performers she chose, she most likely did not put much thought as to why she picked black female performers. Like the people in the article who propositioned the author, maybe she simply thought about black women as a certain type of sexy and picked them for this reason.

          What the author is doing in her article is a deep dive analysis of how our culture views black women and what the economic and cultural repercussions for this viewpoint are. She is not “over-thinking” anything. She is making an analytical assessment using Cyrus’ performance as an example and support for her argument.

          When people say things like “This is my problem with ideologues and dogmatists” it belittles the analysis/argument being made by categorizing the author as personally biased and, therefore, not worth listening to. You may not mean it as such, but this is the sort of ad-hoc criticism people use against feminist theory. I would suggest your reaction to her analysis and attempts to refute it based on your anger over a single comment she made regarding forefathers means that you are seeing the world through a limited lens.

        15. Lots of bad things happen that are not perpetrated by “arch-fiend[s] with the diabolical intentions.” People can be hurtful and disrespectful to others without having any idea that they’re doing so. The fact that lots of other people do not feel hurt and disrespected is irrelevant.

          The time was when lots of white people used the N-word as a matter of course, perhaps with no real awareness or concern of how it was hurtful to black people. While this might be different from using it with actual malice, that doesn’t really make it ok, does it? If you are the person making those remarks, then you have a responsibility to stop making them as soon as you realize you are hurting others, right?

          The same thing goes with this — Miley Cyrus may not have any conception of how her dance routine is hurtful to others. But when it is brought to her attention — hopefully through posts like this — she should cut it the hell out. What I take to be your point — that it’s okay to hurt other people as long as most (read: white) people don’t think that it’s that relevant — seems to be quite callous.

        16. *sigh* If only someone you could phenotypically relate to had written this article, maybe you would get it. The power of dominating the media is that other points of view can always be deemed narrow. Every decision that goes into acts like Miley’s is very carefully thought out and deliberately made, diabolical or not, she is profiting of of the bodies (and dance moves) of black women.

          For all the centuries that this repeated abuse by our society of marginalized groups of people, they know what they are doing. There are millions of accounts of this exact type of abuse and if you choose to ‘play devil’s advocate’ for the sake of argument then you too are part of the problem, Jimmy.

        17. Black persons were not born into the privliges that were mentioned, these privileges we won over years of protest and murder and tears; our founding fathers kept slaves and, though there is no way of proving it, they ultimately raped their slaves. Attractive black women were made to keep in the house specifically for sexual purposes, so the statement you make has no ground.

          I also think think that you may be down playing this situation, assuming that Miley Cyrus is not old enough to consciously realize that her actions on stage make a derogatory statement; that she is just trying to “figure out who she is.” I say this specially because as a white woman, she in no way can relate or find herself in a black woman’s body. After thinking about it more, I realize and understand what the author of this post is saying and no, she is not over reacting.

          Her preformance at the VMA’s had nothing to do with expressing herself or showing the world that she can be whoever she wanted to be. She wanted to make a statement, and to do so she used the one thing that has made excruciatingly loud statements: the ass of a black female. I believe that Miley Cyrus realizes that she cannot embody the figures she glorifies, but she realizes that with them near her she can achieve a whole new level of fame or attention. It could be said for Lady Gaga and Beyonce as well, the staples of their fame stem from the gay community and black community (specifically Beyonce).

        18. No, we caught your point, just like we caught your capitalization of “Founding Fathers”. It isn’t “your” reality, so it can’t possibly be **that** important. Point taken.

        19. Isn’t the point of view that calls a “point of view…perceived by others who don’t share it as narrow”, in fact the narrow one? A personal relationship to what is seen on stage followed by a “chorus of yes…” is far from Narrow, Jimmy. NOT being open to a lived experience beyond your own OR speaking on behalf of some fictional “others” without actually hearing from said “others” while disregarding the actual “others” who are the “chorus of yes” is stubborn narrow. C’mon, son. You’re smarter than that.

        20. I don’t believe Ms Cyrus was painted as an uber-villain with ulterior motives to harm black women in this piece. I think we got an excellent picture of how entrenched this attitude is amongst careless white girls who doesn’t recognize that denigrating black women IS denigration or that making fun of others to cast oneself in a better light is a disgusting character flaw.

          The Founding Fathers were not tarred by the brush of “rapist” – she wrote “great men”. I think that to turn a blind eye to the entirety of the past is a convenient way to avoid the truth of the present. And that past included many powerful men who ensured that they could have a supply of sex partners without ever having to truly pay for the privilege.

        21. Jimmy, I agree with mylifeasprose. Your comments seem to reflect your position of privilege which allows you to not to see these patterns. This country has some amazing attributes but systematic oppression has historically played its part and continues to do so today albeit somewhat covertly for those who are not directly affected. I would challenge you to take this opportunity to look harder and more critically rather than just denying.

        22. I highly doubt Miley Cyrus came up with the performance idea on her own (she is absolutely not the first teen pop star to do something like this, nor will she be the last; America has a fascination with virginal teen stars who have some major “fall from grace” in some form or another–look at what happened to Britney Spears), let alone that it was intentionally done to mimic historically racial/racist tropes re: Black female sexuality.

          However, intention is not altogether the point. The fact that it was something in line with a pattern the author clearly outlines in her personal life (a pattern that is then reinforced by the amount of comments saying they share this experience–that is not a flimsy argument, that is supporting an argument) is the point. And the fact that it was done ignorantly–that is to say, without knowledge of how Black female sexuality is constructed and viewed–almost (ALMOST) makes it worse in my mind. Because it indicates how little we actually know about our own history, the marginalization and oppression of groups of people, and the commodification of their bodies. I would venture a guess that it was done to mimic other performances Miley/those in charge of Miley have seen–linking Black bodies to twerking, I don’t know–but little to no thought was given to what these performances actually represented when looked at within context of history.

          The fact that no thought was given shouldn’t surprise anyone–this is rarely anything the mainstream thinks about, because unless you specifically study this sort of thing, you have virtually no knowledge of it. It’s not because the author is nitpicking or analyzing to the point of absurdity. People didn’t notice it because they didn’t look for it. What they saw was a “lost teenager struggling to find her identity” because THAT is something the mainstream media covers all the time.

          Lastly, many of our founding fathers were slaveholders. Thomas Jefferson slept with I don’t know how many of his slaves, and considering the power and control white men wielded over Black women at the time, I find it ignorant to assume it was always consensual. It is not categorically dismissing the achievements of these men to acknowledge the fact that they’re not the Stand Up Good Dudes we were taught to believe they were in high school history class. It’s also derailing to point out that the author possesses a certain amount of privileges due to the achievements of our founding fathers, who were complicit (if not participating) in the exact problems Tressie is outlining. No one is obligated to silence themselves when critiquing our society just because that society offers them the opportunity to critique.

        23. To quote Jimmy: “My opinion is simply that her point of view could be perceived by others who don’t share it as narrow.”

          …. So if a point of view could be [or is] perceived as narrow because “others don’t share it” then wouldn’t that mean that ALL points of view could be considered narrow?
          Forgive me but I don’t fully understand your flimsy argument here, Jimmy. It seems like your 2 cents was stating the obvious… Clearly she is speaking to HER audience… or was that not clear? You see, writers often pull from their own ‘narrow’ life experiences, nobody knows that better than the non-white readerships of the countless editorials/newspapers/blogs etc that make up western media. You see, we are CONSTANTLY reading white perspectives written by White writers so when we as Black writers decide to write from a Black perspective, we don’t expect backlash. White people do it everyday. But since she is writing about race, your white guilt, unbeknownst to you, had you speaking up about something that doesn’t need to be stated… because it was OBVIOUS.
          Clearly you are not her audience. In the Black community we have something we like to call “knowing your audience” … it basically means we don’t care that you want to read things written from the White perspective… this is the United States of America and we have every right to write from our racial experiences just as you do. So relax and enjoy a change in perspective, it might actually become an educational experience if you allow it, Jimmy.

        24. There’s nothing flimsy in entertaining the perspectives of the myriad of black women speaking up when your argument is to dismissively assume that the stigmatization of black female sexuality is just an “anomalous occurrence”.

        25. I love it when men tell women what they should be concerned about/write about/think about.

          No, wait. That other thing.

        26. Um… Your entire argument basically sums up to telling her she needs to calm down and that she’s overreacting. Are you black? Are you female? I don’t ask these questions to be offensive but merely to state a point. As a male you can never truly understand what she goes through on a day to day basis as a woman. As a black woman it’s only magnified because they have been part of a systematic breaking down of a people in this country since day one. Black men are shot in the streets because they are scary and terrifying while black women have been use as sex rag dolls since slavery. Now that we are considered a whole person, not just 3/4ths mind you, it’s illegal so they get around

          To call the founding fathers of this country ‘white rapists’ is not completely unfounded. Thomas Jefferson’s slave, Sally Hemmings, bore 6 of his children.
          I think this is one of those times when we, being the people that are not immediately affected by the action, need to sit down, shut up, and listen to what the ACTUALLY affected have to say.

        27. Jimmy, while your fabulously verbose post hit on a few key issues I certainly agree with (such as the assumed implications of an act that was most likely conceived within a haze of marijuana smoke and giggles), I believe what the author of the post was attempting to portray within her piece (and now I am doing the assuming) was why the broad generalizations of our societal beliefs about beauty are narrow-sighted and most likely based off of years of, as she says, the sexual deviation of the black male/woman. What’s often interesting about a post like this, is that while it offers a narrow frame of reference (the socially aware black woman in America), it does bring to light issues that often kept within whispered conversations.

        28. Jimmy, you have the detrimental luxury a different perspective afforded to you by a lack of pigmentation. Most people who understand the difficulty of discussing racial issues with people that don’t experience it, understand this – that some people will never understand racism even in 2013 unless they have been subjected to what has been the fall out and blatant perpetuation of systemic racism. I am sure you will regard my point of view as narrow as well, but I do agree on the overall theme of this writer’s view and on the point of the founding fathers being rapists. Back then, it wasn’t illegal to rape a black woman or assert your dominance over her physical person because she wasn’t a “person” legally…but it doesn’t change what ultimately occurred. Let that sink in if it can. In fact, if you ever get to see “The Butler”, the first couple of scenes in that movie illustrate this fact very clearly.

        29. I think the point you may have missed is that intention isn’t really relevant. The fact that part of a confused white girl finding herself is the use of black bodies is a problem in itself regardless of whether she’s knowingly doing it. It’s a product of the social environment we live in. You don’t have to be an arch-fiend or even a bad person to do racist things because it’s so normalized and unexamined by the majority.

        30. “Moreover, an argument based on a “chorus of ‘yes this happens to me toos’” is flimsy at best.”
          To me a chorus of ‘yes this happens to me too’ is the OPPOSITE of flimsy. It is a legion of people real who have actually this shared experience rather than a bnch of anecdotal “I knew someone who knew someone that this happened to.” How can you so easily dismiss the experiences of everyone who chimes in with this actually happening to them? What exactly is it that invalidates their very real, shared experience?

      2. Excellent response, though from reading Jimmy’s comment, I don’t think it’ll be received – by him anyway. It was pleasantly received by me, and that’s reason enough to do it. I was surprised at his comment that we ought not notice that the Founders were rapists because we are citizens of this country. WTF?! That’s among the most asinine, incongruous arguments/suggestions I’ve read all year. It’s the sort of thing that would make me relegate the realm of anonymous Internet commenting to mass detritus by the lowest IQs among us if not for your tasteful and patient reply. Thanks for being the good in a sea of….not so good. 🙂

    3. Miley is not an arch fiend, but the industry that created her is. Also, I believe the “white rapists” the author is referring to are the slave owners who raped their female slaves in order to produce more slaves. They would enslave their own children. This is kind of a documented fact, not the over active imagination of an ideologue.

    4. Jimmy,
      The simple fact that so many people can and do relate to this, validates it completely. It’s not just her personal story; but the story of so many others. There are many who read this who have identified with this including myself, and millions more who haven’t who definitely can; trust me. This particular event not only relates to the general “system failure” as I like to call it but it stands as a prime example of it that she elegantly called out.

      Oh and go spit that “Fore Fathers” garbage atop a soap-box in the neighborhood where I grew up; where you see the product of the white rapists on a daily basis. Most of us are a products of rape; My 98 year old grandmother is mixed. And I doubt that in rural Alabama, my great grandmother was open to the idea of interracially unprotected sex. It’s safe to say they didn’t live a happy long life together saying as she killed herself soon after my grandmother was born. Guess she must not have been wifey material. I’m sure it happened many times before this. You can tell even without genetically testing every African American person you see (though I encourage you to try), if in just the faces, (including myself) WE ARE NOT FULL BLOODED AFRICANS. Most of us phenotypically share similar features, but figuratively look nothing like (especially) West Africans, where most of the slaved hail from. I’ve been hanging around Ghanaians for about a year now because my sister’s husband is from Ghana. No matter what cultural event I attend, my entire family sticks out like a sore thumb. And personally I can’t help but feeling a twinging hint of shame and of feeling tainted. All in all, you probably shouldn’t ignore what’s right in front of your face; it’s bad for your vision.

    5. Jimmy – The points I see you making are 1) Miley Cyrus is not an evil genius. 2) The post author has a phobia of white people and culture. and 3) Black people shouldn’t analyze the repercussions of the founding slaveholders…er… “fathers” as it comes to race.

      Not one statement regarding the substance of her post. Not one relevant statement in anything you said there.

      There is no more demeaning and dismissive (and yes, racist) response to someone who shares their experience of racism or sexism than “you’re making too big a deal out of this”, which is a form of saying “You obviously don’t understand what you’re going through”.

      Rather than imagining all the ways that the post author doesn’t understand her own feelings, how about a response and acknowledgement to the truth that is in her post? That would be refreshing.

    6. I doubt Miley Cyrus designed the entire spectacle. I was also disturbed by racial implications in this performance that I couldn’t properly identify. tressiemc22 nailed it. I’m a 32 year old white woman. I have no personal experience to back it up, but it rings true to me and I find her viewpoint anything but narrow.

    7. Forefathers did rape. Why ignore such an important fact? It’s not self defeating but profoundly essential in order to understand society’s structure as we know it. All the “good” done was rarely executed with the darker people’s in mind Beyond this, Miley is but a pawn in the larger game that is amidst. I doubt she was the grand architect of her performance, however the choices made for whom she was flanked by during that performance was rather deliberate. Important things happen and change history most successfully when it appears nothing has happened at all.

    8. As a white man married to a black woman, with a white daughter and a black stepdaughter, I sadly echo some of the things Tressie shared. And I can only laugh at Miley Cyrus. But I had to take issue with “Jimmy” who conflates rape and the “Founding Fathers” in a misguided defense of citizenship. The black American experience is unique in history, and those white “fathers” — no matter the best intentions — were part of a cruel and systematic oppression of generations of Americans. The good they did is self-evident, as a famous document suggests. But denying all the terrible wrongs of history — including rape — is simply shameful, and to use “Jimmy’s” words, ultimately self-defeating.

    9. A point: The author didn’t call “the Founding Fathers” white rapists. She referred to white male rapists who benefited from the “one drop” rule, and she made arguments about the reason that rule was legally codified.

      I can’t see any reasonable basis for you taking that as a categorical negation of the good done by the Founding Fathers.

    10. no.

      She’s not.

      you don’t have any experience with being a black woman who might dance or move to music in a white space, and that is why you’re wrong. What she’s talking about? I know all about it. Happened to me all the time when I went out dancing. A night where it didn’t happen was a night that I wasn’t out in a space where people danced, period. White people are breathtakingly rude in those scenarios.

    11. Jimmy, you kinda had me until you brought up the founding fathers… those guys were indeed rapists if they behaved like Thomas J. And that’s not to say that they did no good. But certainly someone who commits rape is capable of good too but will likely be remembered for the heinous act aforementioned. It’s kinda a shadow like that… And the Founding Fathers (proper pronoun emphasis) did not intend for black women to enjoy a damn thing that this country is now providing them, us. Women nor black people were on their list of deserving of “inalienable rights”.

    12. “But to call the Founding Fathers ´white rapists´ and to categorically negate the good that they did” – and, pray, to whom did they their aforementioned good? To the women they bought and bedded? Sure, those women might otherwise have had other, even harsher owners? To the men they bought and presumably did not bed but worked to keep them in a position where those men were unable to retaliate? To those women and men they took the land and their livelihood from? I can well imagine that they did good – to white men of their ilk. Try to see those “Founding Fathers” from the viewpoint of someone whose ancestors did not profit from “the good that they did”. What do you see then? Maybe a bunch of foreigners terrorizing the community – and quite a few of them doing whatever they please in the name of some deity they claim to be full of mercy and benevolence.

    13. It’s easy to consider something absurd simply because you can’t relate to it. It takes more effort to actually consider that maybe life isn’t as simple as you think it is. You are not a black woman and know nothing of what it is like. You know very little about American history – let alone black history- , obviously, if you think that calling slave owners “white rapists” is inaccurate. You don’t like this point of view because as a white man it makes you feel as if someone is telling you that something is wrong with you (or your “people”), even though you believe you did nothing to deserve that accusation. With that small bit of hurt you, apparently, feel, you’ve just got a quick sample of how black women feel all of the time.

    14. Jimmy maybe your view is myopic in that the writer is NOT demonizing young and confused Cyrus, but speaking of a system that has historically valued the bodies and sexuality of white black and brown women differently. What may be threatning to someone like you is that in a systematic view, we all play a role. Miley is the embodiment of a phenomenon that exists, and it would be so much nicer if it didn’t but it does. I am asuming that you are not a voluptuous black woman so you have the priviladge to pretend it doesnt exist. The writer and many other women can not do the same.

    15. Sorry, Jimmy, but your comment, “I don’t doubt that you have experienced discomfort as a result of systemic race issues.” Kinda says it all–in short, that you chose to minimize sexualized racism rather than face its criminality as it really was and is.

      I won’t nit-pick over your diminishment of the matter by calling it a “discomfort.” But Thomas Jefferson was notorious for his philandering with certain house slaves, to the extent that visiting Europeans commented on the remarkable facial and bodily resemblance between Jefferson and his slave butlers. Unaware of the customary blindness to such things required in slave-holding America, these guests soon learned not to mention it and bring embarrassment to the great man. The fact remains that rape is more about power and domination than passion and sexuality. With that understanding, Thomas Jefferson and many other less famous masters can be understood unapologetically as “white rapist.” If that realization is too much for you to bear, then it is understandable why you cannot interpret today’s sexualized racism as this author does so brilliantly.

      One warning, for those who wish to “get passed” our racial history and practice, there is an uneasy truth that you must recognize–we have not passed these foundational aspects of American culture, hell, very little of it is in the past. Miley Cyrus’ performance may be an unconscious display of all the nuance and profanity that the author exposes, but her ignorance is no excuse. Nor is it wise to dismiss this insightful and measured analysis. Take another look.

    16. The problem isn’t with her search for an identity but the manner in which she does the seeking. Having said that, not a single word in this article could be construed as an attempt to portray Cyrus as some Machiavellian schemer and to even imply so is absurd.

      On the one hand you profess to to understand the “deep-seated sociological realities” regarding “race” and on the other hand you liken the exploration of that phenomenon to freaking McCarthyism! In one paragraph you feel that the author is over-analyzing and in the following she’s a dogmatist ideologue filtering the issue through a myopic lens. The mental gymnastics on display here are utterly dizzying.

      I posit that any slave owner who had sex with their slaves was a rapist, your need to treat the Founding Fathers as sacrosanct demigods be damned.

    17. Why do you mean by “experienced discomfort as a results of systematic race issues”? If it was merely discomfort black people, women like the author of this blog especially, we wouldn’t be having a discussion about it. We don’t experience mere discomfort, we are down-right disgusted and offended. Our entire identity and sense of individuality is insulted by a growing commercial world that sells black women’s “goods” without ever giving a thought to the black women themselves. Although, personally I’ve never experienced anything like the author has, I can assure you such incidents are as not isolated as you think. Just because you are unaware of them, doesn’t mean they don’t occur and sometimes even in broad daylight.

  59. I hear you- at any rate the way YOU viewed the dance- from inside your head- inside my head-
    I saw a woman (white) that is way too thin- with way too flabby an ass for her age- looking thin and pathetic compared to dancers (black) who had beautiful bodies- and better moves- beauty is in the eye of the beholder-
    Come to NYC were we love all women and embrace all woman- and it’s not all about the color of our skins:) but about who has a better body ! Lol

  60. Love this article. It is the oldest trick in the book to select back-up dancers whose bodies are more fleshy than the star performer. Miley took that concept to a new level and this author nails the reasons why.

  61. I’m a 5’11” 135 lbs white female who could be said to fit some of our cultures ideals about white female beauty- And I couldn’t agree with this article more- I think everything you said is right- f*cked up- and true. Even though I’ve been the ‘beneficiary’ of white male attention- I resent the underlying realities of the whole thing- and know that this type of “privilege” is bullsh*t that perpetuates a patriarchy where women can never share equal power. I do a lot to undo my attractiveness to white men- probably all men- when I talk like this in response to their attention. So Tressie- more power to you- and try not to see all us white women as collaborators- we’re not- And for the record- I’ve had drunk females (yes, all white) ask to kiss me, touch me, etc.- many times over- both ends of this society’s value spectrum are treated as objects/entertainments- It’s not flattering and it doesn’t make me feel admired/valued, etc.- I think that bit is more about a certain sort of person who sees other people- probably all other people who are different than them as slightly less than human in the way they are- These are not intelligent people-

  62. Please don’t make this about racism. It is not. I live in the south and being from a very small town where everyone, no matter what race, is equally as poor and moving to a big city where there is a melting pot of culture and poverty and wealth, most people do not walk around worried about the next person color of skin.

    Miley’s performance was simply a result of alcohol and bad decisions. She is young and trying to change her “child-star” image and is going about it in a Brittney Spears kind of way. She too will overcome this phase in her young life and cringe but laugh over her apaulling performance.

    Pop culture *IS* a mix of races, everyone has accepted that or they don’t watch or participate. This display was not a statement, so please don’t make it about that.

  63. I think the writer hit the nail on the head! But I dont think Miley is deep enough to understand how her little show offends black women.

  64. I can’t count the amount of times I have been propositioned by het couples – and always approached by the female… I consider myself averagely attractive… I am of Anglo-Irish heritage but have a very dark brown complexion (Black Irish)… I am also on the “plump” side and have an obvious dark brown birthmark smack bang in the middle of my nose… I often wonder if I would experience the same sort of attention if I was the blonde haired, blue eyed, “pretty” type… I always get the impression that these women see me as a “safe” option

  65. Very insightful but I don’t think you explore the aspect of societal taboos enough. Many white groups are still shocked or scandalized with relationships outside of their socioeconomic peer groups. Inappropriate/sexual interactions with a black person are just one of the most obvious examples of pushing taboos. I knew plenty of white girls in the military that once removed from their home area were quite into dating black guys. That Atlanta frat boys frequent black strip clubs is no way surprising. Go to a metal concert, or a country “outlaw” show and it is overwhelmingly a white GOP audience pretending to rebel against the social structure they crave. I was shocked to hear of the number of your experiences but as i reflect on it it seems like an obvious way for one of these wannabe rebels to demonstrate their “individuality.” Although, given the points you bring up about societal perception it makes me curious as to the number of sexual assaults committed by whites against minorities. When I look at the response and outrage of the Zodiac Killer vs say the Green River Killer in terms of the “marriagability” of the white women involved that I am not going to like the numbers I discover doing research. Thanks for the provocative post.

  66. Personally, I have experienced similar behavior as a curvy petite white woman. I feel like if you appear “sexy” it negates your value as a person and people treat you differently. Large black women are “sexy” and people dismiss their individual feelings as human. It’s led me to avoid appearing sexy, ever, because I get less respect.

  67. I admite this piece was extremely riviting. As an educated, well-read, but still young black woman, I can relate to the ideals in which have spoke upon. I can recall walking down a main street in Columbus Ohio with my baby sister on the way to an evening in a predominately white strip of bars and having a drunk white man walk up to up to us and say “How are you two hoochies tonight?”

    Now while some people like to blame artist like Lil Wayne, Drake, 2 Chainz or anyone else making money being performance slaves for large conglomerate businesses, I blame the individuals who choose to use these paid performers as a catalyst to demean and antagonize black women.

    You can watch every rap video on BET or MTV and that still does not erradicate a persons personal morality center where they can determine for themselves how they want to be treat people.

    White women can still feel superior because they can remain in control of all men of any race, still get preferences in jobs, and if they choose, now they can copy our dance styles and ridicule us in the process. The typical beauty icon for women are scary skinny while women, with bleach blond extensions, almost brown skin from tans and bronzers, injections in their lips, breast implants, and now butt implants.

    While I consider myself to be a crusader for change and equality, I fear nothing will ever come of these issues. We are a nation divided by many different issues and I do not see any unification coming anytime soon. People like to pretend that just because we all coexixt in society that everyone has an equal opportunity, but if you look around at the disparities between the races, you will visually see that this is simply not the case.

    You cant put a band-aid over a gunshot wound and assume it is going to be healed. There needs to be some serious work done on an individual level to help people too see that there is still so much more work that needs to be done in order for every one to be able to be truly equal.

  68. Hey my sista Tressie! This is a topic of discussion in my class right now–and I am unable to add to your eloquence–but lord–please white people or black apologists–you show your privilege by telling us that our views are myopic–you show your privilege by turning the mirror from yourself and saying “you do it too”; you show your privilege by feigning interest in racial equality BUT refusing to listen when black folks tell you “hey this is what’s happening this is what you can do;” Fortunately, Tressie is too kind to silence you–
    Khalilah Ali

  69. The only words that come to mind after reading this are Thank You!

    It gives me true comfort to know that people like you exist.

    God Bless

  70. Thank you for putting into words what I had been struggling to say to friends who found Miley Cyrus’ act clumsy and “worthy of being mocked,” as one of them put it, but ultimately benign. I have long felt that white women such as myself need to be educated in the particular forms of oppression and sexism that black women, and notably those with particular physical characteristics, experience, so I have recently augmented my study of Afro-American history with black feminist theory and writings and it has been eye-opening, particularly to make me see the ways in which so many white people I know just don’t get what it means to be black in America or have any real desire to know. And that, to me, is a haunting legacy of the ugliness of this country’s history.

  71. have been trying to read this article for a while, there was something that turned my stomach while I was watching the vma performance. At first glance I thought of that old black face performance.

    When I read your article the issues became clearer. I am not sure if it is truly Milley because I am not sure performers actually design who they are, what they sing, and how they dance anymore. It seems like her handlers are likely dopplegangers of the men/women that ogled you in the club.

    well just when you think things are getting better………

  72. Quite possibly one of the greatest pieces I’ve read in years. You have put into words what I’ve been struggling to articulate in conveying my disdain for Cyrus’ performance. It’s all there for us to see but not if we aren’t looking. Quite profound. Thank you for such an honest, intelligent, unflinching analysis. Bravo.

  73. incredible and illuminating piece: thank you for this. You did not take the easy road of dismissing her performance as that of a naive young woman, yet thoughtfully provided context: based in historical, cultural and social survey, as well as personal experience, to provide an outline for what would lead a naive (can I say ignorant?) person to that performance. The resistance to this kind of thought and discourse is very telling about how much further we have to go in order to eradicate the “isms” that keep us separate.

    Thank you Tressie for sharing your awesomeness!

  74. As a white male, I am sort of ashamed to hear my brothers do this but I don’t put it past them. Every event where mobs of people and drinks are involved eventually devolves into this. It sounds like the worst kind of “taboo” sexual attraction by stereotype (This case reminds me of the “The Hottentot Venus” who toured Europe until reduced to street walking or the fascination of white and black men toward Asian women as a quiet little sex toy).

    As for Miley, I think you give her way more credit for her actions than she is worth. I would almost guarantee the models and dancers who surrounded Miley and the talentless Thicke were found via an MTV casting call the week of the event and choreographed by an MTV hired individual. Miley is a product created by her father and other investors. She is just another example of a taboo sort (Young naive white small town girl who is amazed and turned on by all these exotic surroundings) . She may or may not be a big boozer or drug user and she probably doesn’t think twice about black women’s posteriors or breasts. She was just another pawn in this game.

  75. I lived temporarily in a country where white women were viewed as sexually available and promiscuous due to their “Western” ways. I was groped, leered at, verbally abused on a daily basis. I was flashed no less than 3x in one year. I wore long sleeve shirts, jeans or pants in 38 C weather. This part of the experience was emotionally challenging and traumatic at times. However, this was a TEMPORARY situation that I had to endure. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have these kinds of experiences on a daily basis in your own country of birth and life. I appreciate how you’ve brilliant explained it in a way that has forced me to reflect on so many things I hadn’t considered.

  76. Great post–I’ll definitely share it widely. This is by far the most news-worthy analysis I have seen of this mess (which I have yet to watch). Hopefully it will get wider coverage.

  77. **>>>Meander ON , Tressiemc! Sista, not only did you hit the nail on the head; you clobbered IT..Suffice to say as another Sista commented earlier? You hit a nerve..Obviously a very raw nerve..But YOUR truth is MY truth also; and also a great majority of other Black women’s truths…Sadly? It is the day after our country celebrated 50 years of so called freedom for ALL & progress from the racial ugly, overtones in which our country, THIS country, was built upon…But as Bill Russell said yesterday @ ..” You only register progress by how far you have left to go…: “What is even sadder? To witness the ugly comments & negative backlash to your truth & your analysis of the Miley Cyrus debacle..Shameful I tell you, just shameful! Shame what a person will do for the mighty mean green..Even humiliate their entire family, ALL women…Her Dad’s comment? ‘She’s still my little girl..” Pfft..I daresay that she is little in “adult” experience..Including admittedly drug use…she is NO angel..And the only thing little about her? Is her body…She has the body of a 9 year old..No hips, flat chest, and certainly NO booty..And a very young, youngish face..I care less how old she is in actuality…Miley has the appearance of a very young girl..Which is why my 2nd thought? Was how if anyone found her mock porno act sexy HAS to be twisted & perverted…My 1st thought? Exactly what YOUR truth was..I just wasn’t going to post my true opinion here on WordPress..But since the cat is out of the bag>>

    Since I was a very young pre-teen(though I can’t say I’ve ever been fat nor overweight) ; White men have lusted after me…That is a fact
    I’m willing to bet is true for many Black women…From way back-in-the-day to the forefathers of our country that is TRUE. Don’t believe me; start with Thomas Jefferson and his slew of children from his slave.(that he mind you paraded quite openly in the same house with his wife) I won’t dig deep into my personal accounts with being lusted after by White men..But I’ve experienced the exact type of behavior you have…Something about adding liquor brings out more boldness..But remember that old adage about what is said about true colors come out when folks are DRUNK..The infamous “they” feels they have to keep trying with all their might to crap all over Black women; to heighten the desirability of White women…That “they” see US as beautiful and desirable and intelligent and creative as we ARE..Sadly? Obviously there isn’t confidence level in White women for the infamous “they” to live us out of it! Because at the beginning and end of the day??? WE don’t care cause we’re going to do OUR thing regardless..And without tearing anyone else down..We’re strong like that…Take mental notes but why the hate???

    And for the couple comments I saw before I gave up on reading through the ugliness? FACT..Twerking IS and DOES have Black roots…Straight out of West Africa…and was born in America out of my hometown of New Orleans in the early 90s…IF you’re going to quote something ; do your homework first.

    Tressiemc? I will be re-blogging your post on my blog page…It IS brilliant. It IS honest..It is not your imagination. It is not make believe…And behind the Trayvon murder? Our country needs to be willing and ready to have open, honest, and respectful dialogue about race. Race still matters here in America. It has from its inception…And until folks can talk this out like rational human beings…It will take ALL of us to get this crap right…And it isn’t right because it still EXISTS. If you don’t or can’t relate to another person’s experience? Sit back in the cut , listen, and try to have some dang empathy! OMG …This is hurtful stuff being discussed and I read some really catty awful comments…Where is the compassion for another as a person ?

    50 years has passed since a great deal of ALL of our people died for equality…We’re from a country that boasts of being one of the richest countries in the world..And we’ve become a laughing stock! A country can’t lead that doesn’t first have its stuff in order…We’ve a very long way to go..

    2 thumbs UP on your write Tressiemc!

  78. I’ve been waiting for someone to say this. I didn’t know it, of course, but I’ve been waiting for it just the same. I’ve read so many pieces on the topic of this performance, so many people explaining why it was wrong or deconstructing the elements and then patting themselves on the back at having discovered the ‘real’ reason it was so inflammatory. Each time I’ve thought, “No, it’s more than that. It’s WORSE, even, than that” but I couldn’t quite explain what was missing. This did it.

    I’m so sorry for your experiences that lead to this great insight, but I’m grateful to you for sharing what needed to be said.

  79. This is an incredible piece, powerful statement. Even though I am white, this spoke to me as I am not what is culturally accepted as beautiful. I’m short, fat, and ugly. I’ve long given up on dating. Whenever I go out with my friends to have a good time, I’m largely ignored. Until the drinks have been flowing steadily. My breasts are noticed. There are invitations to dance or to sit on men’s laps. Men offer me money. Married men want to pay me to have sex. Had I been a different woman, I could have accepted gifts from men with beautiful wives. When I’m not in the club surrounded by skinny, drunk people, or there isn’t some married guy looking for a girl with low self-esteem, I’m just some fat, ugly, white girl who has hidden herself away exactly as society expects people like me to do.

    1. Don´t let them get you down. If you do what society expects you to, society wins.
      And: Great article. I could never have imagined what Tressie experienced, living in a small, European town. But internet access lets me see what others have to experience day for day, just because of their skin colour. Objectifying and sexualising people is something a 21th century culture thinks perfectly normal, apparently.
      God, how I hate this world sometimes.

  80. This is an incredible piece. I’m a thin white woman whose appearance is in line with the current beauty standard (my therapist even told me this, which in light of what I just read seems like a strange thing for her to have said, but anyway…). I don’t think that Miley Cyrus’ audience (the intended direction of both the video for WCS and the VMA performance) was the white male gaze, I think it was for girls, or young women. But this is an interesting complication – do young white women see themselves through the male gaze? Maybe so. However, I see MC as creating a persona that is aspirational (or intended to be that way) – a figure who can interact socially with both B and W people, as well as someone who is poly sexual. This is of course faux to the highest point possible. After all this discussion started I went to her Instagram and saw the last year or so of photos, she creates an image of her self as a skinny white wealthy woman who sleeps with her dogs.

  81. Good article. As a fat positive (although white gay and male) person, I wonder if this issue applies to fat bodies in general, as being less desirable, less valued, etc. Sure, there are “chubby chasers” and all, but is seems to me that all bodies that are judged socially different, are less commodity, more fetish.

    Anyway, very interesting article.

  82. Reblogged this on Berna's Vibe~The Way I See IT and commented:
    Because I “can ” relate to this well-written /well-expressed and carefully thought out post I’ve decided to re-blog this. Please be aware this a is HIGHLY charged topic. But with good dialogue & earnest desire to iron this racial matter out in our country; it can be discussed with respect and attempt to understand where her viewpoint is coming from. Herstory, her experience…And many Black women, including myself , have been victim to this unwarranted & unwanted type of behavior…Which is , by the way, considered sexual harrassment. ..Sincerely, Bernadette(Berna)

  83. “Cyrus is being racist by misappropriating a segment of African-American culture than to face the idea that women of color are often deployed to heighten the femininity and desirability of white women. ”

    I would tend to agree with tricia. I didn’t see this weird tv performance..since I don’t have a tv.

    As for your bar, dance attendance experiences…how uh, tiring. But then I haven’t gone to a dance club/bar for decades and am missing out on this dynamic.

    The sad thing about the white frat boys at the black stripper joints is probably so horribly true: this is NO different than a bunch of white men at Asian strip clubs..in Thailand, Japan, etc. Don’t know if they exist in North America…and would be disappointed if they did.

  84. This article describes my life so eloquently; thank you so much for writing it. From wearing baggy clothing throughout school to constantly being grabbed, harassed and leered at in the streets( even in a diverse city like Honolulu,HI), the hypersexualization of my body has taken an emotional/mental toll on me. Even online and behind the safety of a computer screen, it feels like there is no end to it. To those who feel that the author is over-analyzing or too centered, please put your world view/privilege aside and just listen.

    Sincerely, a fat black woman who just wants to do things in peace without being bothered.

  85. Very interesting article. I didn’t mentally tap into the intended and/or unintended portrayal of black women versus white women. I do have to say that I noticed the distinctly different features of the dancers to Cyrus. Quite honestly, my thoughts went the other way. . . I was more embarrassed for Miley in that she portrayed a girl seeking the wrong kind of attention by flaunting an overly thin frame in front of millions of people. I do wonder the true intention of the selection of dancers around her as well. . . And, feel very sad that we, as women, continue to feel the need to act this way in order to come to a place of independence in young adulthood. It’s just sad.

  86. Thanks so much for this. I had read a lot of people saying the performance was racist but most of what I saw amounted to like “twerking is only for black people” (ignoring the fact that whatever the hell she was doing looks nothing like actual twerking).
    After reading this post I feel like I really get where you’re coming from here, and your personal experiences put it all in a larger context that makes so much more sense. It’s like I recall it completely differently now, seeing parts of that “performance” that I didn’t even notice before.
    White privilege certainly has something to do with that, but I think she was also distracting enough to explain some of the unnoticed parts lol.

  87. Once again, you are able to cogently articulate what many of us struggle to express, but feel deeply. Thank you for writing! It never ceases to amaze me the extent to which people refuse to deal with race. The willful ignorance and perpetual denial is quite remarkable–in the worst way. What is it about race, racism, white supremacy that turns many white folk off so, that they are unable to hear, process or even consider the truth? the disconnect appears to be psychological. Beyond cognitive dissonance, the denial, guilt, the defensive posture and the excuses and propensity to explain it all away with colorblind mythologies is extraordinary–in the worst way. Keep speaking your truth! I admire your courage and bow down to your intelligence.

  88. “My mentor likes to joke that interracial marriage is only a solution to racial wealth gaps if all white men suddenly were to marry up with poor black women. It’s funny because it is so ridiculous to even imagine.”

    Used to pose this as a solution all the time to my students in the stratification class I taught. Makes sense to me but given social distance and preferences of white men, very unlikely.

    1. But why should interracial marriage be dismissed as having no value because it is not a broad “solution” to poverty or racial injustice? What about, for example, a black man and a white woman really love each other, and they would like to spend their lives together? Would you say “That’s laughable! What do they think they are they solving??!”

        1. The key here is “white men” – who have more wealth and overall social capital than black men. And of course, it would be optimally beneficial if ALL wealthy white men married poor black women. Black men marrying white women has done nothing to change the racial hierarchy in this country. Well, possibly deepened the inequality.

  89. Well done. I have felt this way about the large, dark, black back up singers and choirs featuring large, dark, black women all as back drop to a thin white woman or sometimes a white guy. Ironically, biracial Mariah Carey is very guilty of this. She seems to want to make sure that no woman possesses the regularly accepted standards of beauty she sports. Like you said, I guess a brown, curvy black woman is not a threat. She’s a treat, but not a threat. But Miley (and her people) took it to another level. Can you imagine the casting meeting? “Get me some big black asses!”

    Your bridesmaid analogy works, as well as the transfer of wealth.

    On another note, I’m so sick of the faux bisexual antics. Straight women need to stop doing things to women only to arouse men. I know there’s always been the girl on girl thing in porn, but when did it become a commonplace rite of passage for college girls? “Kiss her! Grab her boobs!” And more points if you do it to a black woman, I guess.

    You put words an overall discomfort. Thank you.

  90. She really looks too much into it. The fact of the matter is you can turn on MTV any day of the week and see big-bottomed black women gyrating in music videos. As the VMA performance that Miley Cyrus was in was a multi-musician-participant affair, to suggest Miley is to blame for the entire spectacle onstage that evening is really stretching it. Miley was making an attempt at being “entertaining”. I doubt very much she hand-picked those black women for their sexual , reproductive, and labor capital. Most of the article reads like an african-american history studies course. Yea, she’s right on alot of points, but the perception that some black women are sexual objects and open game for anyone’s fun is generally perpetuated by black males in rap and hip-hop videos. So, place the contemporary blame for this sort of sexual objectness where it belongs – on the black community.

    1. When you say that she’s looking in to it too much, that makes me feel like you’re losing sight of actual violence against people (which is what the author is talking about) for the sole purpose of “making a point” about “the black population.” It’s like when someone says, “ouch this hurts”, you respond, “you’re over-thinking this” and when others say, “actually that does hurt, it even hurts others”, you say, “hey, look at black men, they’re even worse.”

  91. Fascinating article. I went back and looked at the video. Except for the twerking lady in stripes, the back-up dancers who flank Miley are not overweight by any means. They’re not waifs but that’s only a requirement for ballet dancers. It’s not even apparent all of them are women. I suspect that Miley is surrounding herself with black dancers because she wants to appropriate their cool and their culture. I have no clue what the giant teddy bear and teddy bear costumes stand for–an association with childhood?–and I wish someone would explain that to me. The first part of the piece features Miley making faces, dancing awkwardly rather than gracefully, grabbing an imaginary penis and harassing the twerking lady–it’s almost a tribute to Amanda Bynes in demonstrating how unlikeable a grown-up child star can be.The second part with Robin Thicke shows her doing things that we equate with people who are drunk or nasty. I see her, Gaga, Keisha and so many others as Madonna’s progeny–women with varying degrees of talent who peddle sex and spectacle because their audience has come to expect it. Every year it’s a race to come up with something more bizarre and outrageous, and Miley’s handlers decided to use black people as props. Yup, it’s disgusting but that’s the point of yhe VMAs–to be outrageous. There may well be a connection to the jerks in the bars–they’re all white trash. Or they’re white and trashy. I know of no one who would consider the harassment you endured as acceptable behavior.

  92. I read your piece on Slate.
    Quick context – because I think it matters in this situation – I am a white, middle-class, middle-age woman. I also don’t watch much pop music videos but wanted to see what all the fuss and gasping was about.
    I found Cyrus’s performance disturbing too but not for her dancing exactly (which was clearly all about breaking free of the un-sexual confines of her Disney persona.) What bothered me was the supporting dancers. However I could not put into words what disturbed me about them. You’ve given me the context I needed to understand what I was reacting to.

  93. I like what you have to say and enjoyed reading your perspective. I only just watched the whole performance because it was on NPR and thus isn’t just going away. I thought her performance was offensive in many ways. I don’t know what her intent was and I cannot speak from your perspective because I am a white woman. As a white woman, and a lesbian, I personally don’t find a racial hierarchy of beauty at least in my own desire. I know it exists and that women are taught that white and blond is better somehow but I don’t think there was anything wrong with the African American women’s bodies in the video. I have dated women of different races, and I thought those back-up dancers were much more appealing than the young obnoxious singer we were supposed to be focused on. Also, there may be odd motives when people approach you at bars or when the white frat boys go to black strip clubs, but perhaps some people who date people opposite from their own race just find those people beautiful and are looking beyond skin color. In this case, though, It did seem like an odd mix where she was just throwing things together from different cultures without necessarily respecting those cultures. I found it offensive, too.

  94. Wow, I’m sorry this happens. And sorry to add such a conservative voice, but here goes… I think it’s definitely wrong for anyone to be sexually objectified… and that this phenomena falls along racial or any kind of distinctive pattern is sad. But I’m more aghast at random people going up to any person and asking them to be sexual for fun. I know that we live in an open society now, and that people have “fun”. But I still hold on to this truth (that I think my soul knows) that for the most part, sex and love must somehow go together. I know that there are all kinds of frivolous expressions of sex and all that, but I think our soul’s long for sex and love to go together. Although the racial aspects you mentioned is a problem, but also it seems to me that sex used so nonchalantly is what’s actually abusive to a soul, not just the racial aspect: the black woman’s for being objectified, and the white couples’ by objectifying. Perhaps I am stating the obvious, but even if it happened to a beautiful, perfect looking white woman or a prostitute who was paid well, it still strikes me as wrong… For example, if strangers often asked a black woman if they could feel their hair cause it’s different, and did it in the same cavalier, drunk, partying attitude would it be just as bad? Is it more the racial profiling that’s insulting or is it that it is sexual in nature?

  95. I find parts of your article, especially personal experiences, eye-opening and sad. I’m not sure why people would be so embolden to treat you in the manner they have. And I can only imagine how dehumanizing it would feel.

    However, your post also is a perfect example of academia over analyzing something in popular culture, and reaching conclusions that aren’t necessarily true simply because of one’s unfortunate personal experience.

    Some of your (and other’s) arguments for some of the sexual behaviors in black culture as being sexually empowering are just plain ludicrous. It reminds me of some of the empty and inane articles/opinion I read when Salt ‘n Pepa came out with “None of Your Business.”

    “If she, wanna be a freak and sell it on the weekend.. IT’S NONE A YO BUSINESS”… is how the lyric goes.

    To create the lyric in the first place and then to defend it as empowering woman’s sexuality, or anyone’s sexuality for that matter, or as choice, as the song suggests and as others, is simply preposterous.

    Instead of criticizing ALL participants, artists and networks for creating drivel that is unworthy of our time and audience, or black culture’s misogyny and white culture’s continued exploitation of just about everything, or our overall culture’s casual and destructive approach to sexuality; you fell into the trap of being a victim and creating a pseudo intellectual piece about size and shape and color.

    Yes, there are remnants of racism alive and well in our society. Yes, there are many who fetishize large women, boobs and butts. However, there are plenty of people who find size and shape sexy AND see the beauty within.

    1. There are people who are attracted to larger women, but where are their voices in the public discourse about what ‘attractive’ is?

      The article doesn’t discuss the individual preferences of people, but rather the culturally acceptable choices that people are faced with. Men who are attracted to larger women may mask their socially unacceptable preference through separating their sexual desires from their choice of long-term relationships – Dan Savage’s advice column has covered this issue a few times.

      Public discourse decides want is acceptable or not – observe old ‘unattractive’ men with ‘attractive’ younger wives, but very few counter examples – certainly no high-profile examples. Women are no more mercenary than men (older ‘unattractive’ gay men with younger ‘attractive’ men) so it is likely that public discourse is playing an important role in restricting the occurrence of younger men with older women.

      That white women are comfortable with their partners hitting on a black woman, certainly suggests that something in public discourse is making that acceptable.

      You say that you are not sure why some people feel that hitting on the writer is acceptable, but then accuser the writer of over theorising. That looks like sticking your head in the sand because you don’t want to know what the reasons are.

    2. Dear A.J. I’m surprised at how personally you’ve taken this essay. You acknowledged that “there are many who fetishize large women, boobs, and butts” and that “there are remnants of racism … in our society”, so why is it implausible that they intersect? Tressie has just given numerous examples of how sexism and racism have interplayed on her own body, yet you dismiss her experience. Additionally Tressie’s essay is hardly “pseudo intellectual”. There are volumes written on the sexualization of bodies of colour and it has always played out differently on those bodies versus white bodies. (e.g., bell hooks) I politely ask that you don’t fall into the trap of white hegemonic thinking by denying agency and experience of people of colour.

  96. There were SO many things wrong with this gongshow of a performance but this was definitely one of them. Thanks for sharing your perspective so thoughtfully and articulately. Also I am a big fan of how you respond to comments that are out of line! Cheers! 🙂

  97. Loved what you wrote.And yes,I do agree – women with non-white sexual appearances (even wholesome,brown Asian women like me) are blanket-termed under the category of “deviant” sexuality.

    The norms and sociological concepts that exist today are still dominated by Western notions of acceptability and appropriateness; seems to me like we all still have a long way to go insofar as not knowingly/unknowingly perpetuating such dangerous social hierarchies.

  98. Very insightful essay on what was a disgracful performance. What you recount of your experiences is so shocking to me, I live in Ireland, I know none of us behaved like that on our Summer stay in the states in college. I saw that silly girl simulating; excuse me:- ‘analingus’ with that lady with some sort of bear creature on her back, my jaw dropped as to what MTV were doing? It would never be allowed here, I found it exploitative in the extreme. This under-educated stage pony couldn’t have understood this, but MTV? Question – what was the bear on the back thing? Some sort of symbol of ‘bad’ afro hair? There was just SO much wrong with this whole thing.

  99. Thank you for taking the time to write clearly and eloquently about your personal experiences. Although I have not personally experienced this, I have a daughter over whom I stand guard continually because of the insults and bullying directed toward her. I appreciate having proof that the ‘looks’ she gets are not just a ‘figment of my imagination.’

  100. Insightful and thought-provoking. It’s interesting because her back-up dancers seem to be very supportive of her and were offended when people called them “props” (They’re the L.A. Bakers and work as a team) and the woman she grabbed the ass of is Amazon Ashley (a semi-famous burlesque dancer) who seems to be a friend of Miley’s. Then again, if I was in show business I’d probably be “friendly” with someone who was a key to getting recognized even if I felt like I was being used by them. It’s a complicated issue, but one that needs attention and thought. Thank you for giving it that.

  101. Brilliant social commentary and razor sharp cultural analysis. I think you’ve totally slashed through the horseshit to hit upon the salient point–the fear of black femininity and empowered sexuality in this culture, which Miley so shamelessly capitalized upon. Gonna share this–and start reading you religiously.

  102. Bravo! I thought I was the only one who watched Miley Cyrus’…whatever that was and thought, ‘Why are there so many black people on stage with Miley Cyrus?’ And then I sat back and watched it. There are so many examples of this kind of thing in the American cultural diaspora. Most very sudtle, some overt. For an example of the overt, please see the closing credits of the film The Hangover. White performers often find ways to adhere themselves to black people and black culture when they want to radicalize themselves in order to become more popular and marketable. This is nothiing new. Elvis and Maddonna did it just to name a few. And I too with my curvey self have had to deal with sex ladened comments and looks from all sorts of sources. But I’d like to offer another point of view. If Miley were say Beyonce and Beyonce radicalized her image by adhering to “inner-city” cultural expressions, would be be having this conversation?

  103. Reblogged this on keshiablogs and commented:
    Although I am so sick of the Miley Cyrus performance memes and explanations, this blog post is too important not to share. I had never read anything by the blogger before but after reading this and doing a little background on her…she is definitely on my must read list! She can be followed on twitter at @tressiemcphd.

  104. Thank you for writing this. I am glad I found it. I wasn’t able to put into words what I was seeing and what bothered me about the performance, other than how disturbing it was.

  105. The responses to your blog post have ranged from comical to downright condescending . It’s always funny to me when someone black espouses on the “black narrative”, their opinions, thoughts, feelings, et al. are relegated to a position of misunderstanding, overreaching, or too emotional. It is a true paradox that my personal experiences as a black woman are so easily dismissed because those who hold such “privilege”(which could include class, gender, and/or race) have not had or experienced such things to the same degree. My mind reels even more when the personal attacks begin. I am equally frustrated by the obvious lack of some (see I said some) of those who commented to try defeat you by attacking you personally like the one who recommended you read books on the topic—as if you clearly didn’t grasp the concept. Of course you responded to their obtuse attacks with wit and grace, but on your blog no less, should you have to fend off such criticisms from people who obviously don’t have your depth of knowledge or painful personal experiences? However, I find it par-for-the-course of people who don’t value the opinions of others. *deep breath* I wanted to get that out of the way, so I could talk about the article.

    Brilliant with a capital B! I really felt you captured the essence of the “fat/black” experience. Since I have had some of those experiences too, I’m glad you articulated part of the problem so well. However, I have to say in this case Miley is merely a symptom and not the cause—not that it negates her responsibility to be more culturally aware or sensitive. Miley is truly a reflection of cultural ignorance that at times is also perpetuated within the black community, as a result, “twerking”, shaking your behind, or dancing provocatively is not exclusively black (Miley, Ke$ha, Gaga, Shakira, et al.) nor exclusively female (Chippendales, Magic Mike). I can also see your point that having these bulbous black bodies gyrating on stage with her does promote a more “look at me” attitude than just her scanty outfits. To a degree, I do think having heavier women dancing is almost a form of characterization of how Western society as a whole views black women. Despite what other posters (possibly non black or fat) felt, black women on a nauseatingly consistent basis are being dissected, analyzed, studied, probed, poked, prodded, chided, berated, etc. (i.e. many of us have become modern day Sara Bartman’s) for everything! I’ve yet to see the finger wagging for other ethnic female groups who have some of the same issues if not more…I digress. I will end by saying it was nice to see this particular type of analysis done by a black woman who is able to see the issue for what it really is. Thank you.

  106. The black woman on stage had a choice. She knew her choice in actions, dance, attire, and representation. She willingly chose it, yet everything is being spoken about how the white woman on stage is making some statement, where is the discussion of the statement the black woman was making by intentionally and thoughtfully participating in this performance. Nothing was done TO the woman that she didn’t do to herself.

    I am with some of the other commenters that I feel you have been overthinking this, but I recognize I don’t walk in your shoes. Maybe your experiences in the bars have to do with how ebullient you are, or perhaps you’ve got that sort of magnetic personality that people are drawn to. I think people would be approaching you no matter what skin you wear, because there are plenty of people who I’m sure are similar in body type to you that don’t have this experience. That’s a round-about way of giving you a compliment that it’s your “YOUness” that is attracting people, and maybe what you’re experiencing is that after a few drinks people’s own apprehensions wear off and they’re approaching you because you’re fun to hang out with.

    Just my $0.02.
    full disclosure: I can’t twerk but I wish I could. (:o)

    1. I’m sorry, having been the receiver of this type of attention in places that don’t serve alcohol, it has little to do with my personality because these are perfect strangers approaching me at stores, on public transportation, or as I am walking. They approach with questions like:

      “Is it true what they say about black women…that your ravenous!”
      “You are fairly attractive for a black woman”
      Or they touch me inappropriately.

      So with questions like that, and no alcohol involved that I can smell and being in broad daylight in very public spaces, how is it that this can be construed as those men being attracted to me for my “youness” which happens to be in a black body?

      This has been happening to me for a long time because I had precocious puberty. So I’ve learned to deal with it; but every time it happens, and someone tells me that the male is being friendly or excuses their behavior or blames me, I become irritated. I’ve actually had to give a man a black eye once because he could not believe, to quote him, “a brown betty would say no”. Really? I’m not sure that had anything to do with my personality.

    2. Your reply is sadly typical of a white person. Just like you said, you don’t walk in her shoes. So instead of trying to brush off the racial implications as HER misunderstanding the many white people she encountered, try owning that some of your fellow white people, be it often subconsciously, behave in racially insensitive ways. I get it often as well but for my butt. White people will come up to me saying ‘yeah girl!” “Show me how to dance” “Work that thing” and trying to hit my butt. I’ve taken to saying that I don’t dance for their entertainment or on demand and there are plenty of other white girls you can scream at.

      It’s behavior that has been passed down from generations mainly because many of you don’t have to encounter us on a regular basis. So when you do, it’s this “crazy unique experience”. Lack of exposure breeds ignorance.

      Once you all stop trying to brush off our feelings and say, “hey, I didn’t know that offended you, I’m gonna work on that”, things will then get better. It’s extremely hard for us to here that we’re overreacting from someone who has not had to experience such behavior.

    3. epicmoonflower is projecting. She imagines uninvited sexual touching can be a compliment. It isn’t.

    4. Wow… What an incredibly ignorant response from epicmoonflower. Talk about blaming the victim, you are basically saying that the author brings the unwanted attention upon herself by having a great personality? How would these drunk white people know just from looking at her that she is ‘fun to hang out with.’ That’s just silly and offensive. You’re saying that the backup dancer deserved to be objectified because she chose to perform on that stage. I’m about as white as it gets and even I can see that you are basically just making excuses for ignorant white people because you don’t want to look a little deeper and admit that white people can be incredibly cruel and insensitive to people of other races because we have been so privileged for so long. White lady to white lady, I’m telling you to just.stop.talking. You have no idea what it is like to be black in our country, and neither do I. It would be better for you to be silent and listen. Comments like yours only further the divide, mistrust, and misunderstanding between races. Race and beauty and female sexuality are such loaded topics, we need to approach them with an attitude of humility. The moment you make a comment that attempts to justify ignorance or insensitivity, you end the conversation because you are basically saying that the author’s interpretation of those situations was wrong. You weren’t there, you didn’t experience it. You do not have the right to suggest that she was in some way inviting those overtures, or applying a racial overtone where there was none. She felt uncomfortable and violated, and those were valid feelings. It couldn’t be easy to talk about those experiences. And as a white woman, it’s certainly not comfortable to hear about. But it is so necessary. How can we try to be different if we refuse to see any perspective that isn’t our own? I work as a teacher in a school with a 100% black student population. I have to discipline myself daily to pause and tell myself to listen and stop judging, and stop being defensive. I can’t serve my students to my fullest capacity if I try to pretend race is unimportant. I’m not perfect, I’m sure that I have biases and bigotry That I’m not even aware of yet. But I can’t fix it if I can’t face it. None of us can.

  107. This is a brilliant article. I am a black female in AL, overweight but not ugly. I went to UofA and had some of the same experiences spoken of in this article. White people were interested in me in college as an oddity. I say people because both white men and women wanted to touch me. They were especially curious about my hair and chest size. I didn’t understand why at the time or couldn’t articulate what I was feeling into words. I was treated/ felt like an animal on display at the zoo. It was enough to give me a complex if I let it. That college experience has translated into the workforce. But now I can use it for a slight advantage. I’ve got 15 years of work experience and find it much easier to work with white men than any other group. So, I would like to speak on behalf of those back up dancers that participated in the MC travesty. If we are going to be marginalized and seen as oddities (animals) and there isn’t anything we can do to change the worlds view of us why not TWERK it for financial gain? Isn’t that true independence?

  108. I am glad that you said something! I also watched this thinking that there just something “not quite right right” about who she had on the stage with her. I thought maybe my citizenship in the culture of skinny little women being on TV was getting the best of me, but it is wonderful to hear another perspective on objectified beauty, and that this was a mockery and the fact that it makes people uncomfortable is not racist, sexist, or otherwise, but instead just starting to see the surface of this type of objectification. I pray one day the shape or pigment of someone’s body won’t be the basis of their beauty in their own mind, or in our culture.

  109. Tressie–Thank you. Reading your article and the comments gave me a strange sense of relief. I’ve had this happened to me EVERYWHERE, from stores, to bars, to clubs, to campuses. I stop going to bars and clubs at a very early age because I got tired of it. It still happens. The blatant questions about my sexuality or white males touching me inappropriately and behaving with surprise when I don’t respond positively. All I could think when I watched the performance was “hotentot”. I appreciate your ability to put this in words.

  110. 1) The Enlightenment is the single most important movement in history, by far. 2) The philosophies within this movement of Reason contain various racist & intolerant themes. 3) Your Marxist perspective stems from german Idealism, specifically Hegel (an anti-semite) & his writings on ontological alienation. Hegel was very influenced by the Enlightenment & his project operates by similar hierarchies. 4) Therefore, your cultural critique is not as ideologically pure as you suspect. By utilizing these “tools” of thought, you inherit , thus contaminate your thesis with, various oppresive oppositions. This was not your intent, but it was impossible not to drag along such an expansive history simply by discussing labor & capital. Miley’s “twerking” raises various issues regarding historical patterns of racism, which she probably did not mean to do. 5) you’re guilty of the same aims of theoretical purity that aided the institutionalizing racism in the West, & eventually, by way of imperialism, the world. Did you mean to do this? No. However, the words we use, the activities we engage in, etc, have a long complex history (often not pretty) that we automatically take on whether w e care to acknowledge it or not. In a community so historically aware, we are always prone to and already guilty of invoking the crimes, offenses, & sins, of the past — even you. 6) solution: we must recognize the victims of history, trace the “roots” of our current social practices, & then forgive. We all will always & can only transgress, thus we must continually forgive what is perhaps unforgivable: history.

  111. There is only one thing I disagree with here. You say you are not beautiful.

    That cannot be true.

    Everyone is beautiful. Maybe our backassword society would disagree – but then they found Cyrus’s performance inspiring.

    You must be beautiful. Anyone who could write such a powerful peace, so well written with such insight, could be nothing but beautiful.

    1. The kind of beauty she was talking about is the kind that sells product or attracts the attention of the majority — or at least the majority of the wealthy and powerful — INvoluntarily. It has VERY little to do with ANYthing on the INside. The piece is ABOUT *bodies*. Please try to keep up.

  112. “The very form that money takes — paper and not goods — is rooted in a historical enterprise of controlling the development of an economic sphere where women might amass wealth.”

    You should really elaborate on this. The U.S. Dollar notes were once based on the value of gold. They were a “promise” that this note is redeemable for a specified amount (weight) of gold. Other precious metals, like silver and copper were minted into coins, and their value as currency was backed by their value as a commodity.

    “Goods” are not a recognized currency in the United States. They are what a currency can be traded for. Of course, you can trade goods for goods, as a barter, or even trade services for goods as another form of barter.

    What I’m getting at here is, why do you think paper money was designed as a system to keep women from amassing wealth? It occurs to me that it was designed as system where transactions could take place without lugging around large amounts of metal, which is much heavier than paper.

    And really, I buy what you’re saying about large black women’s bodies being objectified and that racism, especially pertaining to black women, is still a real thing in America today. But do you really believe that was Miley Cyrus’ artistic message? Or even that that’s what she was trying to convey? Or acted on subconsciously?

    It’s Miley Cyrus, FFS, she wouldn’t understand half of what you’ve said here. Isn’t it more likely she was just trying to look sexy and failed miserably?

    1. Your questions only make Miley Cyrus’ “act” more insidious! Was Cyrus solely responsible for its content? Highly unlikely. The message – which was lacking any artistic quality I could see but was clear to me too – was from the industry power brokers. And is exactly the message they are trying to convey. And you completely missed the point about wealth and its connection to power. This society will never get anywhere until we all acknowledge that.

    2. Just because you don’t understand a cultural trope/privilege/prejudice doesn’t mean you can’t exhibit it in your art. In fact, when it comes to privilege, not understanding it often makes it *more* likely that you’ll exhibit it.

  113. I’m sad that you don’t think you’re beautiful, Tressie. I don’t know who dropped the ball in allowing you to think that but they failed you in a major way. You are a black woman who is intelligent with a beautiful smile and a gorgeous light in your eye. I know this the purpose of this blog wasn’t for you to receive comments from people telling you that but if you’re going to tell the truth to us from your experience we should have the right to do the same for you.

  114. The world of paranoia, woe is me because I’m black, and somewhere there’s someone who owes me mentality that is obvious with this article, continues to support the wyas of the black fok in this country. Rather than spend your time addressing women dancing, address your corrective actions for the 94% of black that are killed by other blacks. What’s wrong the “truth cat” got your tongue.

      1. I was surprised at the information I found by following the link you provided. It showed that white people were much more likely to be arrested than blacks on almost every category except murder (by the slimmest of margins). robbery and gamboling.

        I was think that doesn’t support your name calling post. What was also enlightening was this information http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cpus10.pdf which describes the prison population from the same year. Black men and women are imprisoned in greater numbers than white men and women.
        Unless you want to be perceived as clueless, then learn to make a complete argument and try to refrain from name calling as it does nothing to advance your argument.
        As for the statistics, I could make an assumption that the courts penalize black people by taking their freedom and white people by taking their money but first I would have to study the facts which I am not going to just now because I need to get some sleep
        What I will comment on, and I am not singling you out ScripTease, is the amount of open contempt displayed toward white people and men in these posts. For an example you only have to look at the second and third post up from this one. The only thing missing from those posts is the word mansplaining.
        For all the name-callers and race baiters who have posted here, I have a quote for you:
        “Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says “love your enemies,” he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies-or else? The chain reaction of evil-Hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”
        I will leave it unattributed so you can look it up and hopefully read some more of this speaker’s wisdom. Then maybe you can make a difference for good. Foe a change.

    1. Benjamin Dover, are you aware that almost 90% of whites are also killed by other whites? Are you “addressing” this issue with white folks?

  115. I’m one of those people who missed the messages in the background completely. In fact, I didn’t even notice the other dancers on the stage (except the teddy bears…shudder). A debate started on facebook that pointed it out to me and has spurred some interesting discussion, including the posting of this article. I consider myself blind to race, because frankly it doesn’t offend or interest me in any way. I enjoy reading about and visiting other cultures, but what color someone’s skin is leaves little bearing in my mind. Same goes with gender, body size, sexuality, eye color, hair style, dress style, etc. I prefer to remember their personalities. I know I’m not the norm- nor am I perfect, obviously- but it still shocks me when people point out race or any other feature as the most important aspect of a person. It’s only one aspect. We’re all multifaceted, and we deserved to be seen as more than two-dimensional. In many ways I suppose it IS important, but as a white person I’ll never be able to relate to the women you describe in your article. It does help to have it described, though, so I can be more understanding when I see that frustrated look on some of my friends faces when something happens that goes over my head (like that performance) but re-opens an old wound for them. I hope some good comes out of this in that more people’s eyes are opened as mine have been.

    1. If you are blind to race then you are blind, period. COnsidering yourself blind to race does not make you blind to race. It just makes you part of the problem. The problem is blatant. NObody is blind to that. You cannot be blind to the facts. It is a fact that there are more black men in prison than in college, for example. It is a fact that in some jurisdictions, as much as 1/3 of black boys will become embroiled with the criminal justice system BY the time they turn 21, with great negative consequences for their future life arc (felons can’t vote in some places). These things affect you very directly. You live in a world that is influenced by them. You DON’T have the option of NOT being affected by them — YOU ARE. The fact that they are happening “to somebody else” AND NOT to you IS an effect on you — you are PRIVILEGED NOT to be enduring these things and you BENEFIT EVERY time some black boy is taken OUT of competition with you for a job, or some black girl turns to you instead of him because he’s in jail and you’re not.

      1. George Greene: ABSOLUTELY. Thank you for writing this response to liz, whose comment triggered the exact “frustrated look on some of [her] friends faces when something goes over [her] head” on my own face.

        My true concern though, is, for people who consider themselves “blind to race,” what will unblind them? I think this article was an incredible, insightful analysis of the troubling implications and historical underpinnings of Miley Cyrus’ disasterous performance. But after people read this article, will they become unblind? Or will they, as I suspect, temporarily open an eye as one does when they start to rustle awake but then fall back deeply into their “blind to race” slumber?

      2. I am a bit confused about your definition of privilege. How, exactly, am I privileged by not going to jail? Being incarcerated is not some random event that “just happens”, you have to DO something. So of course I don’t “endure these things”,I don’t break the laws. And I do not benefit from all those people in prison, as a taxpayer each individual serving time COSTS me.

        1. I read a story about an autistic black boy who was arrested and jailed for ‘resisting arrest’ (like any number of people on the autism spectrum, he does not react well to being touched), then put into a mental asylum later, because someone (probably a white person) freaked out about him sitting on a lawn. His mother couldn’t get him out last I heard. This was a few years ago and I have not followed up.

          So…for certain demographics, being incarcerated IS a random event and they do not always have to do anything to end up in jail.

        2. You are privileged by not carrying an ever present burden of distrust from your fellow citizens and from law enforcement. By not having shopkeepers or security follow you about every store you enter from your youngest years expecting trouble. By not having people clutch their handbags or lock their car doors or cross the street or demand aggressively “can I help you?” when you are walking calm, peacefully and with no evil intent on the streets of your own neighborhood. Your privilege blinds you to the fact that youthful indiscretions in the white community, such as trespass, pot smoking, minor shoplifting, loud parties, underage drunkenness and other activities one sees in suburbs all around DC and it celebrated in movies, pop songs and music videos often results in arrest and incarceration in the black community. That the rate of pot use in the white community and the black community is nearly the same and the rate of alcohol abuse is higher in the white community but the rate of arrest for these types of infractions are exponentially higher in the black community. And you are wrong about incarceration only happening when one has done something wrong. Sometimes it happens when you are black, just because you are black. Like when the police stop young black men walking together down a city street for “stop and frisk” in NYC and just for harassment in others. Yesterday my family and I had a picnic in a public park, the police came by and asked what we were doing. It was 4pm in a public park and the food was on display. I guess our crime was being black in public. This happens in the courts, too. When a jury sees your black face and ignores all the evidence of your innocence because, they think, someone who looks like that must have done something. With DNA evidence we are seeing the horrifying numbers of innocent people losing decades of their lives to this racism. But that is only in situations in which there is DNA to test. What your last sentence indicates is that you are aware of the cost of this disproportionate enforcement. That the loss of huge proportions of each generation of young black men to the criminal justice system burdens us all, tax payers, families, the court system, loved ones, all of us. Racism hurts. Whether directly or indirectly.

          1. What you are talking about is a consequence of young,black males committing the majority of crimes. It is called “profiling” based on known group behavior. Just because the group I belong to does not get profiled does not make me privileged You may argue about the rightness of profiling, but just because it exists for different reasons for different groups does not make ME privileged. I,too, would be profiled if I wore a slutty dress and high heels and hung around in an area known to be filled with prostitutes. Good grief, .I may even be stopped and questioned all for the crime of being a women. See how that works?

          2. Are you really telling her that the legal system is fair when it comes to black vs white incarceration rates for similar crimes. Really? As for your example with the prostitutes and you in a “slutty dress,” guess who gets busted for vice crimes out of proportion to their presence in the general population: you got it — BLACK WOMEN.

        3. Seriously?! Nicole, surely you know that the legal system can be hugely flawed. Yes you have to ‘do’ something but for many young black men, ‘doing’ something can be as innocent as walking down the street. It is a privilege to be able to walk outside, with a hood up if you’re cold, and not know that you are automatically being treated with suspicion. Sadly, people are wrongly incarcerated all the time.

          And Liz – I understand what you’re saying about being blind to race, but, similar to what George was saying above, someone once said to me on twitter that being able to be blind to race is a huge privilege. If you are from a discriminated-against racial minority, you cannot be blind to race as it is affecting your life on a day-to-day basis, as George said ‘you don’t have the option of not being affected by them’. The simple ability to not care about someone’s race, is a hugely privileged position. (It doesn’t necessarily mean its a bad thing, as long as you recognise that!!)

        4. You know exactly what the commenter is speaking about and if you don’t then maybe you need to move on. Plenty of Black males rotting in jail for crimes they did not commit, or first offenders for smoking weed or whatever the small case may be vs Certified Pedophiles (mostly white males) who roam these streets every day searching for their next 5 year old victim to destroy.
          @George Green, I have to disagree with you… I watched a documentary entitled “What Black Men Think” by Janks Morton. More Black males in prison than in College is a myth. They talked about interracial dating myths, they talked about everything. However, ABORTION is the number one killer of black folks. They talked about the CDC conducting studies about Black folks, but yet to do a study on why so many Pedophiles are white males, which I’ve always known that. A nice documentary though.

          1. Yes, I’m sure. Everyone in jail is innocent,just ask them. And while you denigrate being arrested for smoking weed,you are aware that it is against the law? Penalties happen if you break any laws and if you disagree with the drug laws,work to change them. There need to be changes in these laws and too many people just wring their hands,get involved.

        5. You really don’t know how white people have privilege in our justice system? They are less likely to be arrested for the same offense than people of color (or even stopped – see the recent experiment involving people of different races and genders trying to break a bike lock), are likely to be charged with lesser crimes for the same offense, less likely to be convicted, and likely to receive lesser sentences. This is life in the US. That is privilege.

          1. You still have to break a law before any of that comes into play,and yes,I know some people are wrongly accused and even convicted. Still,it happens to whites as well as blacks and hispanics. This so-called privilege of whites in the court system does not really exist. You are mistaking causal events. I would submit that you might look at the data on the level of WEALTH possessed by those people brought into the court system and those who are found “not guilty”. A poor,uneducated person of any race will fare much poorer then an educated,wealthy person. And I still take exception to being called “Privileged” because I don’t break laws.

          2. Listen to what people are saying. No, sometimes you do not have to break a law in order to be arrested. It’s more likely to happen to you if you are black. Listen to people.

          3. Nicole, we are privileged exactly because we 1) are not profiled 2) are not suspected of a crime based on a first glance appraisal 3) are not randomly harassed by people in positions of authority. (There are more, I am sure, but these touch on what’s been discussed here.)
            Leave out completely any type of law-breaking, the fact that we do not experience or witness these things is part of what makes us privileged. The fact that we do not experience or witness these things does not make the racially based experiences of other men and women wrong.

          4. That Nicole person is not hearing what you’re all very clearly expressing because she does’t WANT to. The most cursory review of criminal justice statistics would bear out the racial AND class biases that you’re speaking of. If she was looking to raise her consciousness about the reality of an impartial justice system, that would have happened. The fact that any reasonably intelligent white woman would sit on the internet in 2013 and completely deny the existence of her own race privilege, in respect to criminal justice or any other aspect of life, is appalling. Clearly, this one is lost and not worth any more of your time or effort. One thing I would add to the discussion, not so much for her edification, but just in general, is the issue of policing. The fact that predominantly black communities are policed at rates far higher than predominantly white ones is a major contributing factor to arrest rates with black people. It’s really quite simple. If cops aren’t regularly being deployed to your neighborhood to profile and surveil your every actions, then they are less likely to catch you up to no good. And if they aren’t catching you, then they aren’t arresting you, let alone convicting or sentencing. But, does that mean you aren’t committing crimes just like folks in other communities? Come on. There is so much factual information to decry this racist rationalization for policing, profiling, and pursing in the black community. And yet people like Nicole insist on holding fast to these false narratives about black criminality. At some point you have to recognize, it’s because they *want* to believe those things.

        6. Your privilege consists of being viewed, and treated, in a different manner by the authorities, than are people of color and people of ‘the lower classes’.

          Your privilege also consists in believing, being so confident, that incarceration is not a random event. People of color know by the experience of their peers that incarceration may indeed be a random event, not preceded by “doing ” something.

          Your privilege consists of “the very materials of history–that complex of rules, manners, power relationships, and memories that collectively comprise what is called CULTURE”. (from “The Populist Moment”, Lawrence Goodwyn, Oxford University Press, 1976).
          Culture favors you and privileges you. And benefits you.

  116. WONDERFUL piece- LOVE the writing. Beautiful articulation of why I felt repulsed and in need of a shower after watching the video. Just as an aside- as an average-looking White women who has lived in a number of different cultures- I STILL don’t understand why these people in the bars you mention think they can get away with such disrespectful behavior. I understand “why” they would do it- cultural privilege, et al- but this just blows my mind that someone would think this is ok to do to someone else.

  117. Being from where I’m from, which is also central North Carolina — I and all 3 of my sisters went to UNC-Chapel Hill — I would also say that this take has a lot to do with something that happened 8 miles up the road at Duke — where the fratboy/lacrosse team invited a black stripper to one of their parties, and , well, everybody get confused after that.

  118. Your blog entry was flawless and commendable. Prior to what went down in the cultural Big Top that is the VMAs, I’d been supportive of Miley’s need to find her way as an adult entertainer. Then came last Sunday night. Her fascination with the hind quarters of those black women left me baffled and totally turned off. I, too, am a black woman, and while I’m far from thin, I don’t have the body shape that encourages the type of denigration you describe. I admire your candor, but I cringe to think what you’ve endured. Stay strong.

  119. What a relief to find intelligent life! For the folks who say this is ‘over analyzed’ there are plenty of tabloids for you to marvel at. As one who typically steers clear of pop culture, I watched the performance (meh) but was more directly bewildered by her last music video. Grills & a twerk team cheering her on? I’m a white girl living in a black urban neighborhood & the imagery was surreal enough that I needed to hunt for an explanation. The scenario is so improbable in private daily life, why would it be presented in a public arena? This article does well to answer that. Mainstream white america simply has no vantage points to consider but its own. The production team that put it together employed the curvey black women as props-innocently, not considering the implications. Same for the white couples harassing tessie- innocent/ignorant gestures without consideration. (This is where our society could handle a bit more ‘over-thinking’) I remember staring at a black woman on the subway & thinking “god, her skin is such a beautiful color.” (I’m a painter & have a fondness for burnt umber- this is ultimate objectification…down to colors & shapes.) I thought about telling the woman this..and then I thought, wait a second this is a woman, an entire human being in front of me, I’m appreciating one abstracted aspect of her she has no control over & who knows what other personal experiences she’s had connected with her color. If it had not been on the subway maybe a conversation would have taken the place of internal dialogue. Anyhow, these things are relevant, thanks for taking me out of my own skin, I’ll be reading you in the future.

  120. Razor sharp analysis. Capitalism is a game that black folk can’t win. That is a fundamental principle – and that goes for media representation, wealth, health, education.

  121. Black Women do seem to be the butt of all jokes, and I’m sure the author is not giving herself enough credit in the beauty department, but however she is right. Black women are not supposed to be seen as beautiful and desirable, although their bubbles will be soon popped if I have anything to do with it…. but I digress. I ain’t mad at white women for thinking they are the best thing God ever created because their men along with a lot of others keep them on their pedestals.

    I personally don’t think a lot of black men know beautiful black women exist…. because you damn sure don’t see us in the magazines and media. Just like young girls who are told that “thin” is what’s beautiful because it is all they see, they’re not exposed to beautiful full figured women unless it’s someone in their family.


  122. Hey all you dudes posting in here like the author is fishing for compliments…
    You missed the point completely, and if you read the article you’d feel embarrassed by what you’re assuming.

  123. This: “I am no real threat to white women’s desirability. Thus, white women have no problem cheering their husbands and boyfriends as they touch me on the dance floor. I am never seriously a contender for acceptable partner and mate for the white men who ask if their buddy can put his face in my cleavage.”

    Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty” touches on this. I don’t have the book at hand but the matriarch in the book, a black woman who is the wife of a white professor in a Massachusetts university town, talks about how the men in their white social group will flirt with her shamelessly in front of their wives, and she knew that it was exactly for this reason that they felt comfortable doing so. Fabulous piece, thank you for writing.

  124. This was a beautifully, well written article that was poignant and stirring. Way to go Tressie. Your bold words were opinionated, but drenched in personal experience, feeling, and knowledge..as to keep me reading.

    While I am a 19 year old caucasian, petite, female from rural NE pennsylvania, the chasm between our life experiences and perspectives is enormous, and I can’t even imagine the feelings that are stirred up inside you, or many many, other black woman, or as you put it, woman that defy the social norm of physical beauty. I am a waitress at a restaurant and feel like my skin is crawling when older men call me cute, and feel nauseous when the drunk bread delivery guy who offers me a free package of bagels if i meet him in the parking lot so he could grope my butt. I can’t imagine how you would feel time after time of your described bar experiences. I felt my stomach churn just reading that; am disgusted that something like that even happens, on a regular occasion to you, and to read other comments of other women saying they know how that feels. it makes me feel naive to not even have a fraction of a clue what goes on in this world. but i must say i am inspired to know you don’t let those repeated experiences mold your perception of yourself.

    anyway, i am usually not one to read feminist/race related pieces, or anything debatable, because i am very soft spoken and debate kind of intimadates me. also, i’ve never experienced anything in my life to make me particularly interested in the topics. however, this piece was really moving. i didn’t even see the VMAs or miley’s performance, but have enough of a horrible mental image based on random blurbs i’ve read about on the internet, and this article as well.

    Thanks for sharing your story, Tressie. I think you put into words what many people feel, and they are grateful for that. and you opened at least one persons eyes (mine), who i guess you could say is “privileged” to not have ever experience something like that. although i have to say based on reading other comments, people should not create malice against each other for being in a position to not understand. for instance, me being 19, small bodied frame, white, is out of my control, just as anyones physical attributes and upbeing is. So hopefully no body will be angered by the fact that I am just another person that”doesn’t understand”, because I just can’t. But this article still touched me, and that’s the important part.

    Thanks again Tressie

  125. I seem to have generated a bit of controversy and would like to briefly respond to what seems to be the main two objections to my original comment.

    Many have taken issue with the fact that I am a white male, and so couldn’t possibly understand the experiences of a black female. This point has some validity. In fact I cannot relate to the exact things that this women has experienced. Nevertheless, the same could be said for anyone about anybody else. Nobody can *ever* fully appreciate the personal experiences of another human being. Try as we might, it is impossible to see the world through the eyes of another person. Therefore, this point, seems to me to be in a certain sense, moot.

    However, if discrimination is the metric by which many are quantifying suffering/credibility, then I may qualify. I grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx whose population was largely black and Hispanic. I happen to be blonde and blue-eyed. This fact made me stand out like a sore thumb and made life difficult at times. So, having been a statistical minority, it seems to me that many of you who with a knee-jerk reaction labeled me ‘privileged’ and unable to relate to discrimination, might want to reconsider your facile view of the world.

    I’m sure that many will respond that the type of pain that I endured is qualitatively different than that felt by black people. Again, this is completely impossible for me, or for that matter, for you to ascertain.

    Another issue raised relates to my respect for the Founding Fathers. I make no apology for this. I consider their efforts and accomplishments singular in the history of the world. Were they flawed? Absolutely. Did they commit rape? I don’t know. In fact, nobody does.

    Nevertheless, they were men who like all humans, were products of their environments. They were born into a milieu in which slavery was an unfortunate reality. Thomas Jefferson, whom many of you seem to have special animosity toward, once said something to the effect that slavery was like holding a wolf by the ears. You don’t like it but you dare not let it go.

    My point is that these men who many of you demonize as the the embodiment of evil, were in fact people living in a context that a) we cannot really comprehend b) determined much of their decisions and c) they didn’t really like, but understood that their capacity to change was limited due to the context in which they found themselves.

    Moreover, they created a starting point from which they likely could see, would lead eventually to greater freedom and inclusiveness. Their “We the people” may have been hypocritical. But they created, wittingly or not, a government that could lead to the 13-15 Amendments.

    The crux of the issue relates to my original point. When we categorically label people and ignore facts that may present alternate points of view, we limit our capacity to understand what is really happening. This applies to much of the human experience. This Us vs. Them facile mentality does not allow for nuance and limits empathy. It creates a situation that may be emotionally satisfying, but can never truly address the deeper issues that we inevitably face.

    1. Jimmy, again, you are far off the mark. Your first assertion above is that you are being critiqued for being a white male who doesn’t share the author’s experience and therefore can’t relate and therefore have no valid opinion to offer. That’s not what folks said. In response to the article, you used language like, “over-thinking”, “absurd”, and “myopic” to characterize the author’s perspective. The problem, Jimmy, is not that you have a different experience and therefore have nothing of value to offer. The problem is that your perspective apparently suggests to you that, if you see things differently, then the author must somehow be wrong… she must be mistaken, unreasonable, or just taking it too far. It’s this arrogant dismissal of another’s perspective and presumption that your viewpoint is the normative, rational one, that led folks to call out your privilege and YOUR myopia. And rightly so.

      Further, to talk about your experience of being “a statistical minority” in the same way that black folks experience systemic discrimination and oppression in a white supremacist culture is funny. I would not dismiss the possibility that you experienced discrimination, exclusion, or even persecution that would enable you to empathize with some aspects of what black people experience in America. But, I would ask: did that “minority” status cause you to miss out on job or educational opportunities? Did it lead to your being profiled, harassed, or brutalized by cops? Until that difference rose to institutional or systemic levels of discrimination or targeting, it’s not the same. Period. I would also remind you that we aren’t just talking about a personal experience of race, but also of gender. The intersections between race and gender provide a very profound and rich vantage point on life in this culture. I think folks are saying, whether you share the experience or not, an analysis like this provides a valuable learning opportunity for you, but not if your knee-jerk reaction is to minimize and dismiss it, because you don’t like what it suggests about this country.

      Regarding your rousing defense of the so-called Founding Fathers… who cares? It’s history. They were patriarchal, white supremacist, misogynists who supposedly had high-minded ideas about freedom and equality. And 300+ years later, here we are. So be it.

      I think your final point is interesting, because I see you as the one labeling and dismissing alternative viewpoints. I hope you’re taking your own advice. And I hope you engaged this author and comments discussion with an eye towards learning something from the mostly black women who have invested precious time and energy trying to communicate with you.

      1. Dannette, so basically if I understand, you are here attempting to defend the author of this post, with the same *exact* tactics that you see as flawed in me, but somehow acceptable for you and the people that you agree with. You chide me for using words like “myopic” and “absurd”, while at the same time blatantly and condescendingly dismissing my experiences as “funny” and calling me “arrogant”. Do you see the double standard? Probably not.

        Your selective use of facts undermines not only your particular argument, but in fact your entire field (assuming you are somehow related to Sociology.) My problem with Sociology is the way it gives quasi-scientists an outlet and vocabulary to vent their pet problems with society. Your high-minded-sounding usage of terms like “white-supremacist” and “systemic discrimination” is in fact nothing more than semantic mumbo jumbo that allows you to feel justified in your misanthropy. You do Sociology a disservice.

        By the way, I do apologize for wasting the precious time that you folks, especially the black women, have so magnanimously spent reading my funny comments.

        1. I have absolutely nothing to do with the Sociology field and am not surprised but disappointed that you didn’t choose to deal with anything substantive that I wrote to you in response. But, I assume you’re done now, which is fine. I am, too.

    2. Jimmy, I don’t understand, what is your point here? Is this just your brand of Rush Limbaugh-Glenn Beck-Sean Hannity rhetoric for rhetoric’s sake in an effort to minimize the experiences of who we are, as African-Americans? Or is this your way of repaying the Founding Fathers for having bestowed “honorary white status”
      upon you for pulling yourself up outta the ghetto? Say what you will, as you move through the world, it will never, ever be assumed that you hail from “the ghetto” when it will always be assumed that each one of us did. That’s the stark reality in which we, as African-Americans and you as a white person, live in this country – opposite, opposing, and nowhere even close to “moot”.

      Clever language won’t change facts, so you can brandish your platitudes all day long, fact is we know who we are, we know what we live, and we know some of your beloved FF’s are OUR great-greats – and not by choice! Mine happen to be Carrolls.

  126. I think this is a good post. It addresses attitudes that are held culturally and personally by many people. Many people are unaware that they hold such attitudes. And history has a lot to do with the attitudes of our present time. Those attitudes could certainly be seen in the Cyrus disaster on stage.

    It’s painful to feel undesirable and/or not desirable in a way that is respectful to the person being “desired.” Especially in repeated, non-coincidental ways which have basis in cultural history and present attitudes and realities that have been altered but not altogether changed over time.

    Good luck to you. I’m sorry that you have experienced other peoples actions as negative and belittling towards you. And thanks for being courageous enough to bring up the subjects of race, history, power, privilege, and gender. I know it’s a hot button for a lot of people. I think that Cyrus’s performance was difficult enough for many people to stomach simply because of the overt and sexually graphic nature of her actions without much finesse to smooth over the rawness of it. Sexuality alone is frequently a hot button topic as well. But the layers of race, gender, and power play woven into the puppet show certainly complicate the issue. It’s not a bad thing to call it how you see, which is what you did in this case. After all, we are the creators of our present and future. The more we work to open each others minds, the greater chance we have at finding peace on Earth and peace in our hearts.

  127. I am pretty horrified with people thinking it’s ok to come up and touch your body…women, men. My god it’s disrespectful and I am sorry. This was really insightful. I don’t drink or go out to bars, but if I ever do and I see someone behaving like that I’ll be sure to say something.

    I wish women would stand up and support each other, no matter the race or what income you happen to be born into.

    Thank you for writing this.

  128. Wow, you’ve shared tragic truths in such clear ways that I didn’t find in many articles that came out post-Miley’s VMA act. The following of your words speak to truths understood by all but openly acknowledged by few:

    “Being suitably marriageable privileges white women’s relation to white male wealth and power”

    “I am no real threat to white women’s desirability.”

    “For black women, that form of money was embodied by the very nature of how we came to be in America. Our bodies were literally production units. As living cost centers we not only produced labor as in work but we produced actual labor through labor, i.e. we birthed more cost centers. The legendary “one drop” rule of determining blackness was legally codified not just out of ideological purity of white supremacy but to control the inheritance of property.”

    “My mentor likes to joke that interracial marriage is only a solution to racial wealth gaps if all white men suddenly were to marry up with poor black women. It’s funny because it is so ridiculous to even imagine.”

    I’ve unfortunately seen similar situations occur many times to black female friends in bars/clubs and an apology on behalf of my fellow white people will never be able to prevent the objectification of black women’s bodies from happening again… but I move forward after reading this more conscious of the context we are living within. And the work I am able to do with my white brothers & sisters in changing the narrative will be done with your words in mind.

    It seems comment sections always involve so many tangents and resistance to see past personal privileges. Keep fighting the good fight- and know you’ve got at least one more white woman out there listening & trying to find ways to make change within my own community. Thank you for your hard work. I wish deeply that you didn’t always have to work so damn hard to be heard.

  129. This is deep stuff. I’m so sick of the appropriation of Black bodies by white entertainers. More to the point, I am very sick and tired of the objectification of Black women by white popular culture without any consequences.

    This article is very well-written and I’ve already tweeted this today. I hope 2014 is the year when our bodies and minds are no longer appropriated and used for “pleasure, profit, and power.”

    S. Baldwin

  130. I look like these women: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_m0zxnyHUsE1qe2s1lo1_500.png

    (obviously I am a mixed-race woman)
    In Spain and France, I had many men staring at me lustfully.. far more different than the white men of America; whose stares tend to be more neutral or more appreciative of my beauty.. rather than highly lustful and objectifying.. most of those men were old European men for some reason.. around 30+ (i’m 15)

    Do you think it was fetishing? or just a guy seeing a hot girl?

  131. I am enlightened, and amazed by your magnificent writing. I’m so happy I followed the link to your blog, from Jessica Valenti’s article.

  132. I agree with the previous commentators on how brilliant this is and what a great analysis it is. This is the best thing I have read on racial issues in a long time and the best thing I have read on Miley Cyrus’ attempts to get attention ever.
    (On a personal note, her and Robin Thicke have become the only celebs for me whom I have been annoyed with two generations of their families.)

  133. I’d have to disagree with this post to some extent. I am a black female myself and have been in these types of predicaments many many times as well. People can get very let’s say curious lol not only whites but non blacks in general. Usually iv noticed people gravitate towards buetiful ” clean ” or approachable black people there is still something a bet off putting in that they want to “play” with you. I would say ALL types of men some women and particularly white women see you as a toy to play with, Why!? most black women don’t date out side there race (stereotypically) and there almost certain this new black playmate anit going for white vanilla bread lol they don’t really care what you look like as long as your not “threatening” ie ghetto, ratchet, or insane lol. The prettier the better because they don’t see you as acontender… However it’s highly entertaining when you are 😉

  134. According to Wikipedia on Intersectionality:

    A historical example will clarify this and provide a more precise case of this application. Essentially, anti-miscegenation laws effectively suppressed the potential economic rising of black women. Many times, a marriage can be economically stabilizing for both husband and wife. However, since Black women were outlawed from marrying White men, Black women were denied access to sharing the prosperity of White male property. In essence, their biracial children were deprived of this as well. A perhaps latent consequence of this was the regulation of wealth for Black women.


  135. Reblogged this on Steph's Blog and commented:
    According to Wikipedia on Intersectionality:

    A historical example will clarify this and provide a more precise case of this application. Essentially, anti-miscegenation laws effectively suppressed the potential economic rising of black women. Many times, a marriage can be economically stabilizing for both husband and wife. However, since Black women were outlawed from marrying White men, Black women were denied access to sharing the prosperity of White male property. In essence, their biracial children were deprived of this as well. A perhaps latent consequence of this was the regulation of wealth for Black women.


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