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“Miley Cyrus represents everything that is wrong with America.”
This is a sentence you have probably heard or even spoken yourself. But the people who believe this believe it for the wrong reasons.
Frequent marijuana use is not what is wrong with America. Nude concerts are not what is wrong with America. Obscene gestures are not what is wrong with America.
What is wrong with America is the defensive attitude that comes out when someone asks it to shut up for five minutes and let marginalized individuals speak for themselves.
In the past, Miley has called herself “empowering to women,” and I think deep down she does want to empower and to see a more accepting world, just as deep down America wants to live up to its reputation as the land of the free.
But the problem with Miley’s mission, and America’s, lies within her belief that she can fix the world’s intolerance on her terms, without actually listening to those she is attempting to empower.
Miley has spent the last three years not giving a single fuck. It started in 2012 when she chopped off her long brunette locks and began rocking a platinum pixie cut, and has since escalated into everything from excessive tongue use to posing nude for Candy magazine.
She has received equal parts hate and love for her lack of concern with public opinion on her looks, attitude and behavior.
Not giving a fuck can be empowering. In a time where government spying and posting every thought online for 1,000 of your friends to analyze is considered the norm, “worrying about yourself” is a foreign concept. So when you choose not to let unfair judgment of your character affect how you live your life, that is, without a doubt, empowering.
But there is such a thing as fair judgment, something Miley has often faced, particularly for her appropriation of POC culture and her use of the LGBTQ+ community as a prop for her brand.
Last summer, when Nicki Minaj called out the MTV Video Music Awards on Twitter for their lack of recognition for her record-breaking Anaconda video, as compared with their celebration of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood video, Swift fired back at Minaj for “pit[ting] women against each other.”
When Minaj – and the rest of Twitter — explained to Swift that this wasn’t about bringing her down, it was about dismantling a system stacked against people of color, the pop star issued an apology and admitted that she misunderstood. It was not a perfect example of accountability for problematic behavior, but it was progress.
Miley, on the other hand, when asked about the “beef” between the two, accused Nicki Minaj of making “[the issue] about [her]self,” and suggested that next time the artist approach race issues “with love” to get her point across.
This is America’s problem. Too many people claim to empower, when what they are really doing is overpowering.
Rather than listen to a woman who also faces criticism for everything from obscenity to sexuality, Miley, a self-proclaimed feminist, decided to speak over Minaj and tell her how to best handle the issues she is facing. How can one claim to be empowering while refusing to uplift the voices of those they want to empower?
Empowering a group of people means embracing and caring about both the positive and negative parts of their culture. It means for every time you twerk with your friends in the club, you should be listening to a woman of color talk about the way she is fetishized. For every funny Grindr story you listen to from your gay friend, you should be educating yourself on bi-erasure.
And for every joint you smoke, you should be reading the statistics on imprisonment rates for minor drug offenses and how this practice serves as a systemic genocide of young men of color.
This is America’s problem. Too many people claim to empower, when what they are really doing is overpowering. So next time you see Miley on your TV or computer screen and you ask yourself “What the hell is she doing?” know that she is doing exactly what America is doing: bringing marginalized communities onto her platform, only to cut their mics.
Cover Photo Credit: JPAvocat/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)