Quoted as wanting something that “feels black” for her new album, Miley Cyrus switches between embracing and distancing herself from the genre she seeks validation from. In a severe overestimation of her abilities, she said, “A lot of people wanted to try to make me the white Nicki Minaj. That’s not what I’m trying to do.” A month later: “Lil Kim is who I am on the inside.”
Like most dress-up games, racial drag is an exercise in fantasy, one that can exist only when femininity is constructed around whiteness, which in turn is constructed around purity. A desire to rebel against such a buttoned-up ethos leaves the white girl desperate for an identity through which to distinguish herself. To this end, white Americans have always been able to use black people.
Black women’s sexuality has been historically presented as deviant and exaggerated, somehow more “primitive.” The thrill of appropriation lies in accessing the perceived authenticity of black sexuality, the success of appropriation lies in abandoning its natural form. Transfer to a white body elevates the action. It’s no longer primitive because while nonwhite culture is assumed to be rooted in instinct, white culture is one of intent. Elaborate nail art, like the kind Miley wears now, appears stylish on a white girl but described as “ghetto” on a black girl because on the white girl, it’s an aesthetic choice whereas black girls just don’t know any better. White people clamoring to up their cred by appropriating nonwhite culture do so hoping to be rewarded for choices that are falsely seen as inherent in people of color. It’s this savvy that Miley wants us to be convinced of.
-“Can the White Girl Twerk?” by Ayesha A. Siddiqi