when you’re far from home, after a while you begin to see that all those big things that you worried about were so small. your walk gets a little lighter and your strides a lot wider because you have have respect for where you step but you also have let everyone else know that you have some places to get to and discover.
after a while, you see that your fear of instability starts to fade right along with your ideals of success because those notions were built on norms that you’re defying just by taking a leap of faith and sleeping under a foreign sky. soon you realize that you’ll be sleeping alone at night for quite some time, and although it gets lonely, you’ll start to fall in love with the rhythm of your own heartbeat.
and that person back at home that you’re still attached to with dreamy intentions of maybe, possible and potentially of falling in love with once you’re in the same country code, they’ll be there if that’s where they are supposed to be. plain and simple.
…and if not, of course, you’ll survive.
after a while, you develop an indifference to all things that revolve around material and lack substance and your passions will become brighter and brighter with new space in you’ve cleared out in your spirit.
…i’m sure i’ll learn more things, after a while.
As I sat 8035 miles away from Brooklyn, New York Barclay’s Center in my living room in Shenzhen, China, for a moment social media sucked me back into the pop culture chaos that seems to pump the heartbeat of America to other countries across the globe. The main picture on my Instagram news feed, Miley Cyrus (more specifically shots of her bending over with her tongue out in front of R&B singer Robin Thicke ). To be even more specific and “urbanly” correct, pictures of Miley Cyrus “twerking” filled my entire timeline.
Besides the evidently tasteless costume, facial expression and lack of rhythm or movement by Miley, I saw something else. The blatant commodification of black women as well as white cultural appropriation. I wasn’t quite concerned with calling her names that suggested sexual deviance or promiscuity for her attempt at pelvic thrusting and booty popping, to me this MTV VMA performance was a little deeper.
To start with the term “twerking” that Miley Cyrus has now coined as her own which began with her releasing a YouTube video a few months back, is just a strain of this issue. If we take it back a little further than the emergence of YouTube, technology or the United States of America for that matter, this type of dance has been apart of black culture for eons and has not been limited to only associations to rap music or comprised of any sexual innuendoes.
In Complex Magazine’s article titled, “Good Job, Miley: Twerking Added to the Oxford Dictionary” they include the definition as:
“Pronunciation: /twəːk/ verb [no object] informal dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance”
This “meaning” completely takes away the facets of a movement that has only been popularized for a mainstream audience by a white artist and only deemed appropriate as a result of the race of the doer. When I was growing up, during family parties it was a sort of routine for us little girls to get in a the middle of circle and dance in a “low squatting position”. With our tongues out while wearing flesh tone booty shorts, of course not because we weren’t seeking the type of response or reaction. I learned these movements from the women around me, constantly twisting and swaying their hips while closing their eyes and falling into a rhythm simply because it felt good. Not to gain the attention of a larger audience or to prove a point that they were liberated. The unconsciousness in their actions displayed that liberty more than anything. These gyrations did not make them women. Instead, it was more about a holistic experience that did not include any forced energy.
Now Miley? Well, she intentionally had her big behind black “girlfriends” (puppets) on the stage with her just as they were in her “We Can’t Stop” video in order to validate what blackness she thought she was portraying. When in reality, there is no define image of blackness, therefore Miley’s inclusion of these characters only developed a contrast that made it obvious that she needed them to make her look believable. It’s just like that moment when a white person says, “Oh c’mon, I like black people I have plenty of black friends” or when music comes up as a topic of discussion and a white person asks you “So Yeezus or Magna Carta Holy Grail?” to prove an understanding of the most popular element of black culture.
The faceless black woman, bent over to only appear in the frame of the camera for less than 10 seconds, to shake her ass and give us an authentic “twerk” while wearing what might as well been a clown outfit with thonged underwear to accent her voluptuous behind was the piece of the performance that offended me the most. As Miley walked past and smacked her behind while gnarling at her backside with an almost savage expression, the black woman seemed emotionless (because we could not see her face) and simply walked off the stage with no other inclusion into the set. She was there simply as an accessory to the cultural appropriation that Cyrus displayed, just as the other three dancers to appear to be Miley’s hypemen.
This delves into the fact that historically, black women have not had agency over our bodies especially in a public arena due to the stigmas and cultural impositions placed on us ever since our arrival to new land. This commodification of the black female body and all of its private parts, is perpetuated through rap music by black men and has now transferred over into another realm by the exploitation of a young white woman.
Such literal examples of what Miley believes to be “black” go hand in hand with her statement to song writers Rock City when she came to them requesting the “We Can’t Stop” track by saying “I want urban, I just want something that feels black.” She was not searching for just any type of black sound, perhaps maybe she would have proposed, Toni Braxton, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys or Billie Holiday. Her southern, white privileged background clearly did not provide her with any cultural knowledge outside of her bubble, so to her black feels rebellious, tasteless and provocative.
As a black person and more specifically a black woman, I am offended by the commodifying and most of all the mockery of the images of myself in the reflections of black culture that Miley Cyrus has highlighted and warped into her own distorted performance act. She didn’t even possess sufficient and basic rhythm in order to execute any percentage of “twerking” in a believable way, it was a complete mockery. Perhaps her behavior could have been influenced by her urge to express herself after experiencing an engagement break-up. Miley wouldn’t be the first woman to try to achieve or prove her womanhood through sexuality, that’s not the bulk of the issue. It is the exaggerated sexual and racial objectification that she uses as her No.1 vehicle in doing so as well as aiding her crafting her new persona and in her “get richer quicker” scheme.
I get it. In a world with highly individualized notions of blackness, still most of us can say that from White America to South Africa and all the way to New Zealand, people have tried to adopt some iconographic element of popular black culture. It’s contagious and the ultimate mystery in which every one else wants to understand and get a taste of feel of. As Jay-Z stated on twitter, “she represents an old worlds worst nightmare” which suggests that her initial actions in being “innovative” and straying away from her old image suggests a newness. But in the same step, Miley has claimed ownership over an old concept and is toting it around as new in her desperate quest for self-discovery. She won’t find her soul in these black bodies, imitations, attempted facial expressions, scandalous pieces of wardrobe or in her song lyrics that rebelliously “feel black”.
She should stop.
to be silenced with no hands covering your mouth or no instruction not to speak is by far the most humbling aspect of this journey. sitting at dinner table, a meeting, a train ride etc. and only understanding a few fragments of a conversation has created me into a listener.
i’m used to always vocalizing, leading discussion and bringing the volume to any setting. but here, i am a listener. excited at any word that I can pick up, writing into my mental notepad as one one to remember and sometimes almost brought to tears because i can’t say a word.
to be silenced by words you can’t understand is a hardship that manifest into a beautiful curiosity and yearning for knowledge. my body works as one. when my mouth is closed, my mind is open.
to sum up one’s travels in words is a trying tasks that i’ve attempted a few times before. as i approach this entrance of a new phase of growth, i am challenging myself to do so.
Shenzhen, China is where I be. When I left America, so worried that I would miss my plane that I barely got to kiss my father and my little brother goodbye in the midst of tears I tried so hard to bite back – I didn’t have the clearest notion as to why I was coming to China for 10 months. It was easiest to say, “Why not?” when someone asked me why I chose to accept this opportunity. I’m young, free, educated and the world is mine. All true, but I was still lacking the concrete reasoning one would usually have before they packed up their things and moved to the other side of the world with a second language vernacular of about five words.
Jetlagged. When I entered a classroom of 20 perplexed Chinese junior high school students in Beijing in only my second day in China I started to ask myself “Lakin, what are you doing here?” . Needless to say, we were both thinking the same thing. 6 classes and 6 days later, it was clear to me. I was the first black person that these students had ever seen. Black woman, “dread”loc wearing, tattoo toting, lao shi (teacher), they had ever had.
and that is why I was there, why I am here.
Talk about bringing light to my life everyday? That’s exactly what they did. I wasn’t halfway prepared for the attachment I developed for my students. So now, a 24 hour train ride later I’m in Shenzhen, China in Longgagng District, resting my bones on my sofa as I try and wrap my mind around the reality of my responsibility to these children and all of the newness around me.