Miley Cyrus and her use of cultural appropriation

Miley Cyrus. Official Facebook image.

Miley Cyrus. Official Facebook image.

Jennifer Manalili

Remember when Miley Cyrus lived on the Disney Channel as Hannah Montana? Cyrus used the persona as a launching vehicle when she rose to fame in 2006.

Just weeks ago, Cyrus made headlines for a raunchy performance with Robin Thicke at the MTV Video Music Awards that included lots of tongue wagging and bending over while a creepy display of lifesize teddy bears shuffled to their feet behind her and she shrieked along to “We Can’t Stop” —- a song that among things has bragging rights about using “molly” a.k.a. ecstasy.

So the fact that Cyrus has to take on a sexy image (a la Britney and Christina before her) in order to be taken seriously is a whole other story for a whole other column. The funny thing is yes, her performance was equal parts ridiculous and second hand embarrassing to watch but it was embarrassing for a reason you may not think of: this new psuedo “hood” image she’s adopted is a blatant display of cultural appropriation.

Miley now rocks a lot of stereotypes: she wears a gold grill, a trend that was trademarked by rappers and died nearly a decade ago. She now appears randomly at rap shows, most recently twerking on stage at a Juicy J show. J famously won an Oscar as a part of Three 6 Mafia for “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp.”

Producers Timothy and Theron Thomas, who penned “We Can’t Stop,” told Vibe that Cyrus came to them with her reimagined image, saying she wanted an album with a different sound: “She was like ‘I want urban, I just want something that feels black.”

Miley has taken to accessorizing herself with black back-up dancers and tweeting pictures of herself in the studio with rap stars to gain credibility. In the process, her antics have succeeded in making a mockery of and exploiting black culture for profit.

Perhaps has it right, comparing Cyrus’ use of black female dancers in her videos and onstage performances to the use of black women in movies like “The Help” where they become props “ … for a white woman’s narrative, the discovery of herself and her own identity,” always in the background but never in the forefront as the leaders of their own stories.

They point out that while Miley certainly has the right to hypersexualize herself, she should not be exploiting others in order to gain street credibility because “That’s not being Miley. That’s being naive.”

I’m sure that at the end of the day Cyrus, who grew up privileged in Tennessee with a chart topping one-hit wonder father, who penned a best selling memoir when she was 17, knows just as much about what it means to be a Black woman in this country as spoiled teenagers who wear ‘Thug Life’ on their t-shirts know exactly about the life that Tupac was rapping about.