While twerking isn’t anything new, its recent popularity, marks yet another black trend that becomes mainstream when whites and non blacks begin doing it.
Taylor Swift’s new video for “Shake it Off” depicts the consistency of defining white sexuality through black female bodies. Swift’s video displayed a contrast of traditional and contemporary dance, most notably ballet and more “urban” sequences. The ballet sequence feature a noticeable absence of black female bodies, whereas the “urban” sequences feature a faceless black body, suggestively shaking her derriere in a par of cut offs.
This disturbing dynamic mirrors the atrocity of Miley Cyrus’ 2013 VMA performance. This dynamic not only reduces black women to their bodies, but demonstrates the ability of white women to access sexuality without “getting their hands dirty.” A detachment to suggestive behavior enables white women to seem “down” with black or urban culture but now “down” enough to sully their purity or make them unapproachable or unappealing to white males.
Despite the sexual appropriation of Swift and Cyrus onto the bodes of black woman, I am much more interested in how cultural appropriation occurs in the black community. I would like to draw your attention to Nicki Minaj’s video for her new single “Anaconda.” This song samples Sir Mix Alot’s hit single “Baby got Back.” While certainly suggestive, I would argue that Sir Mix Alot’s tune celebrates the curves of a black woman’s body. Specifically, the tune asserts the beauty of the black woman’s body despite the pressure of mainstream culture. Seemingly casting a critical gaze on the pressure for women to eat salads to maintain a slender figure, Sir Mixx A lot states the almost comical line “red beans and rice didn’t miss her.” This line asserts that real diets create real women, who have curves. The clever delivery of this line seems to make it impossible to miss the point. However, Nicki Minaj’s rendition proves that red beans and rice didn’t miss her, but she did in fact miss the point.
Nicki Minaj’s song and video for Anaconda strives to celebrate her million dollar asset, but perform in the pattern of dismembering the black female body instead. While the shaking of a derriere is certainly suggestive, it is its decapitating effect on black female sexuality that is most unsettling. In an instance where a black women is dancing, her face is seemingly always completely compromised. Consider, Cyrus’ performance, Swift’s video, and Nicki’s Anaconda video. All feature black women twerking, with the camera lens depaitating the black female to capture the movement of her behind. Even Minaj’s closing dance sequence with rapper Drake reduces her to her body, as her face is almost entirely hidden by a zoomed out camera and long dark locks. While I certainly agree that a black woman’s shape is to be admired, it should be an admired attribute not the admired attribute.
Minaj is not the only black female to have a famous rear end. Superstar Beyonce made the world fall crazy in love as her booty-shaking cast her into solo stardom. Beyonce’s dance moves, which worked to accentuate her curvaceous figure spawned her blossoming career into international stardom and legendary status.
Pop star Rihanna’s relationship to bodily appropriation is very different that Beyonce and Nicki, mostly due to an absence of a round and shapely derriere. Thus, Rihanna is frequently seen revealing her entire body to achieve the sexiness typically achieved by a larger more shapely body.
Interestingly, while white female celebrities appropriate their sexuality through black bodies, black women celebrities exude beauty through white female appropriation. The height of white female beauty has always been encompassed through the presence of blonde hair. Interestingly, the most successful contemporary black stars- Beyonce, Minaj and Rihanna have all donned lighter locks amidst their stardom. Beyonce, who I would argue is the biggest star of the three, has seldomnly strayed from her blonde locks, or her fame.
Blonde hair represents the cultural appropriation of black women to obtain beauty. Both blonde hair on black women and big booties and white women, mark a stagnant state of standards that are applied to specific factions.
A white woman in a diverse surrounding seemingly suggests her lack of prejudice. However, the exploitation of the black bodies around her, counter this argument. A black woman at the height of beauty, fame and fortune seemingly suggests the promise of equality within American society. However the donning of a blonde hairstyle, suggests that black women are as detached from beauty as white women are from a certain degree of sexuality.
The reality behind both depictions showcases the dedication of contemporary society to appear progressive, as opposed to actually being progressive. This facade is cast onto the black female body, which serves as a canvass to appropriate various forms of whiteness.From detached sexuality, to white standards of beauty- the black female body is seemingly attached to the worlds of both blackness and femininity, but not truly fitting into either.