Why Must We Accept Casual Racism in Pop Videos? A response

13 Nov


In her article, ‘Why must we accept casual racism in pop videos?’, Ikamara Larasi includes the presumed dealbreaker: ‘I am a black woman’. I don’t know what we’re expected to think here. Well done perhaps? Well done for being a member of a minority and well done for speaking up and of course, well done for letting us know how it really is?

Well, I am a black woman, and I have to call bullshit. The interesting premise of the article’s title question is barely explored, let alone answered by Larasi, and what is conveyed has no real direction.

All I read was a garbled complaint that people only sit up and take notice when white women like Miley Cyrus are over-sexualised and that, by default, the complainants accept the over-sexualisation of black women. I find this very hard to swallow, given that so many of the recent critiques of Miley Cyrus have centred on her appropriation of black culture and her use of black female dancers to give her ‘edge’.

Clearly there are major problems with representations of race in music videos but I don’t see why they should be isolated from the gender and sexual representations already being covered. After all, each is intrinsically connected. Yes, hip hop is predominantly black and the go-to genre if you want to see a bit of casual sexism or a woman on a leash, but I don’t think this has been ignored. The people that take umbrage at the way naked young women parade around the fully-dressed and fully middle aged Robin Thicke in Blurred Lines are, I suspect, the same people that would take umbrage at bikini-clad black girls pawing rappers in any hip hop video.

The problem is that the sexist imagery of hip hop videos is so much more deeply ingrained that it becomes increasingly hard to do anything about it. Conversely, as these kind of portrayals spill over to more mainstream videos, it is easier to feel you can take productive action. The kind of overt sexualisation seen in anything recent by Miley Cyrus is not, as yet, the norm; so kicking up a fuss about it, and its potential effects, feels like a less thankless project.

I believe there is no question that black women are more objectified in music videos than white women are, and this is definitely a problem. It’s also definitely a problem that singers like Miley Cyrus seem to think it’s a good idea to ape this kind of objectification and then call it empowerment. But let’s not get into the whole feminist v. black argument. What’s the point in creating more rifts when the ultimate aim of equal representations and a fair society is shared by both ‘sides’?

When black commentators like Ikamara presume that white people don’t ‘see’ the unfairness in media representations unless they are carried out against white people, they themselves are evincing prejudiced attitudes. Just as in following up a racist comment with ‘I have a lot of black friends’ does not negate the comment’s racism, including the caveat ‘I am a black woman’ does not guarantee that any race-centred argument you make is accurate.

Furthermore, if we are going to talk about misogyny being unchallenged in some areas of the music industry, I think we need to go way way beyond the race lines. The fact that media commentators only seem to get themselves into a big huff when an obviously objectionable video like Blurred Lines comes out, says much for what is not noticed than what is.

Take Selena Gomez’s video, ‘Come and get it‘, or the girls in just about any male or male band’s music video. Women are consistently paraded about as personality-devoid objects of lust even in their own songs, where statements about ‘powerful’ sexuality are confused for grinding against wall in a bodysuit at the behest of a music exec. Katy Perry’s anthemic Roar – supposedly a big middle finger to her ex Russell Brand – features her airbrushed to within an inch of her life and wearing as little clothing as possible and this is supposed to be empowering?

The sad fact is, K Pez’s nakedness is not anything really, it’s just an industry standard. Women have hot bodies and wear as little as possible. These are the base issues that need to be explored before you can even begin to dig beneath the surface of a Miley Cyrus or a Rihanna.


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