Miley Cyrus finally announces the end of her minstrel show, proving once and for all the violence of appropriation

By Sherronda Brown

“When I want something, it’s fucking easy for me.” – Miley Cyrus, the self-ordained savior of our nation

The words “Dumpster Fyre” hover above the head of Miley Cyrus on the cover of Billboard Magazine. Even though they refer to the debacle at Fyre Festival in which rich white kids were finessed out of thousands of dollars and found themselves in a trash pile with bologna sandwiches rather than at the lavish resort they were promised, these words are perhaps more fitting for the interview with the 24-year-old.

via Billboard Magazine

Billboard explains that the Disney Alum “has left behind the pasties, hip-hop bangerz and, yes, weed for her new incarnation: countrified singer-songwriter and hopeful unifier of a divided nation.” Standing among waist-high greenery with her hands in her free-flowing hair, Miley dons a simple pink farm girl dress with frilly lace about the sleeves and bodice. The expression on her face is plain and unassuming. Save for the sporadic miniature tattoos peppering the length of her arms, she is a vision of white Southern Belle innocence and propriety.

This is just the latest edition in “one of the most inimitable, unpredictable careers in recent pop history.” Circling back to something more akin to her original country image for her next album, Miley is “eager to unpack her latest thinking on everything from her alienation from hip-hop to engaging with Donald Trump’s supporters,” and places herself firmly into the role of a white savior, promising “to reach the other side of the aisle” and inspire Trump voters to abandon their bigotry.

The ease with which she is able to achieve this almost seamless transformation is evidence for why cultural appropriation is a form of violence. Not only does she have the ability to effortlessly slip in and out of Black aesthetics while maintaining her white privilege, but she also uses this moment of resurgence to paint hip-hop as the Big Bad Wolf that scared her away, being too debaucherous for her delicate sensibilities:

“But I also love that new Kendrick [Lamar] song [‘Humble’]: ‘Show me somethin’ natural like ass with some stretch marks.’ I love that because it’s not ‘Come sit on my dick, suck on my cock.’ I can’t listen to that anymore. That’s what pushed me out of the hip-hop scene a little. It was too much ‘Lamborghini, got my Rolex, got a girl on my cock’ — I am so not that.”

Defining oneself against Blackness is the modus operandi of whiteness, especially white womanhood. Miley illuminates this by defining her new image not by what it is, but by what it is not, simultaneously asserting herself as both a victim and a savior.

Miley became a minstrel act in 2013, using moments of performance and on her social media platforms to imagine herself inhabiting a Black body. This appropriation was done as a pointed rebellion against accepted ideologies about suitable behavior for a young white female artist and Disney protégé.

Describing her MTV Awards performance as a “strategic hot mess” in her MTV documentary, she equated her appropriation of Blackness with deviance and radical behavior, and used that to construct an identity which was provocative to her audience while thriving on shock value. Throughout all of this, she always had the ability to easily wipe away the Blackface without ever having to experience the oppression and discrimination Black people are subjected to for performing our Blackness, and without using her status, privilege, or voice to advocate for Black people.

In contrast, during her Billboard interview #MinstrelMiley demonizes rap and hip-hop, while ignoring similar patterns in country music. She is not alone in this sentiment. Many a writer and commentator have produced works on the misogyny, sexism, and homophobia among the lyrics of rap and hip-hop artists. This focus on and separation of these ostensibly Black styles of music as inherently more misogynistic and dealing in excess than other genres of music is rooted in anti-Blackness. What allegedly “pushed [her] out of the hip-hop scene”– the cars, commodities, excess, objectifying and sexualization of women – are the very same leitmotifs that can be found in her precious country music.

Remember that time Rihanna saved country music with “FourFiveSeconds”? That same year, Maddie and Tae straight dragged Blake Shelton n’ dem with “Girl in a Country Song.” They fired shots at the repetitive themes and lyrics about pick-up trucks, cold beer, and the infantilizing and objectification of barefoot ”girls” in painted on cut-off jeans and bikini tops. “We used to get a little respect/Now we’re lucky if we even get/To climb up in your truck, keep our mouth shut and ride along/And be the girl in a country song,” they sing, with accuracy and conviction.

YouTuber Sir Mashalot released a mash-up of six popular country music songs that sound altogether the same in terms of chord progression, tempo, and lyrical refrain. One country music fan did a content analysis of songs from the past fifty years and found that there are four major themes within the genre, and with each passing year, songs about “partying” have become more and more popular – the types of songs which include the lyrics that Maddie and Tae are subverting in their “Girl in a Country Song” number.

Blackness is the benchmark that others use to calculate their own value and humanity, and this truth is evident in Miley’s effortless and hypocritical demonization of hip-hop. When Miley inserted herself into hip-hop culture and wore her ideas of Blackness as an act of deviance/defiance and to gain glorification, engagement, and applause from an audience during the last few years, she did so at the expense of Black people whom she later and are always ridiculed, shamed, and demonized for that same performativity. Minstrelsy is nothing more than a practice in devouring the Other, and white supremacy is insatiable in its desire to consume and colonize.

Let’s be clear: it is a good thing that Miley has abandoned her appropriative persona. Yet, with her ability to do so and then proceed to throw Black people, culture, and music under the bus with such ease while positioning herself as a white savior and painting the country genre as inherently more conducive to revolutionary work, she reveals how whiteness – especially white womanhood – requires the violence of anti-Blackness in order to maintain its image of virtue and importance.


Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies. You can support her work at https://www.paypal.me/SherrondaJBrown

  • Shelby Olson

    Wtf am I reading…. black hate. A bunch of black people hating on everyone else. Don’t you have anything better to do with your time? Like maybe being an advocate for positive things. Bitching about a rich white girl isn’t going to help you. It”s probably helping everyone else, except you. Miley Cyrus still dresses “black” if that’s what black people are calling it. I actually find that hilarious. That you take someone shaking their ads and braiding their hair as trying to be black. Clothe’s are clothes. If see wears a dress today and assless chaps tomorrow she’s still Miley Cyrus. It’s hilarious how easily someone can change their style… under a minute if your a professional. So stfu. Who cares if she’s a roudy drug advocat at one moment and then a tea sipping horse back riding cowgirl the next. Being one thing is boring and I deff wouldn’t want to be stuck in one way of life just because a bunch of black women are going to be mad. Lol GET A LIFE SHERRONDA

    • Jaris Cole

      I wish I had more hands…

    • Kenia Martinez

      Wow this piece must have really hit a cord, the amount of time that you spent writing this reply, you could have spent it “being an advocate for positive things” and stuff. lol

    • Shawn Shizz

      Pretty sure you don’t have the brain cells to understand this article. Go put on your MAGA cap, and rebury your head in the sand.

    • mausium

      “Who cares if she’s a roudy drug advocat at one moment and then a tea sipping horse back riding cowgirl the next.”

      Well, she does.

  • “Defining oneself against Blackness is the modus operandi of whiteness, especially white womanhood.”

    Rinse and repeat, over and over again.

    Absolutely fantastic analysis.

  • Jaris Cole

    A very nuanced argument that has been ignored by majority covering #MinstrelMiley.

    Thank you Sherronda.

  • Ursula2007

    I’ll give her a tiny bit of a pass for growing up in the public eye, which very few children seem to be able to survive unscathed. However, it would have been really great if she had realized her mistakes and apologized.

  • lj

    Completely agree with all of this. just a note, though–Miley came out as genderfluid in 2015 and uses they/them pronouns. while their presentation does still probably afford them privileges of white womanhood than POC enbys don’t receive, and their point of view on appropriation definitely comes from a super White Feminist background, it’s misgendering to call them “she.” Stellar reporting on the problems she creates, though.

    • mausium

      That was her “old persona”, sadly.

    • juliazale

      Let me just say she is in no way gender fluid, bi, or as millennials like to say with their newly defined idiotic words, like pansexual. I agree with the other comment that she has already shed this persona. Yet again she was co-opting another culture for her own and it’s absolute bull. Remember the alternative lifestyle haircut and kissing on women in public meanwhile pinning away for her fiancé to return? The need for millennials to try on different personas, desperately wanting to be “other” or unique at any cost, and to be the center of attention is nauseating, offensive, and angering to POC and the LGBT community. Not sure when the trend of Hollywood starlets claiming to be bi will end but I’ve had enough and so have many other queer woman who live daily in fear and oppression. So I get why this author is angered by her previous appropriation of black culture. Somewhere along the way young women have confused being attracted to other women with admiring their beauty, when we all do that. But when it comes down to eating snatch they won’t.

      • juliazale

        Really no different from straight women dancing closely and freakin’ with each other in order to get the attention of guys in a club.

        • Fatal Sick

          Kissing another woman and two straight women dancing close to each other to get the attention of a man is two totally different things lol! You’re acting like that’s the same thing but it isn’t. Having a tongue in another woman’s mouth certainly doesn’t make her straight! Miley eats snatch hun. I know women (strippers – Taz’s Angels) who know this. As a matter of fact, who doesn’t know she eats snatch? It’s pretty obvious that she does.

        • kbot

          The bigger problem here is that society sexualizes females in a way that people doing this think this is the best way to get attention? Let’s shame women though. Your comments are quite one-sided.

      • kbot

        Hmm wow, you are erasing a lot of identities here. Just because these ‘labels’ didn’t exist at one point doesn’t nullify the fact that there are different sexual/romantic orientations and gender identities in existence. You are also lumping a LARGE group of people into the term ‘millenials’, which is being rebuked far and wide. Terms/labels change, they evolve, as does the understanding of sexuality and gender. You are definitely ERASING people’s identities with your statements here. Strengthen your communities by trying to fight against those misappropriating the terms, not those that have these identities and orientations that are simply different from yours. Not to mention many LG forget about the BT and also erase asexuality. This comment is actually nauseating.

        And to the authors, wonderful article. I’m not sure how Miley identifies so I cannot speak to the other commenter’s statement.

  • disqus_zLY0jsDmax

    I am gobsmacked that anyone would equate being disgusted by sexism and violence against women with being “against blackness”. Hopeless.

  • Shawn Shizz

    Kid Rock did the same thing. He has aligned himself with the country music community, yet he has done so with the worst and most racist of them. He is showing his true trailer park colors, just like Miley. They had fun tryna be Black, and now it’s time to get back to being racist hypocritea.

    • mausium

      “He is showing his true trailer park colors, just like Miley”

      While true, classism doesn’t help.

    • Lady Legasus

      I always wonder what his black baby mother and child feel about his return to the white race? Not really return to country considering he’s from Detroit.

  • Seth

    Nothing about what she did was appropriation. Or even hip hop related for that matter. She embraced the extremes of pop culture whilst moving towards pop music and away from country music. Nothing she did was even race related and to equate it to black face and minstrelsy is laughable. Never thought I’d be one to defend Miley Cyrus but this article takes some seriously insane leaps that only serve to further divide people by the color of their skin.

    • Young Chakotay Butler

      Yeah sorry but Miley has absolutely engaged in egregious levels of appropriation [do a Google image search of “Miley Cyrus on car” if you don’t believe me] and it’s a shame that people aren’t able to address the rampant anti-blackness in our society without being reflexively accused of “dividing” people around race. I’ve heard/read that sentiment dozens and dozens and dozens of times and it’s almost always not-so-subtle code for “please shut up because I don’t want to hear about these problems since you’re making it harder to pretend like they aren’t a huge deal”

      • thunksalot

        Anyone who doubts what Sherronda is talking about should follow Young Chakotay Butler’s advice and google “miley cyrus on car” and watch the videos. Holy cow. I had never seen that. There is NO WAY to deny the appropriation of blackness going on there. Wow. Smh.

  • I’m glad we’re not forgetting about all her blackface bullshit as she tries to reinvent herself. How can she claim “that’s just so not me” when she was the one who was forcing the whole hip hop image on herself that was disingenuous to begin with?