August 21, 2014
Taylor Swift’s Racism & “Shake It Off” Video
We clearly need to start a hashtag campaign at this point to #stopracistwhitegirls. Between Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Lily Allen and more, the mainstream pop bench is absolutely stacked with racist white girls galore at the moment. But in our 2014 “post racial” America where black people are getting killed every 28 hours by vigilante justice, where Mike Brown’s killer, Darren Wilson, is on paid leave for brutally executing an unarmed black teenager as we speak, and where police brutality against black bodies in Ferguson and across the country is the norm, it’s still so fun and uber cool for white girls to make blackness a costume! You know, since it clearly doesn’t get us killed or anything.
Enter Taylor Swift stage left.
[image description: Taylor Swift in a leopard print jacket with large gold hoop earrings, and cut of jean shorts with a gold chain posturing in front of twerking dancers]
So I’ll admit that I do have a bit of a penchant for bland pop music, and so I have followed Taylor Swift in varying capacities for many years. I understand that her entire image is carefully cultivated to exude innocent, bright eyed and bushy tailed white girl who is always “shocked” when she wins an award. I understand that the reason her image sells is because of the white supremacist patriarchal notion of the “cult of true womanhood,” where moneyed white woman had their femininity defined by 4 traits: piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness. It is in this mold that Taylor Swift has built such a massive following and sold so many millions of albums. Ascribing herself to these narrow values by which white womanhood is exalted and elevated in a way that is only accessible to white female bodies and not to WOC has been Swift’s “in” in the music industry more than anything else over the years.
But in the pop industry there is a constant need for reinvention and to push the boundaries ever further with each succeeding musical effort. Even as Swift has cultivated and carefully molded her image to fit this fairly rigid white supremacist patriarchal construct of white femininity and has made millions doing so, the constant churn of capitalism has made the appeal of her wonder bread white girl image fade with time. She needs some way to “spice up” her act and draw attention to herself along with it. As bell hooks so brilliantly says in her cultural criticism & transformation:
There’s a way in which white culture is perceived as too “wonder bread” right now—not edgy enough, not dangerous enough—let’s get some of those endangered species people to be exotic for us. It’s really simply a more up-scale version of primitivism resurging. When blackness is the sign of transgression that is most desired, it allows whiteness to remain static, to remain conservative, and it’s conservative thrust to go unnoticed.
And so, with this in mind, Swift like so many white girls and boys before her, turns to blackness to find that “exotic” flavor to give her bland image the kick it needs.
What strikes me about the “Shake It Off” video is just how true to form it is with all of the other racist music videos we’ve seen from white women in the past year alone. “Hard Out Here,” “We Can’t Stop,” “23” and more, white girls have been on a roll with their racism and racialized misogyny and Taylor Swift couldn’t wait to join the party.
[image description: Taylor Swift in a red hooded jacket, holding a boom box and wearing a fitted cap in front of black and Latino break dancers]
In one scene from the video we have Taylor Swift dressed as a b-boy with a fitted cap and all, in a brazen and blatant act of cultural appropriation. We all know that the b-boy tradition comes from black and Latin@ youth who get demonized and criminalized daily and who are not able to breakdance without facing harassment from the police. But Swift, drenched in her white privilege and concomitant myopia has no sense of how insulting it is to slip this on as a fun “costume” for a few seconds in her video, as she can always retreat back into her whiteness unassailed while the black and Latin@ breakdancers in her video cannot.
The most disgusting part of the video, though, came, as usual with the twerking scene. White girls just seem to love to throw in a twerking scene into their videos these days.
[image description: Taylor Swift in a leopard print jacket and gold earrings and chains crawling in between the legs of several twerking dancers and staring up at the butt of a twerking black woman]
This is different from the “Anaconda” video, where black women have agency and control of their sexuality and bodies. Instead, just like her racist white counterparts (namely Miley Cyrus and Lilly Allen), Taylor Swift makes twerking and black female bodies a spectacle before the white gaze. Particularly as she walks between the legs of her twerking dancers and pauses at the black woman in the group and gapes astoundingly at her ass, the white gaze is centralized. In this scene black femininity is clearly exotified and demonized in an animalistic contrast to her conservative white femininity that can gape “shocked” at what she’s witnessing (which black women have literally been doing for centuries). This is white feminism at work, which perpetually ignores crucial intersections of race and gender, and to add insult to injury the scene ends with Swift giggling and looking bashfully at the ground, reifying her innocence and white privilege in the spirit of the cult of true womanhood. These are constructs which black women and other WOC do not have access to due to their race, and which Swift gleefully reinforces with this imagery.
This entire scene is a blatant example of primitivism and misogynoir (racialized antiblack misogyny) in the spirit of the spectacle that people made out of the body of Saartjie Baartman.
[image description: Caricature cartoon image of Saartjie “Sarah” Baartman, the “Hottentot Venus.” She is scantily clad with a spear, very large buttocks and her large breasts exposed as well with a white Cherubim alighting on her buttocks]
In case you are not aware, Baartman was a Khoikhoi South African woman, who was brought to Europe in 1810 where she was subsequently paraded around as a freak show with the “exotic” features of her black female body—her butt, breasts and elongated labia— as the main event. Racist caricatures of her body were made, including the famous cartoon above. After her death, her skeleton, preserved genitals and brain were placed on display in Paris’ Musée de l’Homme until 1974. Her remains were not returned to South Africa until 2002 when she was finally reburied near her home town over 200 years after her birth.
In this video, Swift, like her racist white pop counterparts, taps into the racist traditions that we see in the dehumanization of Baartman. This is absolutely unacceptable. Black female bodies are not foreign, exotic, alien lands for your debasement in a cheap pop video for mass consumption. Black women have agency and deserve humanity and respect. Nobody cares if the dancer was “okay” with being in the scene or not, what we care about is the imagery being produced which enshrines white femininity as the standard and strips black women of agency rather than giving homage and due respect to them (as we see in Rihanna’s “Pour It Up” video, Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video and more which centralize the black female gaze).
But, if we didn’t know before, we’ve learned in the past year that Swift and all of these other white pop stars are simply shameless. They don’t care. We critique and point out their racism and racialized misogyny and they throw out obtuse comments about how they actually “really love black people” and “have black friends,” you name it, rather than accepting the problematic nature of their work and just apologizing. This is white supremacist thinking in action, as the only emotional universe which matters is that of the white individual in question and not that of the black people who object to the debasement of our bodies and commodification of aspects of our cultures in videos like this. And we see the impact of all of this in the thinking of their fans who myopically follow their stars and don’t realize that they can be fan while still being critical of the actions of their favorite pop stars. It is unacceptable that Swift can shamelessly appropriate from b-boy black and Latin@ culture, parade herself around as a faux-black woman and then exotify and degrade black female bodies for mass consumption in her videos. And it’s so important that we call videos like this out, and demand accountability from artists who put out degrading videos like Taylor Swift just did with “Shake It Off.” #stopracistwhitegirls2k14
+ Lily Allen’s Racist “Hard Out Here” video
+ Ke$ha’s Racist “Crazy Kids” video
August 21, 2014
My name is Jamilla Okubo. I am an Kenyan-American artist from Washington, D.C. Currently residing in New York City attending Parsons the New School for Design. I am currently a rising senior at Parsons studying Integrated Fashion Design (undergraduate), with a background in Fine Arts, and a focus on textiles and fashion design.
I have been attending Parsons for three years now and I am getting ready to graduate this year as well as complete my senior thesis. I am currently $72,000 in debt to Parsons the New School for Design. For the past three years my mother has assisted me by paying the remainder of my tuition with the Parent Plus Loan. My mother has borrowed $43,000 of the Direct Parent Plus loan. I still owe $12,000 for my last (senior) year at Parsons and mother and I can no longer take out Direct Plus Loans.
I hope to be that minority student of color at Parsons, who represents the school, and inspires my younger siblings, and other minority/low-income students globally, to have the ambition and drive that I have, and not let financial issues get in the way of it.
I need $10, 787 to pay for the rest of my tuition for my last year at Parsons.
USAGE OF FUNDS:
-School Supplies (Fabric, muslin, pattern paper, designing tools, paint, canvases, lab fees, books, fieldtrip fees)
ABOUT ME & MY PURPOSE AS AN ARTIST:
As a multidisciplinary artist I am able to combine my skills and knowledge to create and express myself. My artwork mainly focuses on people of the Diaspora (people of color), whom I consider my community. I use my artistic disciplines as tools to challenge myself in ways to give back to my community, educate, and empower them as well as the rest of the world.
It is my duty to remind people of color that we have such a rich culture, and that we should love ourselves and one another. I create artwork for my community, because I believe that my purpose as an artist of color is to empower and educate my community.
My artistic discipline connects me to my community by allowing me to create artwork that my community is able to enjoy, embrace, and share with others. I not only create my artwork for myself, but what I express through the medium that I use, is a story that many in my community can relate to. When it comes to creating, I strongly believe in the fact that,
“Black art controls the “Negro’s” reality, negates negative influences, and creates positive images,”
A quote by Sonia Sanchez. As an artist of color coming from a low-income, single-mother household background, I am able to speak for many in my community from both my experiences growing up as well as express the beauty and hardships of my community’s culture and history. Being able to paint allows me to create for myself but also allows my work to connect to so many from my community. That is the beauty of being an artist, being able to express shared feelings and experiences with your community, where they can also can all take something from what you create.
There is so much to learn, and from that form of inspiration and influence, I create.
Portfolio Website: www.jamillaokubo.com
Shop my art prints here: http://aadatart.com/product-category/art-prints/jamilla-okubo/
SPREAD THE WORD TUMBLR FAMILY! I LOVE YALL!
*SIGNAL BOOST THIS PLEASEEEEE*
August 20, 2014
Concurrently, the growing class power and public voice of conservative and liberal well-to-do black folks easily obscures the class cruelty these individuals enact both in the way they talk about underprivileged blacks and the way they represent them. The existence of that class cruelty and its fascist dimensions have been somewhat highlighted by the efforts of privileged-class blacks to censor the voices of black youth, particularly gangsta rappers who are opposing bourgeois class values by extolling the values of street culture and street vernacular. Significantly, the attack on urban underclass black youth culture and its gangster dimensions (glamorization of crime, etc.) is usually presented via a critique of sexism. Since most privileged-class blacks have shown no interest in advancing feminist politics, the only organized effort to end sexism and sexist oppression, this attack on sexism seems merely gratuitous, a smoke screen that deflects away from the fact that what really disturbs bourgeois folks is the support of rebellion, unruly behavior, and disrespect for their class values. In reality, they and their white counterparts fear the power these young folks have to change the minds and life choices of youth from privileged classes. If only underclass black folks were listening to gangsta rap, there would be no public effort to silence and censor this music. The fear is that it will generate class rebellion.
- bell hooks, killing rage: Ending Racism