Friday, July 24, 2015


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Earlier this week, Twitter exploded when Nicki Minaj took to the social media platform to vent her frustration that the "Anaconda" and "Feeling Myself" music videos weren't nominated for "Video of the Year" at the VMAs. 

VMAs, you dun goofed.

Or is it all just part of the music world's master plan to reward only white, cisgendered musicians in traditional performance categories?

Nicki Minaj's "Anaconda" was a revolutionary video; not only did it break Vevo's streaming record back in August, it celebrated and glorified the black female body, one that's usually sexualized without context and vilified for its skin color and curves. Yet the video was only nominated for two niche VMA categories, Best Female Video and Best Hip Hop video. Basically, the VMAs said this video was only good "for a woman" or only good "for a hip hop artist," again relegating women and black culture to their own corner. Meanwhile, the skinny, white, Taylor Swift's "Bad Blood" video garnered 9 nominations...

I bear no ill will towards Taylor Swift or her music. But I do bear resentment to how she used Nicki's frustration to further whitewash the music industry by criticizing Nicki for calling out the racist music standards and by trying to cover up the deeper issue of racism.

Whitewashing refers to white people co-opting the cultures of oppressed people, usually without adequate respect or recognition for the source culture. It can also refer to trying to keep things white-only. The VMAs managed to do both this year, but they aren't the only culprits. For decades, music culture has whitewashed the accomplishments of POC musicians (especially female ones)and consistently celebrated their white counterparts. 

Need a few examples?

Miley in Bantu Knots via the Huffington Post, Katy Perry in Geisha clothing via WSJ

"Twerking" and Bantu knots weren't considered sexy and beautiful until Miley Cyrus did them, despite the fact that those are part of black culture's rich history. Katy Perry gets to dress up as a sexualized Geisha for a concert, but a traditional Japanese Geisha was renowned for her skills as a hostess, conversationalist, and performer. Lana Del Rey decided to dress up in Chola for her "Latina Gangsta Girl" video. And remember when Iggy Azalea won the fan-vote tallies for Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album and Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop Album last year, beating out Drake for the award? 

Yeah, they all pulled that off because they're white.

The musicians and entertainers of color, the ones who have worn their hair in cornrows for years and who grew up around cholas, are called "too ghetto" for participating and drawing on their own culture. Yet those musicians don't get recognized or don't acquire main stream success. Some say it's because they aren't marketable. Lyrics about growing up in da hood aren't relatable enough for music consumers, they say. In that case, I believe the marketability those people are looking for is white skin, not lyrics or style or any of that. 

One of the art pieces in Roger Peet's new series "In//Appropriate" via Bitch Magazine
The music industry's blatant whitewashing doesn't just deny recognition to those who deserve it, but it also denies millions of people a tangible reflection of their identity. White musicians appropriate POC cultures in a way that ignores the traditions and history of oppression those people have faced. Miley's twerking exists in the world of a rich white person, devoid of the violence and poverty faced in by many young blacks. Lana Del Rey's Chola look ignores the fact that the look was created by young Latinas as a method of survival in a society that afforded them no social mobility. The music industry strips away the often painful cultural context of that which it appropriates from, reducing it to simple aesthetics, something that's pretty to look at as long as you don't know where it really came from. How painful must it be for young POC to see their identities stripped down until they are defined simply by an article of clothing or their makeup? How painful must it be to watch your culture be ripped from your hands at the hands of an all encompassing industry?

Taylor, I'm sorry, but despite your apology, there never was an argument in this Twitter debate. You had the ability to use your position of power as a white musician to speak up about whitewashing, but instead you glossed over it with your invitations and apologies. Nicki Minaj has a loud voice and she'll be heard. Problem is, how long will it take for every other non-white artist to get their voice heard too?

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