As expected, MTV’s Video Music Awards 2015 brought out stars of pop culture importance in their Sunday best — whether that meant wearing shimmery gowns, jeans and bomber jackets, or in host Miley Cyrus’ case, a bejeweled frock that left very little to the imagination … and faux locs.
The latter echoed a long-held grievance for Black communities and seemed to set the tone for the night — the irresponsible cultural appropriation of Black culture was not only being regurgitated once again by a young woman who largely leaned on co-opting a subset of Blackness to change her squeaky clean Disney image, but it was being celebrated by Viacom across a handful of stations, including BET.
It seems that Cyrus, previously called out for using Black women and Black culture as props, has learned nothing from the critique of what her White privilege provides her — an opportunity to appropriate Black hair to be beautiful or trendy, while Black people who have traditionally styled their hair in these protective crowns are excluded from the conversation.
Further proof that Cyrus doesn’t quite “get it” were comments she made in a New York Times piece last week that suggested Nicki Minaj be polite when discussing her frustration with systemic oppression, race, and European beauty standards that prevent diversity from being celebrated on platforms like MTV. Nicki’s response to Cyrus, a VMA first that you can watch here, will more than likely be touted across media headlines as Nicki attacking the pop star without proper context that Cyrus’ comment was initially violent in nature. Suggesting that Black people approach race politely to be validated is diminishing their justifiable frustration with 400 years of oppression.
But hairstyles and antics aside, what was arguably the most insulting and racially charged moment of the night was when comedian Rebel Wilson presented the Best Hip-Hip Video award dressed as a police officer.
From The Huffington Post:
“I know a lot of people have problems with the police, but I really hate police strippers,” she said, dressed in a police uniform, before taking it off to reveal a bodysuit reading “F**k Tha Police Stripper.” She then went on to joke about getting a police stripper for her grandmother’s birthday who wouldn’t “feel her up.”
“I hate this injustice,” she joked, “hence the shirt.”
The tasteless joke shocked many viewers, who then took to Twitter to explain how making light of police brutality is a clear jab at the Black Lives Matter movement…and the many men, women, and children who have died at the hands of police officers in America.
It was, for many, a reminder of the trauma experienced almost daily in Black communities in a moment that was meant to celebrate and uplift the treasured art form of hip-hop.
But Wilson’s joke joined a list of VMA moments that had viewers shaking their heads in confusion and frustration. In a scripted bit about weed brownies with Snoop Dogg, Cyrus used the historically painful and racial term “mammy.” It was later revealed that Cyrus was addressing her real grandmother, not Snoop as originally believed, but the use of a term — one that dredges up images of racial caricatures and slavery — still raised questions about Cyrus’ knowledge of race in this country.
After Kanye West’s rambling speech to accept his Video Vanguard Award (where he also announced his presidential campaign for 2020), Cyrus told the audience that she was going to vote for Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. While it’s likely the statement was another joke meant to pull in the laughs and shock, endorsing a candidate who is unapologetic about his disparaging comments on immigrants, people of color, and women isn’t wise for a network that boasts inclusivity and diversity.
And in the midst of all these racially insensitive moments was the promotion for MTV’s satirical campaign White Squad, a commercial that shows members of an all-White company assisting minorities who encounter systemic oppression because of the color of their skin. And while the push, brought forth by MTV’s “Look Different” campaign, is meant to tackle racism and White privilege, it no doubt added tension to an award show that, just an hour in, managed to make a punchline out of Black trauma and Black lives.
All of which goes to show you, good intentions don’t always end well. And based on these moments that had Twitter abuzz with criticism, it looks like MTV and the artists it celebrates should probably take a course on racial sensitivity.