The Day Atlanta Stood Up.
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 fans 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
Bolding mines because YES.
What a fantastic read about this issue that keeps popping up and people keep brushing aside. It’s not OK. Love you, Tay, but it’s not OK. So freakin’ disappointed.
Something I did not know until today: About Josephine Baker’s hair? She had her own product she marketed, “Bakerfix”, a type of brilliantine. Thanks to Rich Maxson!
vand-etta said: Why do black people straighten their hair if non-black people can't get corn row/ box braid/ whatever you consider a "black" hairstyle
why do white people always try to make this non-point false equivalence when they know these are two completely different realities that don’t compare on any plane whatsoever
white people not only make black people hate their hair at an individual emotional level but literally at a systemic level in which black people are and have been for the last century unable to get jobs, attend colleges, enlist in the armed forces, etc. because of the treatment of their natural hair. there literally is nothing white people have to compare…
white people are not getting box braids because they feel pressured to, or out of fear that they won’t have access to a job or anything, but instead because they know it’s an “edgy black people thing” that they’re doing to be counter culture and subversive. there is literally no pressure on earth for anyone INCLUDING BLACK PEOPLE to worship or utilize Black hairstyles or Black hair in its natural state and you fucking know it. It’s literally the complete opposite for white hair. grow up
white people are not gelling down baby hairs for social mobility or financial security or comfort or assimilation.
- why do black women feel the need to wear weave?
History Lesson: History Lesson : Why Women Of Color In The 1800s Were Banned From Wearing Their Hair Out In Public
“Did you know that in late 18th century Louisiana, black and multiracial women were ordered to cover their hair in public?”
- A 7-year-old Tulsa girl was sent home form her elementary school because her dreadlocks were too much of a distraction, Fox 23 News Tulsa reports.
- visual-volume forced to cut locs
credit to black—lamb
12 year old Vanessa VanDyke is being threatened with expulsion from Faith Christian Academy in Orlando unless she cuts her natural hair.
Read the ads
"MEN WHO GO PLACES" "WAS IT HER RESUME OR HER RELAXER?" white people don’t have ads telling them "you will not be successful in life unless you have cornrows and box braids with gelled down baby hairs" because that isn’t the case. address this in the context of reality, maybe???
All of this. ALL OF THIS. READ THIS ^^^^^^
White people didn’t invent straight hair either. There are Black people with straight hair. That’s not a “White style”.
Because ALL of this needs to be on everyone’s page.
Anonymous said: Wait wait wait, Jar Jar Binks is annoying, but I've never heard people say he's racist. I'm not disagreeing, I just want to know how he's supposed to be racist.
When I was a child, I read a Boondocks strip starring Jar Jar Binks. Unsure of what the joke was, because the strip had him talking exactly like he did in the movie, I asked my father. He explained that the joke was that many people viewed Jar Jar Binks as a racist stereotype. I was very confused and asked him what he meant.
The next day, my dad sat me down and had me watch a movie starring Stepin Fetchit, as well as an episode of Amos n Andy, and several blackface minstrel performances. The common thread in all of them was that at least one character had an identical voice, identical body language, and near-identical mannerisms to Jar Jar Binks.
Some of them even added “-sa” as a suffix to seemingly random words. When I asked my dad why they kept doing that, my dad told me to notice who they were talking to when they said “yessa” or “nosa” or “mesa” or “yousa.” As it turns out, they only seemed to do this when talking to a white man, and they weren’t saying “-sa,” they were saying “sir.”
I wish I could find the clips my dad showed me again, because they’re pretty damning, but all I can do is give you the Boondocks strip that originally piqued my interest by combining blackface minstrels’ mannerisms with Jar Jar’s mannerisms and demonstrating that they are indistinguishable from one another:
Note: Both George Lucas and Ahmed Best, the actor who played Jar Jar Binks have claimed Jar Jar isn’t a racist caricature. On a related note, George Lucas and Ahmed Best are capable of being wrong.
Yeah I doubt he intended it but intent here is subsumed by the result
It may have been unconsciously racist, but it was not coincidentally racist. The odds that George Lucas independently invented a character that is identical to a blackface stock character are about the same that someone would write a song that is word-for-word and note-for-note identical to Bohemian Rhapsody without ever having heard it.
Like, even if we assume that it was totally unintentional, the best-case scenario is that they heard Bohemian Rhapsody, forgot it, and then unwittingly pulled it from their subconscious, believing it to be an original composition, and the worst-case is that they were jut hoping nobody would notice their song is just Bohemian Rhapsody.
Many nights we’ve prayed, with no proof anyone could hear. In our hearts a hopeful song we barely understood. Now we are not afraid, although we know there’s much to fear. We were moving mountains, long before we knew we could
Even as Black girls and Black women from young to old are erased from history, as both supporters of justice for Black people and as ones who also experience State violence, Black girls and Black women, young to old, regularly show up. Always have. No matter what lie anyone tells you whether on Twitter or in textbooks.