“Feminism, What’s Good?”: On Miley Cyrus, Nicki Minaj and “The Trouble Between Us”

Nicki Minaj

Before I tell you exactly why I am more than willing to serve Miley Cyrus’s public persona a Four Horseman shot of bleach, cyanide, kerosene, and antifreeze, let me make this clear.  I am a semi-fan of Nicki Minaj, but I am not a Barb.  Never have been, may not ever really be.  I’ve been openly critical about certain aspects of Nicki’s music, message, and the like.  Those are the facts.  Be that as it may, right is right and wrong is wrong.  And when it comes to the Nicki situation, Miley is wrong.  

While the world may have just seen two people having a public disagreement on stage, as a PhD student you tend to see things a little differently.  Yes, I saw the show go from the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards to the late 90s-early 2000s Source Awards in a matter of seconds.  But also considering the sociopolitical implications and constructs that brought about that moment on that stage, I also saw a metaphor for the ever-present issues surrounding the relationship of White feminism and Black women.  

And that’s where I’m irritated as fuck.  

I am a firm believer in the thought of the background always telling the foreground of any person, place, or thing.  So before we dissect what actually took place on the stage, let’s start from the beginning.  The foundation of the Nicki/Miley feud is actually a spinoff from a Twitter-debate (never really saw it as a beef, per se) from Nicki and Taylor Swift. Months later after Taylor and Nicki decided to play nice, Miley gave a pre-VMA interview with the New York Times where she discussed the Twitter situation between Nicki and Taylor.   In fairness, I will say that the blame of this problematic foundation does not just lie with Miley.  Joe Coscarelli from the New York Times is a raindrop in this shit storm as well.  Analyzing at the way Coscarelli framed certain questions to the point of possibly fabricating facts (I’m still looking for the receipts where Nicki exactly said “when a White girl breaks a Vevo record, she gets nominated” that was referenced in the NY Times interview), it makes sense why some aspects of the discussion warranted certain reactions from Miley.  But that is where it stops.  After shying away from leading questions about any direct personal statements Nicki did (or more than likely did not) say about her, Miley went into classic, white’splaining mode stating that one of the reasons she did not accept Nicki’s critique of the industry was because of the tone that she used.  In the interview she said the following key statements,

….People forget that the choices that they make and how they treat people in life affect you in a really big way. If you do things with an open heart and you come at things with love, you would be heard and I would respect your statement. But I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it.  And it’s not anger like, “Guys, I’m frustrated about some things that are a bigger issue.”  You made it about you…

If you want to make it about race, there’s a way you could do that. But don’t make it just about yourself. Say: “This is the reason why I think it’s important to be nominated. There’s girls everywhere with this body type.”

[Coscarelli points out that she did say this]

What I read sounded very Nicki Minaj, which, if you know Nicki Minaj is not too kind. It’s not very polite. I think there’s a way you speak to people with openness and love…I know you can make it seem like, Oh I just don’t understand because I’m a white pop star. I know the statistics. I know what’s going on in the world. But to be honest, I don’t think MTV did that on purpose.  

Let’s pause here and tease this response out.  First off, I’m going to need for everyone to understand (Black, White, or whatever) whenever we talk about race-related issues, you are in for a multitude of responses and reactions.  They can range anywhere from light-hearted, to hurtful, to angry, to depressing, and everything else in between.  The reason for that is because there are a multitude of emotions that go along with race, all ranging from different places.  In the spirit of Kanye when he said, “The art ain’t always going to be polite,” neither will race conversations.  Given that logic, for Miley to say she doesn’t respect or accept someone’s perspective on a race-related issue because it sounded “angry” is dumb.  It is also, albeit, yet another example of a component within White supremacist culture–the policing of every conceivable facet of the lives of people of color including our emotions.   To clarify, I’m not saying Miley is a White supremacist.  But her thinking and reaction to all this (like others, including Taylor’s) is a byproduct of our society living under a White supremacist structure.  The audacity to say that you can negate and discredit someone’s entire argument based on the premise, not of it being untrue, but because it was spoken harshly is part of the construct of privilege only afforded to White people.  

In the words leading up to the last paragraph, one could easily don their cape and swoop down to save Miley with the argument of, “Oh but Miley is just a celebrity.  Why should we give thought to what she says about race?”  That would be valid had not Miss Cyrus alluded that she was in some way knowledgeable of the topic stating, “I know you can make it seem like, ‘Oh I just don’t understand because I’m a White pop star.’  I know the statistics.  I know what’s going on in the world.”  Lesson for the class: The minute you purport yourself as having some kind of empirical knowledge on a subject matter, whether it’s good or not, that puts you up as a candidate for critique.  That is just what is happening in this moment right now.  

Furthermore, let’s also consider the source of these statements.  Seriously, who the fuck is Miley Cyrus to have any kind of nerve in policing Nicki’s tone?  In writing this piece, I have gone through the timeline of all of Nicki’s tweets on the situation.  In not a single one did she curse, call anybody out of their name, or whatnot (before you shout, “But Nicki called Miley a bitch at the show,” hang tight, we’ll get to that in a second).  Yet Miley is saying that her tone was too harsh and not spoken out of love hence why her truth is unacceptable?  This is coming from a girl who prides herself in constructing a “not giving a fuck, I stay true” attitude, will flip you off for no reason, and whose basis of all the promo commercials she did leading up to the VMAs was the fact that she curses so much.  This girl wants to apply respectability politics to a situation that didn’t even involve her to begin with?  

*hits the Quinta B step*

I CANNOT!!!!!!!!!

So, now that we have analyzed the background of this case, let’s deconstruct what happened in the foreground at the show.  By now, we pretty much got the gist of what happened.  After that trash ass joke about police brutality from Rebel Wilson (whom is on the list to be dragged at a later time along with Viacom’s overall bullshit for this particular award show), Nicki won for best Hip-Hop video for Anaconda.  The speech started off as light enough, giving props to women and men taking care of themselves.  Now here’s where it gets sociopolitical for me.  After shouting out different folks, Nicki went on to thank her pastor.  At the core of this feud between Nicki and Miley was the issue of the role of Black respectability in responding to social issues.  For Black people (and most White people), there is nothing more respectable than a Black person talking about some good ol’ Christian religion.  For Nicki to talk about her pastor could give her the appearance of being the “respectable” person Miley tried to say she should be when expressing herself  From there, Nicki deviates her attention from her wholesome persona to addressing Miley head-on, “And now back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me in the press the other day.  Miley, what’s good?”  The very second when Nicki said, “And now back…” was a powerful, key moment.  The structure, again, of this entire issue has been the policing and dictating of Black emotions and responses.  When Nicki showed she could talk about “respectable” things in one moment and then square up the next, she resumed ownership in her range of emotion.  Going back to what we mentioned earlier when we examined the background, due in part to the White supremacist structure of our society, people of color are not often afforded that opportunity to express themselves in various ways.  When we are, the results can range from being socially detrimental to physically deadly.  For Nicki to do so publicly knowing the social backlash she will endure (being classified as ghetto, a hoodrat, trashy, classless, etc.) should be acknowledged.   Furthermore, given her possible frustration with such a system (she did make mention to White media and their tactics in the midst of her Twitter feud with Taylor), I can understand why she would come at Miley so hard at that moment.  From the start of the incident stemming with Taylor, people have been very critical of her harsh tone while she did not use any curse words. No matter if her language was profane or pure. she would still carry the burden of the Angry Black Woman label.     It is pretty much a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.  

But the sociopolitical applications do not end there.  Miley’s response was a social statement as well.  While Miley did congratulate Nicki on her award, the sincerity is questionable at best.  Miley did so with a dismissive attitude, telling her “Congratufuckinglations,” flipped and twirled her fake dreads around her finger, and offered further condescending indirect chastisement about Nicki’s response.

Considering the subject matter, their physical positioning of where Miley and Nicki were in relation to each other, and the language used reminds me of everything discussed in Winifred Breines’s The Trouble Between Us where Breines talks about the social and personal conviction of checking discrimination and marginalization of one group (women of color) within an ideological movement structured to address discrimination and marginalization of another group (women).  On television you see Nicki standing on one part of the stage and Miley is across from her, with a mosh pit of a couple hundred people between them.  While Nicki is going off on her side, Miley can give this cool, dismissive attitude with her fake dreads because she is in a protected place where Nicki cannot get to her.  No wonder she’s unbothered.  She doesn’t have to be bothered.  Had we removed the mosh pit and there was nothing more than space and opportunity between them, we might have seen a different reaction from both parties.  This can easily be seen as a metaphor for the volatile relationship between White feminism and women of color.  With Nicki being the example of women of color who try to be outspoken against intersectionality issues concerning race and gender and Miley being the example of some White feminists who are dismissive towards those issue, the mosh pit is the barrier of racial privilege that divides the two groups.  It is what protects the Mileys from the Nickis.  It is what allows the Mileys to flick and flip their appropriated, costumed culture around for the world to see much to the outrage of the Nickis.  It speaks to the issue that while womanhood can bring women of all races in one arena, the intersectional issues of race is what keeps us on different stages.  

Miley was dead ass wrong and tried it speaking out of turn in regulating somebody’s reaction.  While Nicki certainly could have addressed the issue another way, I will not condemn her for doing what she saw fit. Having people constantly police your presentation before they get to your point (if they are even willing to hear it) is infuriating.  This is especially frustrating from someone who supposedly calls herself a feminist so you would think she would get it.  But how do we fix this problem?  Right now, I ain’t got the answers, Sway.  But I think having these kinds of conversations is critical.  Acknowledging that there is a problem from both white feminists and women of color instead of being dismissive is key *coughs Facebook*.    It is what could lead us to cultivate solutions to simultaneously eradicate sexism and racism.  

Feminism, what’s good?

Advertisements