Do you think that Robin Thicke wants to be black? I seriously doubt it. Do you think that Macklemore wants to be black? Probably not. Did Elvis want to be black? Black in the 50′s? Hell no! Nor does Miley Cyrus. People need to stop saying that Miley wants to be black, why would she?
White artists are smart enough to understand the value of being white while performing black music and emulating black youth culture. Robin Thicke mimics Marvin Gaye, Macklemore grew up listening to the Wu-Tang Clan, Elvis stole Chuck Berrys dance moves and Miley Cirus appears to be channeling her inner Nicki 3 way. Call it, WAC or “white acting colored”. I would put Miley Cirus in that same category with the rest of the cultural conquistadors that came before her. She is WAC. Her performance at the MTV video awards this past week is an example of many things, the overall ratchetness in pop culture, the ascendancy of the WAC artist and a clue as to how white people plan to get their collective groove back.
Let’s start with the latter. The truth is white people never really had any groove, they stole it from black people, then had the gall to copyright it then act like it was original (cue Blurred Lines).
Sun Records founder, Sam Phillips, according to his former secretary, used to say, “If I could find a white man with that Negro sound, and the Negro feel, I could make a billion dollars”. Does the same apply for a white woman? Of course it does.
People who charge Miley with wanting to be black are missing the point of being famous. The point of being famous is that people recognize you and treat you special. Why would Miley want to be black, when being WAC is so much more profitable? Why would she trade white skin privilege to be black, when she can stay white, appropriate black style (unfortunately not our grace) and have her skin privilege and the fame and fortune too?
Being WAC offers the artist instant crossover appeal. Being WAC offers the artist access to markets that takes black artists many years to break into, if they ever reach that point at all. Lastly, being WAC allows the artist to reap all the benefits of appearing edgy, cool, interesting, hip, avant-garde, without the burden. Miley wants everything BUT the burden. Miley Cirus wants to be more rich and famous, not black.
Take Oprah Winfrey’s recent brush with being black as an example. Oprah got played by a Swiss bigot and denied access to a $38,000 handbag named after an American actress who has less fame and fortune than she does (Jennifer Aniston). Why would Miley want to put herself in that position? White skin privledge, even for the non famous, has it’s advantages.
NBA Hall of Famer and All Star point guard Isiah Thomas once said that “if Larry Bird was white, he would be just another NBA player”. He took a lot of heat for that statement, but he may have had a point. Recently, on my radio show, many people made the same observation of Marvin Gaye wanna-be Robin Thicke, that if he were black he would be just another artist. His summer smash “Blurred Lines”, to many, is a clear rip-off of Marvin Gaye’s , “Got To Give It Up“.
Someone at MTV has a sense of humor. Pairing Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus on stage together was ironically appropriate, the reigning king and queen princess of cultural appropriation. They looked so cute together, him dressed like Beetle Juice, trying to project his inner black soul and her, dressed like trash, twerking her soul away. Don’t get it twisted, black people don’t act like that and Miley Cyrus doesn’t want to be black.
Chris Rock, during one of his classic stand-up routines, used to tell white audiences that, “None of ya would trade places with me, and I’m rich! That’s how good it is to be white”. Miley has it good. While she may aspire to be a lot of things, Princess of Rachetness or perhaps MTV twerk champion, being black is not one of them.
Follow Nathan’s Twitter musings on culture, politics and pleasure @N8_Ivey