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Op-Ed: MTV’s Video “Minstrel” Awards

I rarely have high expectations for awards shows. The level of marketing hype attached to these self-congratulatory spectacles seldom result in anything other than disappointment.

Musical events are never about the music or the artistic performances anymore, instead its the sideshow of the scantily clad red carpet, “OMG moments” during speeches and/or “Kanyesque” stage rushing, that garners all the attention these days, and last night’s MTV VMA’s were no different—in fact they were far worse than even I could have ever imagined.

It’s no secret that white pop stars have been taken to task by a growing socially conscious audience that doesn’t take too kindly to cultural appropriation as the sincerest form of flattery. From Miley Cyrus, the night’s hostess, and the media helming her as the inventor of “twerking” to Katy Perry’s “baby hair” and bamboo earrings and the disaster that is Iggy Azalea to Macklemore being crowned the king of rap, there are very few white pop stars that haven’t tried to up their “street cred” by adorning themselves in black culture like it’s the latest Louis Vuitton accessory. We’re all too aware of the reality that this has been going on for decades and yet it doesn’t make it any less infuriating especially when thrown in your face like it was yesterday.

Miley Cyrus, the VMA’s ringmaster and minstrel host took appropriation to new heights or is it lows? Nonetheless, the pop star rocked blonde yarn in her hair seemingly giving us her best Bo Derek impression with style outlets, like Pop Sugar calling her look “fierce” and a “powerful ponytail”. Do you remember what singer Zendaya was called for rocking dread locs on a red carpet? I believe it was a “patchouli and weed smelling hippie”—a far cry from the fierce and powerful sentiments that are ascribed to Cyrus.

Fascinating how what is deemed as inappropriate on some is revered as edgy and fashionable on others.

The appropriating of black culture didn’t stop at style either but took a turn towards the lowest of lows with the epidemic of police brutality being turned into a punch line. If you aren’t aware of the Black Lives Matter movement and the countless innocent black lives that have been taken by police and armed vigilantes over the past few years then you’re living under a rock—which is apparently where comedian Rebel Wilson went to find her joke last night.

Image: Rebel Wilson presents the award for hip-hop video of the year to Nicki Minaj
Rebel Wilson presents the award for hip-hop video of the year to Nicki Minaj, left, at the MTV Video Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, Aug. 30, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by Matt Sayles/Invision/AP) Matt Sayles / Invision via AP

As the pre-cursor to the award for best Hip Hop video, Wilson came to the stage donned in a police outfit and made a joke about the injustice of “stripper police” unfairly targeting her. You see what she did there? Since the police have a history of unfairly targeting black men, women and children—so much so that they are left dead and their families left without justice—Wilson thought it would be a hoot to satirize an incredibly painful issue—funny right? Not so much.

As Jay-Z once rhymed, “its only entertainment”, but I ask, at whose expense?

In an attempt to address the issue of white privilege MTV launched the “Look Different” campaign. During the VMA’s broadcast they aired a commercial hailing the expertise of a group called “White Squad” to help well meaning minorities get ahead in the world by offering services like hailing cabs, interviewing for college, and appearing in court. The commercial was meant to draw attention to the discrepancies in treatment faced by white people and minorities. Yet, with an awards show that was so riddled with racism, both unconscious and unapologetic, it’s message fell flat.

Viacom showed just how tone deaf they are to the issues of racism plaguing this country that they allowed their host for the evening to use the term “mammy” in a pre-recorded skit. Mammy is one of the most racially charged words that were used to demonstrate just how humane slavery was because “mammy loved her white owner so much”. While it was cleared up that Cyrus was referring to her grandmother as mammy and not Snoop Dog, the fact that this skit made it off the cutting room floor is baffling. How could Viacom allow this skit to take place in 2015, when just recently a black woman was thrown into jail for not being submissive to a white police officer and then ended up dead in her jail cell over a traffic stop?

Black culture isn’t a costume, a skit, and a mode of transition for squeaky clean white pop stars looking to become edgy.

If there was an award given to the most racially insensitive and tone deaf awards show MTV’s VMA’s would surely take top honors—maybe instead of a moon man statue they would just be “Miley” about it and have it made in mammy’s likeness instead. Wouldn’t that be funny?