When I first watched Sky Ferreira‘s new video for “I Blame Myself” . . .
. . . my White Liberal knee immediately started jerking. And judging by an article in The Guardian, I was not the only jerk.
Never one to back down, Ferreira immediately responded to her critics on her Facebook page:
Nothing upsets me more than being called racist because that is one of the most hateful things anyone can be. Not only do I find it insulting towards myself but I also feel insulted for the actors & dancers & my family in the video. No, I did not use black back-up dancers as “props”. I never have and never will look at any human being as a prop. That’s disgusting. It’s also an idea that has never crossed my mind, which is what I find questionable of the people telling me that I did so. Dancers are objects?!?!?! How dare you! Dancers make things come to life.”
This may seem like a topsy-turvy world where a white artist must defend including minorities in a video, but when you include only minorities, are you truly color blind or just oblivious? Obliviousness always supports the power dynamics of the hegemonic status quo. Now I have no idea who showed up to audition for this video. It is quite possible that the best dancers really were all black, but it is hard to ignore echoes of the “sure can dance good” stereotype (along with the appropriation of “street” authenticity, but that is a topic for another post).
The reaction could not have come as a complete surprise either, especially considering the criticism her current tour mate, Miley Cyrus, received last year for, as Jezebel‘s Dondai Stewart put it, “accessorizing with black people.”
Lily Allen drew similar complaints about her “Hard Out There” video, . . .
. . . though to be honest, I read that one as satiric critique, not endorsement of visual exploitation, both of women and people of color. And Katy Perry was criticized for the “Orientalism” of her performance at the AMAs.
Still, Ferreira poses a good question:
Would you feel more at ease if I danced with a bunch [of] blond white boys at a mall? Should I consciously only cast white dancers for now on? If I’m racist does that mean you’re pro-segregation?!”
Should white artists feature only people like themselves in their videos? And black artists feature only blacks? And Latin artists only Latins? Do we want music to become like comedy, where it seems that everyone can make jokes about their own races (and of course, whites), but heaven help anyone who jokes about any other minority, much less uses an ethnic slur while doing so? And is a member of another race even allowed to laugh at these jokes?
Taking this reasoning to its logical extreme, should we listen only to music made by people like ourselves on the theory that we can never thoroughly understand the true context of music performed by “other” races or genders or sexualities or cultures, etc.? Or can listening to a variety of music help us recognize how much we have in common — there’s a reason most songs are about love (or maybe lust) regardless of what type of music you listen to — and, possibly, understand just a bit better those things we do not share?