Janet Mock tackles heavy topics in pop culture regularly. As a trans woman of color with a platform as a journalist, Mock is fearless in her work in reporting current events and how they fit into larger themes of the overarching cultural narrative. So naturally, Mock had a lot to say about the most recent pop cultural war of words between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus. In a new interview with The New Republic, Janet Mock talked about Cyrus' cultural appropriation and Minaj's words for the pop star at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards. Mock said,
The marker of white privilege is that you can take everything but the burden, right? You can have the braids. You can have the twerking. You can have the black folk in your music video. You can have the coolness, right? You can commodify black cool without having to have the black struggle. And so that's where I think that's where the struggle comes in, right, for folks who are black who are just like, "You're just up there taking all the things and the pieces of us that we don't get celebrated for," right? So I feel like what Nicki was going through this year at the VMAs started from the point of, "My video was not nominated. My black greatness was not celebrated, but you're going to celebrate all these other folk that perform blackness in their cultural products, but you won't reward mine when it's coming from the source of black brilliance and black cool."
It is worth applauding Mock for explaining such a heavy and divisive topic like cultural appropriation that a lot of people may find controversial, but also may not completely understand. The steadfast civil rights activist provides a very clear way of showing people why the whole Minaj and Cyrus conversation goes much deeper than simply "famous woman versus famous woman."
Many news outlets and blogs primarily focused (and are still focusing on) the "catfight" aspect of the Cyrus and Minaj interaction. It is an easy thing to do, since they are both entertainers and both outspoken, bold women. But it is also the lazy thing to do, because as Mock points out, this is a news peg for a much larger topic: cultural appropriation and why it matters. Cyrus has participated in quite a few aspects of "black cool," as Mock calls it, such as twerking and featuring black women in her music videos. But since she does not have black skin, she will by default not experience the same type of struggles that someone like Minaj has.
After all, even someone as famous as Minaj still feels like she struggling to get proper recognition for her contributions to pop culture, as indicated by what she felt was a major snub from the VMAs for not nominating her for Video of the Year. So it is little wonder why some, much less famous, people may feel like cultural appropriation is not only not helping them gain recognition, but instead adding to their struggles.
That's why cultural appropriation discussion matters. And that's why it's important that Mock talked about it. Talking about it will not immediately solve this or any diversity issues. But it sure is a good start, and worth a listen.