If you don't know who Taylor Swift is, crawl out from that rock you've been living under, turn on your laptop, pull up Google, and type in "Taylor Swift's new music video for 'Shake It Off.'" The pop star's new release is an all-out free for all, consisting of Swift dressed in a sort of '60s beatnik-inspired all-black ensemble with her signature statement red lip, Swift dressed like a Natalie Portman-esque white swan, Swift dressed like Lady Gaga and will.i.am's love child, and, last but not least, Swift in stereotypically "ghetto" garb flanked by black bodies twerking their little butts off.
The intent of the video, from what I could glean, is that Swift — who is portraying herself as the butt of media outlets' jokes — is tired of all of the things people say about her. "I stay out too late," Swift croons, "Got nothing in my brain. That's what people say. . . . I go on too many dates, but I can't make em' stay. That's what people say."
Why is it that these celebrities can monetize and capitalize off of the black experience yet when the same community they make money off of needs them, they are silent? Not one tweet. Not one Facebook post. Not one Instagram picture. Nothing.
Swift, as usual, has decided to stand up for the downtrodden freaks and geeks of the world, proclaiming that "the haters are going to hate . . . but I'm just going to shake it off." Entertainment Weekly writer Kyle Anderson admitted that something seemed a bit disingenuous about the song's intent, writing: "She and her team go to such insane lengths to protect her 'Aw, shucks!' demeanor that it has drifted cartoonishly far away from who she really, truly is: A super-rich twentysomething who is under no circumstances a victim or an underdog."
The words "underdog" and "victim" are extremely important in a larger argument that is also going on in regards to Swift's new video. Taylor Swift has come under fire from many Twitter users, including Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt, for the use of black women as props and for the appropriation of aspects of black culture in her video.
As someone who has now watched the video multiple times, I can say that as a black woman there are components of it that I found offensive. I find it offensive when women like me are reduced to just big butts and twerking. I find Taylor Swift's "quirky" shoe shuffle style dancing in front of a line of black women a weird and unnecessary juxtaposition. I find it offensive that appropriation of my culture still happens in pop music, despite how many times it's been called out. And most of all, I find it offensive that this particular appropriation is happening at the same time that black people are being called "animals" by law enforcement in Ferguson.
The release of this video could not be more ill-timed. For those people who were living under a rock and also don't know what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, here's a bit of background: An 18-year-old black unarmed child, Mike Brown, was shot multiple times and killed in Missouri. Protests have been taking place for over a week now, and a national dialogue on the police's continual killing of unarmed black men is occurring. For Swift to send this video out into the world, completely unaware of the racist undertones, is very troubling, especially in this trying time.
Our country is experiencing the closest thing we've seen to a civil rights movement since the original in the late '60s. Terrifying civilian livestreams and photographs of peaceful protesters being tear gassed, and rubber bullets being fired into crowds have been flooding every form of social media known to man.
And now this image fills our social media feeds as well.
Swift, seemingly unbeknownst to her, is profiting off of these black women who twerk at her command. Now, let's be clear, this is not about Swift solely: This is about every misguided attempt at cultural appreciation that was actually cultural appropriation. From Katy Perry's geisha performance at the AMAs, to Iggy Azalea's appropriation of a stereotypically black rap inflection, to Miley Cyrus' infamous VMA performance and her "We Can't Stop" video's appropriation.
Where are these celebrities now, in the midst of everything that is happening in Ferguson? Where are their tweets of support for the people who are being so insanely wronged by their government in Ferguson? Where is the support for the black men and women who are systemically profiled, jailed at disproportionate rates, and killed in the streets unarmed and defenseless?
Why is it that these celebrities can monetize and capitalize off of the black experience yet when the same community they make money off of needs them, they are silent? Not one tweet. Not one Facebook post. Not one Instagram picture. Nothing. Yes, you have Penn Badgley, Mia Farrow, Lena Dunham, and other white celebrities speaking up. But where are the pop stars who appropriate our culture? Perhaps they are busy taking the ice bucket challenge.
People can stand united against ALS, despite having no personal connection to it. Swift can take the ice bucket challenge. Selena Gomez can take the ice bucket challenge. ALS is a raceless disease; anyone can have it. Everyone has a common enemy. But you know what? Everyone can stand up for Mike Brown. Because this is not a "black" issue. It is a human issue.
People of all races are being violated, arrested, shot with rubber bullets, screamed at through megaphones, intimidated with assault rifles, and worse. Sure, it may have been a black teenager who was gunned down by the police, but at this point, the common enemy is police brutality.
Moreover, we can unite over the root of the problem: Everything happening in Ferguson — this isn't our system malfunctioning. On the contrary, this is our system working exactly how it was designed. And that's what is truly scary. When this country was created by our forefathers, when the laws were written down and signed, they did not take black people into account. We were not people. We were, at best, 3/5 of a person.
Just because slavery is gone doesn't mean racism is. We are all part of a society where racism is a strong undercurrent, and where stereotypes are alive and well. If that's not universally scary enough for you, then think of how quickly this small state was able to fully militarize its police force and turn Missouri into a police state.
Taylor Swift, you've done the ALS bucket challenge and you've tweeted about the tragic loss of Robin Williams. You've released a video of black women twerking all around you. How can you not acknowledge Mike Brown? Murders like his could happen anywhere, at anytime, for any reason. Isn't that something to tweet about?
Images: Taylor Swift/Youtube (4), Getty Images