As soon as we thought it was safe to embrace Miley Cyrus again — her pipes are so strong, and we love those inclusive Happy Hippie videos — she went and reignited the Nicki Minaj-Taylor Swift feud with an interview that went in on Minaj. If you were watching the VMAs last night, then you saw that Nicki’s response was fast and furious — “What’s good, Miley?” is destined to become a cultural catchphrase. Assuming it was genuine and not scripted, was this public ire deserved?
First, let’s rewind. The original Twitter contretemps, if you’ll recall, involved Minaj complaining about the racist undertone of VMA nominations, thereby implying that skinny white girls like Taylor and Miley benefit from a double standard. Taylor took it personally and then realized, as she should have earlier, that this wasn’t about her, and one could argue that Minaj won by getting Swift to apologize, well, swiftly. Taylor and Nicki made good onstage at the VMAs last night, and that chapter closed.
But never fear, beef-watchers, for unto this breach stepped another clueless white pop star: Miley Cyrus! For with the VMAs nigh upon them, with Minaj scheduled to open them and Cyrus to host, the latter spoke to the New York Times (while rolling and smoking “several joints,” we should note) and opined on the Nicki-Taylor incident. Cyrus, despite admitting to not knowing anything about the matter, decided to offer her considered opinion on it anyway. Her primary complaint? Minaj’s critique might have been right, but it came from a personal position of “anger.” Cyrus’ new song indicates that she isn’t a hippie herself, but she went ahead and offered some so-called “yogic” wisdom to Minaj regardless:
Not that this is jealousy, but jealousy does the opposite of what you want it to — that’s a yoga mantra. People forget that the choices that they make and how they treat people in life affect you in a really big way. If you do things with an open heart and you come at things with love, you would be heard and I would respect your statement. But I don’t respect your statement because of the anger that came with it.
At the Daily Beast last week, Stereo Williams offered an explanation for why Miley’s comments were problematic at best, in a piece aptly titled, “Miley Cyrus Whitesplains Race to Nicki Minaj and Misses the Point Entirely“:
Cyrus’s thought process is indicative of the left-leaning millennial racism; the “I get it, but…” racism. A white pop star who accessorizes blackness shouldn’t be so quick to tell a black artist how they should talk about racism… And both she and Swift have exhibited behavior that indicates that they are typical of many white feminists who refuse to face the way they’ve used feminism to mute the specific grievances of black women.
Indeed, the singer’s racial tone deafness and accessorizing of blackness — she may call her grandma “mammy,” but why the hell did she OK the awful skit that repeatedly used the word? — is far too common. And to augment this critique, I’d add that Cyrus engages in another kind of celebrity (and more general privileged-person) behavior that is particularly frustrating, because it wraps broader social inequality in the mythological cloak of personal karma. In her answer about Minaj, she cites “law of attraction“-type ideas under the guise of Eastern philosophy. This is basically the idea that “what you put out in the world comes back to you,” and it’s most clearly evident when Cyrus says of Minaj, “If you do things with an open heart and you come at things with love, you would be heard.”
Now, I appreciate Cyrus’ easy-seeming positivity, and I would imagine that she is genuinely trying to live those positive values herself (except when she disses other stars to the media. But we all make mistakes!). But with her take on Minaj’s “anger,” she’s being a hypocrite — and naive. The law of attraction stuff is a New-Agey way of advancing the “just-world fallacy,” a kind of mass delusion that makes successful people think they’ve earned their good fortune through emitting “good vibes” rather than, say, coming from a celebrity dynasty. Or being born with money. Or being white, or thin, or well-educated, or whatever.
In fact, that way of thinking makes it easy to dismiss those who suffer, whether from the kind of random bad luck that doesn’t discriminate or, more importantly, from systematic oppression. It implies that those who face setbacks or injustices were somehow bringing it on themselves. This is a more polite method of victim blaming, in essence, one that ignores and even flattens power dynamics. Unfortunately, lots of people think this way! It’s one reason why people are so quick to ask what rape victims were wearing or what victims of police violence were saying before they got shot.
Ask someone who has had their life stymied by racism, sexism, or homophobia — or illness, or catastrophe — whether “not making it so much about them” or being “less angry” and having good karmic vibes, man, would have helped them overcome institutional biases. Chances are they will laugh in your face.
My hope is that as Miley Cyrus (who is still quite young) grows up and experiences more of life’s up and downs, she will let go of some of this pseudo-philosophical BS and take a more realistic view of the world, acknowledging that it’s essentially unfair. Maybe she’ll learn that though it’s certainly delightful to put positive vibes out in the world and stuff, it’s also entirely appropriate for people to be angry when anger is genuinely merited.