Miley Cyrus’ Coonery Should Offend Everyone’s Senses, Not Their Race.

In-case you didn’t know already, last Sunday at the MTV Music Video Awards (why this award show is still relevant even though videos aren’t, don’t ask me), Miley Cyrus gave us another scene of her trippy 20 year-old pop-girl routine; smacking asses, gyrating on Robin Thicke, and doing a depressing and unappealing interpretation of “twerking.”

(*One Note* Can we stop calling referring whatever she is doing with her pelvic joints as ‘twerking’?! It is grossly offensive to call what she does—and this—the same thing. Thus, for the rest of this blog, I will refer to her dancing as ‘happy dance’.)

Cyrus’s hijinks on stage and off stage have drawn the ire of many around the country. People have accused her actions as racist, distasteful, and a gross cooptation of the oft-monolithicized “black culture.”

Not to make this article about myself, but context is critical for this discussion. My personal narrative will illustrate this. I am from a pretty black community growing up. I knew about wu-tangin’, D-mackin’, and other hyper-energetic dances. However, I was not familiar at all to “twerking” until I traveled to Atlanta, GA for college. It is there that I learned this wonderful secret of twerking. To southerners, it was pretty commonplace. I have seen women shake their asses in music videos. Twerking is something different, though. Perhaps this is male-centric perspective, but twerking it is a coordinated manipulation of toned muscle control and lower-body fat. Not just anyone can do it. It takes practice, skill, and rhythm. There’s a hierarchy and artistry to this thing that’s more than ass-shaking. Not ONE human on this earth has any intellectual ground to argue why twerking is not an art-form. It is just another example of how the perception of an expression determines the legitimacy of the expression (jump-rope comes to mind).

From Outkast to Lil’ Jon, to T.I. and Ludacris, to 2Chainz, the city of Atlanta has seen a rapid increase of visibility in the music industry. Gentlemen’s Clubs—or plainly Strip Clubs, a prominent cultural fixture in Atlanta, has found its’ way into the music. Stripper tracks or trap beats (songs kind of tailored to strip clubs) has taken the control of hip-hop. Juicy J, 2Chainz, and Rihanna all have songs that quite directly refer to strippers. This type of music has been called “ratchet” music (a name I absolutely despise). Today, radio stations across the country are largely playing the same music. This has diffused a lot of musical variance in the genre. Big Sean, Meek Millz, French Montana, Chief Keef, though they are from cities with traditionally-distinctive sounds, get meshed with music labels that feature both northern and southern artists. And the south is winning. Point is: the mainstream success of this type of music has made it so most listeners are novices to the genre– blacks and whites alike. My narrative is no different.

Enter Miley Cyrus. Her exposure to twerking probably has a similar genesis to mine. Just as a piece of the sub-culture has captured the ears of Philadelphians, New Yorkers, or even Gambians, it has caught Miley Cyrus. Granted, aesthetically, her reception to the genre is not as seamless as when, say, Amber Rose, Rihanna, or Beyonce. However, that does not make her performance akin to minstrel shows in any way.  We make it seem as if twerking is something white folk just are not supposed to do. If anything, we should be screaming about how late everyone is to the party. Even if we agreed Cyrus is imitating (a form) of black culture, that doesn’t make it minstrel act. We damn sure would not call Robin Thicke minstrelsy. Minstrel acts were designed to grossly distort stereotypes of African Americans. At the moment we conclude twerking is indeed part of a distinct black sub-culture, any assumption of minstrelsy cannot exist. Miley Cyrus is just another person swept up in the current status of hip-hop. And for that we should not be surprised or appalled.

The country’s obsession with “ratchet” is music is a myth. The country has always been obsessed with hip-hop. And right now, it is in a phase where fascination about exotic dancers is rampant. The only difference is that she enjoys it and doesn’t mind if others find out if she does. I understand, from a celebrity standpoint, racial dynamics in this country enable her to embrace and reject the sub-culture at her own convenience, but this is something even as black people do.

The Hannah Montana star’s explanation that she enjoys “hood” music, but does not make “hood music” is not entirely unlike “socially upward” African Americans who admittedly enjoy “ratchet” culture in moderation. Why choose to jump on her there? There are plenty of people who enjoy sub-cultures but do not consider themselves to be part of it, nor desire to be categorized as a member of the culture. Fans of gospel music can be atheists. Fans of gangsta rap don’t want to be called gangsters or thugs. Fan-hood does not require an acceptance of the lifestyles the genre promotes. Her implication that Nicki Menaj is a hood artist is pretty ridiculous, but that is another topic.

Let’s be clear that Nicki Menaj and Rihanna both do the type of things that Miley did on that stage—albeit with much more meat on their bodies, rhythm, and cool, right? Nicki Menaj did it in front of Lil Wayne at the Billboard Music Awards, flanked by black women, without nearly as much ridicule. There are racially-driven reasons for that, also the fact that the VMA’s are not the BMA’s. The reason Cyrus’ performance was unappealing to Rihanna and Drake, because it was stupid-looking (Drake looked as if he was a worse person having seen that, which is how I felt watching). Her goof-ish and awkward happy dance is accentuated by dancing bears in a way that makes the entire show look like a caricature that evokes minstrelsy. In some twisted way, there is some seriousness that rhythmically inclined people take to twerking that makes Nicki Menaj’s dancing look more audacious than exploitative. Cyrus’ parading around foolishly doing her happy dance felt like a bastardization of the what I consider a legitimate and artful expression of the body. But foolishness is just coonery (it’s kinda fun to intentionally misappropriate traditionally-racial terms), something that Miley Cyrus epitomized Sunday night.

It was offensive to our senses, not our race.

The most poignant argument of Cyrus’ racism is seen through her company of black dancers on stage. It has been pointed out that Miley Cyrus participates in these “ratchet” acts usually flanked by other black women as if they are accessories. While that is not unique to pop star, certainly Cyrus’ analingus simulation on a voluptuous woman was offensive and inappropriate. It is egregious because she invaded the privacy of a body to which she does not own. But she is so willing to treat herself, Robin Thicke, and that dancer’s body like a piece of meat that it is difficult to discern whether her actions are racialized or if she is just some hyper-sexualized idiot.

Miley Cyrus is approaching this all in a way not too incongruent with how most of us have, albeit with the usual flair of a celebrity. The real problem for most people: she’s doing it on television. Meanwhile, we also grow unclear whether we’re upset that she’s mimicking, co-opting, or exploiting the culture, each having its’ own implications. Should we demand that people stop trying to portray what we perceive to be sexual images of black women or should we just insist that twerking shouldn’t be so sexualized? The former tend to function in a way that attempts to limit the freedom of what women can and want to do. I’d advocate the latter.

At the heart of the issue is sensitivity.  Miley Cyrus is just another white artist that will continue to gain notoriety from embracing something that blacks know is a “black thing.” Black folk are reasonably upset because twerking, had it been something we did embrace, would result in a continued narrative of sexualization of black women. Or maybe not. There are legitimate issues to both sides of the quandary. But the lesson we keep learning is that it is important to for black people to uphold ALL cultural expressions as legitimate artistry. Or maybe we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.

At the end of the day, Miley Cyrus is participating in acts that, in some way, allude to a type of black culture of which politically empowered black people feel is exploitative and/or insulting that illicit a stigma and/or behavior that negatively portray black women. But ironically, at the same time, as the idea of twerking explodes across the nation and world, we’d still be upset if Miley Cyrus stands to gain the most from being credited with the very exploitative and suggesting type of dancing we want to be distanced from.

Aint that black people in America?

For This Young Philadelphian, Allen Iverson’s Retirement Bitter Sweet

Reports have surfaced indicating one-time NBA MVP and perennial All-Pro Allen Iverson will announce his retirement. Bouncing around the NBA after being traded from the Denver Nuggets for Chauncey Billups, the polarizing personality nicknamed ‘The Answer’ left the NBA, played overseas, contemplated several times coming back, finally refusing an offer to play in the developmental league. The depressing end of Iverson’s career should be celebrated, but it should also shame us all; the fans who longed to see him hit rock bottom and the league he helped build but tried to wash their hands of him, pretending as if Iverson never existed.

As a twenty-three year-old young man born and raised in Philadelphia, my peers and I literally grew up watching Iverson cross up futilely-stout defenders, crash the lane, endlessly run around screens, dive after and intercept passes.  He defined how my generation played basketball. Play basketball at a local rec center in Philly, and you’ll see that everyone can put the ball on the ground. Men five-foot-nine, 220 pounds full of tone-less body fat and muscle can put the ball on the floor and can cross you up and down as good as any. Everyone’s hands are lightning-quick. They can rip the ball very quickly, drive with dexterity and have great anticipation skills. Think of the this generations’ influx of players from Philadelphia—the Morris Twins, Tyreke Evans, Dion Waiters, Kyle Lowry- all players with a unique and vast array of skills– an ability to handle the ball and little guys with an edge, toughness and grace to them that defines the city. Philly loves A.I. (pronounced tightly as ‘Ayah’ ) he gave courage to a lot of guys much smaller to him on the court. And for as long I live I will always be reminded of the legacy of Allen Iverson every time I step on a local playground.

First-hand experience can testify to how A.I. had an entire city of basketball players in the palm of his hands.

Iverson had cities full of young boys walking around proudly with braids, a hairstyle bound to develop in communities deprived of male-presence and poverty, where mothers use their hair-braiding skills to their son’s hair for free in lieu of paying up to $40 per month for haircuts. Iverson’s popularity took it out of that context and made it a overwhelmingly embraced hairstyle in the culture. While he was certainly not the first, Iverson put his culture on display and did so unapologetically. Filled with tattoo’s from his toe to his chin, Iverson was an individual. But within his unabashed individualism, he also was as every bit as human as we can imagine. He was filled with insecurities and emotion, cried in front of audiences and was a great interviewee. Behind Iverson’s boisterous demeanor was also treads of vulnerability that seemed so aligned with the communities that Iverson and I come from. Iverson grew up in a town that became racially divided because of his talent and the controversy surrounding a spar between his friends and a group of white kids, He grew up in a single-parent household that struggled to provide for him. Almost every step of the way was chastised for things that may have or may not have been any fault of his own. Iverson just wanted to play basketball. And you saw that tension on the court.

Basketball is an amazing sport because a player’s skills are usually never an extension of a persona, like wrestling. They tend to be extensions of who the person actually is. While in football, players need celebrations and antics to display their personalities and are overshadowed by a 55-man roster, basketball players can display their character organically within the game. The NBA is a player-driven league, driven by personalities, observable through how aggressively they attack the rim, when and how (or if)  they pass to teammates, complain to referees, or even facial expressions through the course of the game. Everything Iverson did felt organic and genuine because that character seemed to extend onto the court. He was candid during interviews and was adamant about letting his play on the court speak for him. Iverson wanted what every person arguably wants—to be himself and to be allowed to be that way because that is how he was made.

Though Kobe was the hometown dude, we adored and adopted A.I. 

Iverson’s most iconic moment—his step over Tyronn Lue—is usually taken out of context. The image, along with context illuminates his greatness. People forget that Lue did a great job shutting down Iverson in that second half up until those waning moments of the second half and Overtime, all this after scoring 30 points in the first half. Iverson finished the game with 48 points in what had been his third consecutive game of 44+ points. Iverson dominated those playoffs, having two 50+ performances in one series against a Toronto Raptors team one shot away from winning the series. Iverson barely sat on the bench in any of those series for the exception of one missed game against the Bucks. The 2001 playoffs was owned by a great Lakers team that only lost one playoff game, but it was dominated by the smallest man on the court.  He was small but lanky looking, lacking the muscle and build that the best point guards today have. Fans liked watching this mini miracle.

Iverson’s second most-iconic moment as a player, his infamous tirade about practice, is also taken out of context. And while it is argued that Iverson’s tirade is proof of the fact that, in that moment, he was overlooking the importance of team cohesion and performance, people overlooked what was hidden behind Iverson’s larger point: his team did not have any talent.

Currently the reigning Eastern Conference champs but a significantly worse team during the 2001-2002 season, the Sixers experienced a first-round loss in a five-game series against a young and talented Celtics team. Talks had surfaced about his practicing habits, as then-Coach Larry Brown had discussed it the day following the series’ conclusion. When asked about Coach Brown’s comments, Iverson’s larger point about practice was that it was a non-factor in losing the series. This is best seen in his simple explanation as to why his team lost. “We lost man. It ain’t a whole bunch to that. Simple as that, we lost.”

How the hell am I gonna make my teammates better by practicing? 

The Sixers were demolished in game 5 by 33 points. When asked by a reporter “Is it possible that if you practiced, not you but you would make your teammates better?”,  Iverson emphatically asks “How the hell am I gonna make my teammates better by practicing?”  Iverson knows it is a team game, but he also acknowledging there is a major individual component. It was clear to Iverson, the Sixers lacked individual talent across the board. After watching a series where all-stars Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker gashed the Sixers game after game while Iverson scored an average of 30 points per, he needed players who were better. Iverson needed players with more individual talent that team practice would not solve for. It is a simple, unaudacious point made by Iverson that he has received much condemnation for.

What is often forgotten is how intense the rest of the interview gets. If you read the transcript of the interview, you can hear Iverson growing frustrated with lingering rumors of him being traded and having to address his daughter telling him about people approaching her about the fate of the iconic star. Throughout the interview, Iverson points out his frustration with it all— how confounded he is at the idea of why reporters are talking about trading Iverson if it is clear he’s the best player on the team, the Franchise player and the MVP. Iverson is perplexed at why people are focusing on him and why they are not asking questions about the people who comprise the rest of the roster—the non-MVP’s, the less-talented players. Iverson was tired of taking blame and being the called the source of the problem when he was the only solution the Sixers had, especially when the team lacked any play of consequence.

His talent, while definitely filled with high-volume scoring, made for some of the most memorable Sixers teams to memory. Perhaps if you gave Iverson, in his prime, a 3-and-D wing athlete that every team seems to have today, the Sixers could have reasonably stole a championship during those years. Instead the Sixers signed players like Matt Harpring, Keith Van Horn, volume shooter Glenn Robinson, and a past-his-prime Chris Webber. The best complimentary players the Sixers drafted were a young Larry Hughes and Andre Iguodala, both players who needed time to develop. The best low-post presences in Iverson’s time were all players the Sixers picked up while on the tail end of their careers. Perhaps Iverson was difficult to play with other talented players. Volume-shooting comrade Kobe Bryant will tell you that complimentary players are necessary to win games. If Iverson was given the Lakers teams from 2008-2010, minus Kobe Bryant, then he likely wins just as many championships as Kobe had during that period. Iverson did many things really well. For the exception of a post-game, Iverson could create his own shot, ran around screens perfectly, and could run an offense. And the increase in shooting percentage he experienced in Denver indicated a serious personel and scheme problem in Philadelphia.

Iverson’s inability to win a championship will likely be the same reason many talented players like him never win them. They run into dominant teams and players that are difficult to defeat. But people seem to blame Iverson for the Sixers’ failure. They how awful the Sixers were. There was no reliable offensive weapon other than Iverson.  Name a legitimate offensive threats the Sixers had on their teams other than Iverson , compared to the other championship-winning teams during his era and that should answer the question as to why Iverson never “won” anything. We demanded a lot of Iverson. And we should re-assess if that burden was fair.

But outside of reassessing our personal expectations for Iverson, we should also reexamine whether things would have turned out differently had the league embraced him more. The NBA should be ashamed as to how they have treated Iverson. He was never truly embraced by the league, never hailed or advertised by the NBA.  Though, they have reaped the benefit of a gamut of Iverson-ites in the NBA. Since Iverson, the league has recently seen an influx of small guards who play with tons of heart. They slash to the rim, some dunk, some use flashy layups, some take bad shots. Many break ankles. In fact, Iverson perfected a crossover that hadn’t been seen in the NBA yet. The ability to put the ball on a string, using a mix of body motion and ball gestures as a form of misdirection to keep your defender off balance, while making him pay for ever planting his feet is something that Iverson famously mastered. It is almost a prerequisite for any novice ball handler in the NBA who has any ambitions on getting to the lane to possess now. We’ve even seen players as lanky as Kevin Durant use the crossover in his array of moves. Once again, while Iverson is not the first but he’s mostly the reason why kids were experimenting with those moves on the playground during my upbringing. I certainly tried. Now the NBA is getting populated with young talent my age.

Embracing the “Thug”

Even the dreaded tattoos Iverson has helped foster in almost every sport. Players proudly dress their bodies in ink. Iverson was featured on magazine after magazine, brazenly showing off his tats from head to toe. The NBA wants to pretend these things do not exist. The NBA wants to disassociate itself from elements of threatening components of an American sub-culture, even if it has almost everything to do with the fascination of the sport from the perspective of those that populate—and will continue to populate—the league. Part of that required a barring of Iverson from the NBA. The NBA initiated a dress code, and they required the jerseys be tighter on the skin, and forbade wearing leg or arm sleeves for the purposes of fashion. They could not be more pleased with Iverson’s immediate fade from the NBA. Instead of looking at menacing 5X white tees and gold chains that slide down to his navel, we can now discuss Dwayne Wade’s ankles, Russell Westbrook’s next-best Prince impersonation, or Amare Stoudemire’s fedora’s. We can even feature fashion experts op-eds about NBA fashion trends on the NBA.com website (as if none of this could be done without a dress code). The NBA has worked hard to eliminate the things Iverson unapologetically fostered.

Iverson’s fade to black will be a product of many factors. One of which is his own arrogance in his own ability (which I find we are frustratingly inconsistent in how we admire or demean that quality). But could any league MVP ever subject himself to the D-League? Not likely. Another will be a bad image and reputation, some of which is earned and some of which is not. His (mis)fortune post-NBA has created justification for some that hold negative views toward him. You’re not likely to see him on NBA TV or ESPN, despite his magnetic personality and charisma. He was built for basketball. And while that definitely had to come to an end, I am not sure if we—or even Iverson himself—could imagine what that end would look like. As ESPN personality Bomani Jones indicated in an article last year, it will probably be best if we never hear from him.

Undeniable Legacy

In the meantime, I will think of Chris Paul, Steve Francis, Dwayne Wade, Brandon Jennings, Juan Dixon, Dion Waiters, Louis Williams, and Rodney Stuckey. These are players who don the #3 jersey proudly. I am confident it is derived from them watching Iverson during their adolescence, probably mastering crossovers and developing their touch around the rim after seeing highlights of the superstar. Iverson contributed to the sport in ways that some of the best players will never be able to claim, and his popularity and iconoclasm has left a mark on the NBA for better or worse. But we should always acknowledge when we’re in a presence of a legend. This is fact; meaning that it is exists whether we’re comfortable about it or not. Pay your due respect.

Riley Cooper, Devoid of Real Talent, Will Be Just Another ‘Nigger-Guy’

This should be good.

It is said that in our anger and angst is when our true colors show. In the midst of adversity, no matter how great or small, we notice what we are truly made of for better or worse.

This is one way to interpret Riley Cooper’s angry tirade at a Kenny Chesney concert, where the Eagles wide receiver dropped one maddening ‘N-Bomb’. The former roommate of Tim Tebow is the new ‘Nigger Guy’, and he will be forced to walk the plank all his other predecessors have. This situation has a different twist to it, as Cooper’s profession places him in the same locker room as men who have the same racial identifier as the racial slur he damn-near unconsciously threw at the security guard.

Yet, his apology mostly seemed like he was just a man who knows his career is ending, but desperately trying to do the most to show he cares. Like a man futilely trying to buy his woman who’s completely over him flowers, Cooper’s apology was mostly Tiger-esque—an apology that’s mostly derived from the trauma of our embarrassment of the aftermath than from the action itself, where self-loathing for the destruction of one’s image is mistakenly contrived as contrition. The Eagles have excused him from the team so he can see “professionals” to help him “deal with” what he said. I have a simpler solution to the problem; just cut him.

Unlike Michael Richards (Kramer), a past-his-prime actor who at worst may have had to answer to the rest of his scrawny, skinny, or out-of-shape African American comedic colleagues, Cooper’s counterparts are men who are, arguably, in the best shape of all pro sports and are given license permission to hit him with hard helmets at blitzing speed. Unfortunately—or fortunately– the Philadelphia Eagles have to release him.

It seems justified to allow him to at least continue auditioning to make the team. To allow men desperately trying to make a name for themselves to throw their bodies at him, and to have him run curl and slant routes in front of some beefy black middle linebacker from Texas seemed to be the best way to have this story end for those that now want his helmet on a pike.

Whether Riley Cooper is racist does not matter. Besides, when these things happen, people close to the matter tend to want to speak positively. We’re not going to meet anyone who knows Cooper to publicly state they are not surprised at his outburst. What we do know, however, is that instead of referring to security guards in the epithets we uniformly tend to call them—rent-a-cops, asshole, pig, jerk, dickhead, etc.—Cooper took disdain for a singular security guard who happened to be black as an opportunity to make a declaration of how he’d beat “EVERY nigger” at the venue. He may not be racist, but what he said is definitely something racist people say, and said it with the visceral tenacity that accompanies such racists.

Even more interesting is the variety of responses it drew from those with him. One telling, and discomforting detail, though, is the humor to which the epithet is received by those that are in his crew. More than his ease in saying the word is the fact that some found it amusing—not appalling—to hear him use the word. One woman exclaims laughingly “ahhh, he said nigga.” But a redeeming one comes from the gentlemen—one noticeably Eagles Guard Jason Kelce—beside him who’s smiley quickly turns into a shaming “whoa, whoa, whoa” after Cooper says the word. This why assessing who he is as an individual is difficult; even if you don’t believe him when he says he has never said that word before. (Because we all know that when you’re drunk and upset you develop new vocabulary and slang.)

As with everything, though, context is paramount. If Riley cooper says the word while at a Rick Ross concert while reciting the chorus this becomes a different conversation. He doesn’t have to (as) shamefully stand in front of a mic feigning depression. But Cooper will not be released because of what he said more than he will be because you want your team focused on the task of winning a Super Bowl and not news headlines. On basic economics alone, Cooper is too much of a liability. Cooper spent a long time on the Eagles roster and never got a starting spot. If Peyton Manning made this mistake, it’d be much more consequential. And because Cooper is not Peyton Manning—or even Carson Palmer—we only learn what we already knew: being a team distraction will probably get you released, especially if you suck. Thus, the Eagles are taking a greater stance on team focus than they are about the use of the word itself.

A better player would have given us a better idea about how we actually feel about it. And until that happens, we’ll keep beating the dead horse.

Two more weeks of Cooper in the NFL should be entertaining. But Cooper’s career is over. But do NOT get it twisted, it will be because of his talent (or lack thereof). Not what he said. And I hope he remembers that.

And like every player cut because he can’t make the grade, we can go back to forgetting him. He does not have the talent to be known as anything else. He’ll just always be known as another ‘Nigger-Guy’.