Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off” is Most Certainly Racist
I meant to write about Taylor Swift’s cultural appropriation antics this week but, honestly, more pressing matters in Ferguson demanded my attention. Yet, here I am, writing about Swift’s new video “Shake it Off” anyway. As if the the title – or the image I chose for this feature – weren’t apt enough, the entire song is about how Taylor Swift is young, white, pretty and carefree so she doesn’t have to care about what people think about her. Then, she caps this narrative off by making fun of black women ‘twerking’ as she crawls between their disembodied legs. End plot.
I feel like what needs to be said has already been said on Salon, and The New York Times. Pay close attention in the video below to Treva Lindsey’s (@divafeminist) explanation of the danger of Taylor Swift’s mistaken intentionality and the hierarchy of dances and dancers in the video.
Yes, the video is incredibly problematic in its clear imagery that black women don’t dance ballet but love to twerk. Yes, the video portrays pale-faced Taylor Swift as the white voyeur in “awe” of black women’s gyrating bodies. Yes, everything is wrong with this video but Swift is white and she didn’t mean to so….
Son of Baldwin’s response on Facebook yesterday did the trick for me, personally.
Swift might want us to believe she doesn’t fit in. She might want us to believe this video is about being socially awkward (in only the way a millionaire can be). She might want to play this off as a playful video about shaking what Amanda Seales described as her “no ass at all.” But, the truth is, she positioned herself and her dancers in such a way as to elitize some dancers and reduce others.
She crawled through the legs of women of color (mostly black women) with her mouth agape while respectfully gazing at the beauty of the white ballerinas (I guess she has never heard of Misty Copeland). She was her silliest, most mocking, and visually ridiculous self in scenes with people of color. Her “black girl costume” was gaudy, outlandish, poorly fitted, and obtrusive while she looked cute as a button in every other costume presented. And, her pseudo-black face antics are yet another tool of white privilege.
This type of positioning and framing is not happenstance. It plays on age-old notions of the entertainment value and commodification of black women’s bodies. Swift just took a bit longer than Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus to immortalize her inherent anti-black attitudes in video. And, her reticence to apologize or even admit a single shred of culpability in putting the ineffectual shenanigans together in the first place is just further evidence of her privilege.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch it below.
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