2013 MTV Video Music Awards - Pre-Show

The reactions to last night’s MTV Video Music Awards were at times more entertaining than the show itself. The Smiths’ puzzled looks, Rihanna’s emotionless face, and a slew of comical memes and GIFs helped communicate what everyone felt about the disturbing antics taking place onstage.

Amid the funny quips about Miley’s poor dancing and NSync’s short reunion, there was a deeper conversation about race and cultural appropriation.

The New York Times writes:

“This was a banner year for clumsy white appropriation of black culture – the shambolic, trickster-esque performance by Ms. Cyrus, to whom no one has apparently said “no” for the last six months or so, which included plenty of lewdness and a molestation of Robin Thicke; the ubiquity of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, the clumsy and intensely popular hip-hop duo, who were recipients of three awards, including best hip-hop video. They also performed “Same Love,” their gay rights anthem, with the singer Mary Lambert, though when Jennifer Hudson emerged to duet the last part of the song with Ms. Lambert, it felt like a sort of apologetic compensation for the night’s whitewash. (For good measure, Eminem announced the details of his new album in commercials sponsored by Beats By Dre.)”

Adding insult to injury, the “clumsy white appropriation,” was accompanied by a virtual whitewash. There was only one black winner (Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu won the “Best Art Direction” Award for “Q.U.E.E.N.”) and the announcement of that award was not televised.

As for the performers, Kanye West and Drake were the only black headliners. 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar, Pharell, Jennifer Hudson and Nike Rodgers all played the part of the token black friend, making brief appearances in white artists’ sets.

Ironically, Brooklyn, with its gentrification and sudden ubiquity in pop culture, was the perfect setting for the VMAs whitewash. Do you think the VMAs had a race problem?

-Jeannine Whitaker

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