When the masses reduce minority communities and their grievances down to punchlines, they have plenty of reasons to get angry.
Ten years ago, a stone-faced Kanye West quickly became the media’s black sheep for exposing what he saw as an ugly American truth. Standing beside Mike Myers during a Red Cross telecast for Hurricane Katrina, he brazenly stared into the camera, disregarded the teleprompter script and declared, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” It was a tangibly awkward moment of clarity. Well, based on the s**tshow that was last night’s (Aug. 30) Video Music Awards, neither does MTV.
For the record, I don’t take award shows seriously. None of them. Not for the honor and prestige, anyway. They’re just a time to come together with the funnies lurking on social media and see what jokes come out of the evening. For the outrageous and instigating crowd pans searching for shade. You know, the light stuff. I had a gut feeling that this year’s VMAs was going to be some nonsense. My eyes rolled the instant Miley Cyrus—whose uninspiring butt-to-crotch encounter with Robin Thicke may have put a thorn in his marriage—was announced as this year’s host. What I didn’t know, however, was that borderline offensive content curated by the network would make minorities the butt of most of the evening’s jokes. Last night (Aug. 30), viral views and unsure laughs came at the expense of serious issues communities of color have been sounding off about all year long.
I’m all for a little bit of humor, but the laughs stop when a major network outs itself as one that finds comedy in moments of tragedy, suffering and disrespect within the black community. Let’s start with the evening’s host, who proved that she was fresh out of f**ks to give by getting underneath viewers and attendees’ skin with crass, lewd and downright corny punch lines. Miley’s name and “appropriation” often run in the same sentence these days, but for this show, it wasn’t twerking that brought all eyes on her. It was her temporarily textured hair.
Cyrus’ assortment of tattered, dreadlock ponytails were seen as lighthearted, funny and admirable fashion but when Zendaya Coleman donned a crown of neat faux locs at the Oscars earlier this year, mainstream was quick to point the “What are thooose?” finger at her. Especially E!’s own Giuliana Rancic, who voiced her discontent on Fashion Police before having to step down from her position post-backlash. “I feel like she smells like patchouli oil,” she said of Zendaya’s natural inspired ‘do with a laugh. “Or maybe weed?”
This is why your “I don’t care about cultural appropriation” comments can be shoved right back up your ass: pic.twitter.com/3X8P8IiEFe
— B (@beyonseh) August 31, 2015
On July 19 of this year, Samuel DuBose lay dead and slumped over his steering wheel after a police officer fired a close-range shot to his head during a traffic stop. The 43-year-old Cincinatti man was unarmed. A little over a month after his death, Aussie comedienne Rebel Wilson got up on the VMA stage in role-play police garb to introduce the nominees for Best Hip-Hop Video with this: “I know a lot of people have problems with the police, but I really hate police strippers.” She then ripped off her button-up to reveal a “F**k Tha Stripper Police” tee and told a story about her grandmother receiving an erotic back massage. “I hate this injustice,” she joked, visibly nervous. “Hence the shirt.” The clear play off of N.W.A.’s controversial “F**k Tha Police” during Straight Outta Compton‘s historic year in film, the trivialization of the fight against police brutality and the immediate affiliation to hip-hop as a genre felt like a slap in the face. Who knows whether or not Wilson was the VMA equivalent of Karrueche on 106 & Park, set up for failure for simply reading a pre-written joke off the teleprompter (both were digitally dragged through the streets by their hair in the aftermath). Maybe it wasn’t her idea to go up there and piss off the entire #BlackLivesMatter tribe with a weak joke. Or maybe it was. Regardless, it stung.
From that moment on, it was a downward spiral when it came to the race-related jokes department. There was the satirical commercial for WHITESQUAD.com, the website promising to ease the white privilege issue for blacks. You know, by assigning white people to save the day with sticky situations like catching cabs, getting jobs and getting out of legal trouble. There was Miley’s expletive-laced playdate with rappers Tyga, Juicy J and producer-slash-bestie Mike WiLL Made It during a bizarre sleepover at her house. After sharing potent weed brownies with her, Snoop Dogg was reduced to talking swine during a bad weed trip. And last but not least, during her trippy moments with the Doggfather, Miley spoke candidly about her “mammy” cheffing up edibles (whether or not that’s what she calls her grandmother IRL, the fact that it stems back to a blackfaced caretaker figure forced onto black matriarchs is enough to stir the pot). Chance The Rapper—who made it his business not to attend after his “Sunday Candy” was snubbed for a nomination—made it known that he couldn’t deal with all the tomfoolery he was watching unfold on his TV screen.
These skits < — Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) August 31, 2015
The dreads < — Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) August 31, 2015
I think shorty said “my real mammy” < — Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) August 31, 2015
White squad… — Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) August 31, 2015
Same, Chance. Same.
Talk about disappointment. This year’s VMAs didn’t get two thumbs down because of subpar performances (Tori Kelly and Nicki Minaj did great), award snubs or its lack of a genuinely funny host. It sucked because at the end of the day, it showed just how much the mainstream is listening to, but not hearing, the voices of its most culturally influential consumers.
As a person of color, how can you not suck your teeth when you see Cyrus flashing skin, tits, and booty without penalty, but when browner, curvier women do the same, the finger-wagging and judgmental thinkpieces on sexuality commence? How are you not bothered when the seriousness of Biggie Smalls’ death is watered down with a corny skit by a culture vulture with a rapper fetish? How can you sidestep the fact that when we’re passionate about something we feel is right or important and that rage manifests into action, our feelings are simplified with the “angry black” umbrella? How can we not see red when we exert so much energy trying to get white America to shake off its privilege and lingering three-fifths ideologies, only for a major media gatekeeper to sh** on those efforts with a stand up joke that isn’t even funny? It makes you question when, or even IF, they will ever see value in our lives and thoughts outside of making them dollars.
This year, the black community and its allies made huge strides in bringing national attention to the issues that are agitating our livelihood. All the VMAs did was find ways to turn them into sellable, memeable moments. This is the stuff we’re constantly mad about. That we tweet about, hashtag about, vent about, write about, cry about, protest about. It’s not just that we’re in the middle of hard times and strained relations within this country and don’t know how to change it. It’s that the mainstream makes it REALLY hard to believe that they give a damn.
So MTV, I’d like a straight-faced answer to a simple question, no jokes, no scripts, no Miley: When will you care?