Today is the fifty year anniversary of MLK’s I Have a Dream Speech. When I was a child, my dentist had a big poster of that speech on his wall, the words floating as a silk-screen print. As I would get my teeth cleaned, I’d reread the selection over and over if only to distract myself from the invasiveness of the procedure.
And here we are. I’m not sure how I would assess our culture’s current level of racism. Certainly we have a lot to do in our institutional life: we’ve decided that jail is how we will house people of color, especially black men. The drug war has become the way live “institutional racism.”
It is true that people are less likely to have conscious views about racial inferiority, and the instinctive discomfort of difference has changed. But plainly, we see our racism in our economic choices as a nation: instead of investing in schools or jobs we buy prisons and soldiers. Mass incarceration creates and ensures a class of people, mainly black men, will always struggle to have wider choices in their lives. The drug war is the vehicle. I’m not interested in changing hearts. That’s for the Lord. But we can, as citizens, change our institutional priorities. To be an anti-racist means opposing the war on drugs and struggling with the institutions that economically benefit from the prison industrial complex.
And Miley. I admit, I am old enough I have no experience with her previous incarnations. The song? Meh. But it wasn’t the spectacle of transgressive sexuality that was bothersome (how I miss subtlety and innuendo), but the strange way she harnessed race in her act.
I was startled – I find large cute stuffed animals disconcerting, the way others experience clowns or mimes. I had questions: is this a commentary on fetishes? What does the protruding tongue mean? Hunger? Sensuality? Or is it simply a weird face? Is Miley wearing a costume or a bikini? It looks hot. Not sexy hot, just uncomfortable. Yes, she should take it off. Why was she wearing it in the first place?
Can someone sit her down and feed her a big plate of Fettucini Alfredo?
Is this a minstrel show I’m watching now?
She is singing some words and she says she can’t stop.
Am I supposed to be aroused? Who is Robert Thicke? Is that a lap dance? Why is he wearing a suit? God, that song is so overrated.
Miley Cyrus can’t stop. But I could. So I did.