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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Taylor Swift not racist in latest music video

    Like turkey bacon, Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence’s performance in “Silver Linings Playbook,” Taylor Swift is a polarizing character: You either love her or you loathe her. Whether it is her throwback fashion, her (in)famous relationships or her tendency to use ex-boyfriends’ names as song lyrics, Swift never leaves us hungry for controversy. With the premiere of her new “Shake It Off” music video, Taylor is once again under attack — this time for alleged cultural appropriation. I would like to defend her.

    Cultural appropriation is a majority culture’s adoption of cultural elements that belong to and have originated from the minority, specifically elements for which the minority culture has been systematically oppressed. White men at Coachella wearing Native American headdresses — cultural appropriation! Miley Cyrus twerking at the MTV Music Video Awards while the black girls around her are treated as sexual props — cultural appropriation! Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” music video? Not so much.

    For those who haven’t watched the video, Swift is the focal point of many different dance groups and genres, such as ballet, cheerleading and contemporary. In each one of these scenarios, Swift is “the odd man out.” And as anyone who has seen her in concert can tell you (guilty), Swift is a very gawky dancer.

    The point of controversy? A B-girl dance featuring six performers — four Black and two white. Importantly, Swift is just as bad at this twerking as she is at ballet. Rather than adopting twerking as her own — and I say that un-ironically, as twerking is a valid and respectable facet of African-American dance culture — Swift makes it very clear that she is outside of the culture and therefore unable to successfully twerk.

    Now, there are some that disagree. Rapper Earl Sweatshirt (@earlxsweat) took to Twitter as the video premiered, writing, “haven’t watched the taylor swift video and I don’t need to watch it to tell you that it’s inherently offensive and ultimately harmful.”

    Africana studies professor Bryan Carter, with whom I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting about this video, also took issue with the hip-hop section. Carter points out that although Swift may not be appropriating the African-American dance aesthetic, she is certainly fascinated with it, and not in an attractive way.

    “Swift’s video is another example of ‘negrophilia,’” Carter said, referring to white America’s obsession with black culture as an exotic Other. Carter explained that Swift’s actions are particularly problematic because of her status as a rich white woman, the exact subgroup that popularized negrophilia in 1920s Paris.

    I’m not convinced. While I understand Carter’s point, “Shake It Off” is a festival of all different styles of dance and the girl who is bad at all of them.

    “We simply choose styles of dance that we thought would be popular … and cast the best dancers that were presented to us without much regard to race or ethnicity,” director Mark Romanek explained. “If you look at it carefully, it’s a massively inclusive piece.”

    The fact that white women are also featured in the hip-hop section, black women are prominently visible in the contemporary and cheerleading segments and that every dancer in every piece is genuinely, unashamedly good at what they do places the dances on an even playing field. Ballet, though more associated with Euro-white culture, is treated with no more respect or reverence than twerking. Both represent established cultures of dance.

    Maybe I’m just a white boy who loves Taylor Swift, but I’m also an Africana studies major and pride myself on caring about these issues. I absolutely believe that cultural appropriation is a real issue that needs to be addressed in mainstream pop culture, but that’s not what I see when I watch “Shake It Off.” I see a celebration.

    —Paul Thomson is a senior studying BFA acting and Africana studies. Follow him @BePaulite

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