I almost didn't do the interview because the trolling got be a little overwhelming, and as someone who detests being the centre of attention, I really really wanted to pretend that it never happened, and just go hide under the covers for a bit. But my mum convinced me that I if I believed what I had written, (I did) I had a duty to defend it. After all, I had to take my own advice: if your argument can't withstand a few dings, it wasn't a very strong argument to begin with was it? So check it out after the jump!
THE FOLLOWING IS A TRANSCRIPT OF AN INTERVIEW WITH CATHERINE YOUNG BY SAMMY LYON, WHICH TOOK PLACE ON SEPTEMBER 3rd, 2013. THE AUDIO OF THE INTERVIEW CAN BE FOUND HERE.
Sammy Lyon: Catherine Young is a 23-year-old, Black, West-Indian feminist, blogger, and photographer, currently living in Trinidad and Tobago. She recently wrote an article, "Solidarity is for Miley Cyrus", which went viral. She's joining us today to talk pop culture and racial misappropriations. Welcome to Feminist Magazine, Catherine.
Catherine Young: Hi. Thanks for having me.
SL: So, you wrote this fantastic piece. It has over 1,000,000 views a couple days later. So, describe for our listeners who may not have had a chance to read it yet, what's kind of at the heart of what you get at in your piece.
CY: Umm, Essentially, the piece was about the fact that coverage of Miley's performance really centered on either slut-shaming her for the performance, defending her against slut-shaming for the performance, but no one covered the fact that it was grossly racially inappropriate and offensive. It was just a part of the performance that didn't get tackled. And it really upset me as a black woman, because that is the specific demographic that she's targeted with this nonsense that she did, and it riled me up that no one was talking about it, especially other feminist spaces that are supposed to be in solidarity with us, and tackling these kinds of issues. So, I wrote about it, and I really didn't expect it to get so big. It kind of exploded.
SL: Yeah, it did.
SL: So, Miley Cyrus performed at the Video Music Awards last weekend. People have been talking about it, and like you said, it's missed, really, the racial dimensions of what she performed, but, I mean, personally, I'm someone who doesn't really care about pop culture very much. Like, I didn't even really know who Miley Cyrus was not too long ago. So why does Miley Cyrus even matter?
CY: The reason it matters is that she is a very relevant part of pop culture, because... You know, there are always the people who aren't into pop culture, like you said, but for most people, this is the stuff that they're consuming, and pop culture is a direct line into what our culture is saying about us at that moment. That's why we define fashion and music by decade. It zeroes in on what was happening in culture at that time, and this is what's happening in our culture at this time. And the fact is that it's still pretty racist. [chuckles] And that's not okay. And while it's not Miley's fault specifically that this is happening, I really just view this as an example of why it is we need to be having these conversations. I really just latched on to something that people were already talking about.
SL: Right, and I liked what you said. You wrote a follow-up piece to that article, and you said for every-- You can say it better than I can-- "For every person who doesn't..."
CY: For every person who thinks that we should just ignore her, there's ten of her fans who are planning their next “Ratchet Halloween party”, because they think it's cool, and I think that, to me, that really was something that I wanted to say specifically, because it's true. Even though you think that it doesn't matter, and that we should just ignore it, like, there's never been a place and time when ignoring a problem has simply made it go away--
--and something as big as racism and racial appropriation, it's definitely not going to just disappear because we've decided to ignore the problem. So, it's really important to make sure that we direct the conversation in the way that... in the direction that it needs to go so that we don't end up with, you know, a bunch of teenage white girls running around pretending to be ghetto and twerking, because it's really offensive, and it's really disrespectful to the people, the women, who actually live that way, and are constantly told that they're low-class and ghetto for doing it, but for some reason it's okay when Miley does it.
SL: And, you know, a lot of people in the aftermath this last week have been talking about, well, you know, all music that has girls dancing in skimpy clothes is objectification and commodification of women’s bodies, and a lot of people have been saying, you know, why does it matter whether it's a black woman or a white woman on stage, dancing. What is your response to that?
CY: My response to that is that, the context matters. It's not that any of those things are any better, it's that when it comes to women of colour, there is a historical context, and a history of their bodies being specifically enshrined in this narrative of uncontrollable sexuality. It's not just about being free to do as you want with your body, because yes, I'm sure all the women on stage were paid for their... services I guess is the best word I can think of to use. But it doesn't change the fact that while they technically had a choice, there's not a whole lot of options for a woman of colour in an industry like that, when the only roles available for women of colour are the ones that require them to objectify themselves...
CY: I think that it does make a difference if a white woman does it, as opposed to a black woman, or a Latina woman, or an Asian woman, because white women do not have a history of being told that they can't be raped, and that they are completely wanton, and that they can't control their basal sexual urges, and that they've, you know, seduced their slave-masters, when in fact they were raped. It... The context, it matters, and all of those objections always happen outside that context, and it's not truthful. It's not sincere, it's not genuine that it's a black-and-white issue, because it isn't. There are lots of lots and lots of layers of grey, and history is a big part of that.
SL: And your piece, "Solidarity is for Miley Cyrus" was named after the hashtag originated by Mikki Kendall, #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen. What does that
hashtag mean for you personally? Why do you identify with that?
CY: I identify with it because for me, I think, when I first found Feminism, I was really at a basic 101 stage. I didn't really understand, you know, really simple concepts, and when I first found Jezebel, I was learning stuff, and kind of realizing that there is this whole vocabulary to explain a lot of the things that I felt my whole life and couldn't articulate. But as started to become more familiar with that, I also realized that there was a large section of the conversation that was missing, and that was the issues that pertain to women of colour. No one talks about them. You know, the mainstream feminist discourse is very white-led, and unfortunately that means that they get to control the conversation, and white women who get to decided what's important, what is typical to be talked about. So, we get large articles about whether it's feminist to shave your legs, but no one's talking about the commodification of black women...
CY: And when the hashtag blew up, and all these people started pouring in, I started seeing these different perspectives, and being able to kind of really identify with all these other women who felt the same way, and were finally kind of given permission to say, "You know, this is not okay. It's kind of racist. It's been happening for years, and we're not okay with it." And for me, it was just kind of an opportunity to see that I'm not alone, that I'm not crazy when I acknowledge those things, that when I bring them up and someone dismisses me, they're in the wrong, and that I'm not paranoid. Because I was thinking, like, something' s off here, there's something about this conversation that isn't doing what it should. And I think that for a lot of women, it's the same thing.
SL: I'm actually interested also in the story of how you came to write your piece. You didn't just wake up one day and say, "I'm going to write this." There was a whole process, so can you tell us about that?
CY: Essentially, after #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen blew up, well, what happened is that... I'd been reading Jezebel for about three years, and as I said in my post, I owe Jezebel my feminism, but when the hashtag blew up, no one was talking about it on Jezebel. They just sort of ignored the problem, so I brought it up, and I kind of became known on the forum as that person who talked about those things.
So, when the Miley Cyrus thing happened, and they started talking about it on the front page of Jezebel, in the article where they acknowledged the slut-shaming she was facing was incredibly misogynistic, people were asking me if I would write about it. And I kind of didn't want to, because I felt like it was just so much, and I didn't really want to deal with it, but I realized that I did have things that I wanted to say, especially after reading other peoples kind of interpretations of what was happening, and all those other kinds of things. So, I sat down, and I asked people to send me links of things that they thought would help, and I just... let it all out onto the page. And in about an hour, it had already gotten tons of hits, and it just got really, really big.
SL: And you were saying, you know, at the heart of this, it's not about you, even though you did a really great job putting this together, it's not about you, and it's not just about Miley Cyrus.
CY: I really wanted to make sure that I kind of communicate the fact that I'm not the expert on this. You know, I wrote this huge diatribe on the situation, but you can see that I linked to a million things. Like, I don't have all the words. I don't have all the answers, but there are people who do, or certainly have more answers than I do, and if you read it, and you're interested, and you think that this is relevant, then go seek out more information.
There are so many people and so many blogs that have been doing this for so long, and now is the time to start recognizing their contribution. Like, that's exactly what #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen is all about, not silencing voices of women of colour. There are so many people who have been doing this for ages, and haven't been getting the kind of recognition for it, and I think it's really important to recognize that you shouldn't stop at what I wrote, because I don't have all the answers, I don't have all the perspectives, and there's so much more to Intersectionality than just what I said about Miley, because, again, it's not just about Miley. Miley's just a symptom of a much, much larger problem. She's just the latest example of why this is an issue, and why it's a problem that we need to be talking about.
You know, you can do the work, get the education that you say that you want, because it's not my job, or any woman of colour's job to explain to you why what you're doing is racist. It's your job to acknowledge that we have a say in this conversation, and that if we tell you something is problematic, you should probably listen.
SL: And so you can follow Catherine on Twitter. The links to both her blog and her twitter handle are on our website, feministmagazine.org, and it's really a pleasure to have you. We were just speaking to Catherine Young, 23-year-old blogger, who wrote "Solidarity is for Miley Cyrus," which went viral last week.
CY: Okay, thank you so much for having me.