The Twerk Felt Around the World

by Paul Siciliano

I am hoping to delve into this further when I have more time, but I had to quickly discuss Miley Cyrus's love for twerking which became known nationally on last night's VMA Awards after Cyrus twerked, molested a form #1 finger, and dry humped Robin Thicke.   

Cyrus really lacks talent and is wealthy by being a Disney manufactured star.  I get the desire to break that image and usually starts break a wholesome image by being whoreish.  Cyrus has latched onto the twerking phenomenon.   


I don't want to claim that Cyrus has appropriated black culture because that is actually a racist claim.  Why do I believe that?  The dominant American culture (which is predominantly created and caters to white Americans) will appropriate, assimilate (call it what you want) elements from subcultures.  Unfortunately, the dominant culture will embrace cultural elements that fit into perceived stereotypes of groups.  It's not like Cyrus has brought twerking mainstream.  The dominant culture expects twerking from African Americans who they perceive as over-sexual and primitive.  The dance move itself is primitive and sexualized, and what is expected of African Americans.  Just calling twerking a part of black culture is racist.   Look at it this way, if that was Nicki Minaj, would the reaction have been the same.

The performance was also sexist and classist.  Why did people think we would accept such actions from Cyrus?  Whether true or not, Cyrus portrays white trash at times and people expect white trash to act black.  I know it sounds horrible, but these are the forces at work here.  This performance is more than just Hannah Montana gone bad, it really is a commentary on American cultures, our perceptions of subcultures and what is authentic.  There is way more I want to write but I need to sleep.   

Needless to say, twerking is not indicative of black culture, to the extent there is an all-encompassing culture, so there was nothing for Cyrus to appropriate.  Cyrus pretty much appropriated an accepted stereotype of African American woman and did so because she is perceived as white trash.  And the whole thing is just plain misogynist. 

What "Context" Was Obama Talking About?

by Paul Siciliano

Yesterday, President Obama decided to give an 18 minute speech offering his perspective on the Martin shooting and Zimmerman acquittal.  I was impressed that the President said many things that needed to be said.  At the same, however, he left other things unsaid, which left the impression that people should know these things. 

The biggest thing left unsaid was the context in which African Americans have a distrust of the criminal justice system.  There is the current context which does get some play, such as the disparate treatment of African Americans with respect to drug crimes.  There is also the truth that African American men disproportionately commit and are the victims of violent crime (a lot of which I believe stems from our "War on Drugs"). 

What went left unsaid was the historical context.  And that is important.  Almost all Americans who are not African American have a skewed view of American history and do not fully appreciate the African American experience.  Yes, most school children are taught the horrors of slavery.  At least it is no longer taught as a benign institution - "Gone With the Wind" aside.  Yes, most school children are taught about Jim Crow, segregation and the civil rights movement to end such practices.  But, what is missing, and what is essential to the current dialogue is how Jim Crow was enforced. 

Most U.S. History classes gloss over what happened to African Americans between emancipation and the Civil Rights Movement.  You may learn they were sharecroppers, which was akin to slavery, or that they drank from separate water fountains.  But, what is missing is the extreme violence and brutality that whites used against African Americans, especially men, to implement, to codify and to enforce the regime.  African Americans did not readily accept their lot, especially after the promise of Reconstruction, they were violently forced to succumb to it.   

Mass, mob violence against African Americans was not uncommon, especially in the South (where 90% of African Americans lived in 1910 and before the mass migration north in the 1920s).  The North was not immune. African Americans were lynched.   They were also subject to harsh punishment, even worse than slave labor, for arbitrary misdemeanors such as "vagrancy" or "swearing in public".  Many African Americans were re-enslaved through a convict leasing system.

People speak of race riots today with respect to what happened in Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict.  In our history, race riots was something completely else.  Up until the Civil Rights Movement, race riots were white mobs indiscriminately attacking African Americans, their homes and their businesses.   

And very few, if any, white individuals were ever punished for the violence committed against African Americans up until the 1960s.  While we have made gains, the institutional racism of our criminal justice system continues.  Now, we have arbitrary drug laws which we use to disproportionately police and incarcerate African American men.  Once an individual is put into the criminal justice system, it is close to impossible to ever fully rehabilitate him.  When you make one a social pariah, it is difficult to expect one to follow social norms.   

I am not saying everything African Americans do is correct and they have no responsibility going forward, I am saying that Americans, and whites, in particular, need to know our history and our culture to understand why we have segments within the African American community who feel they have no stake in our grand experiment.  We need to understand why so many people automatically connect criminality with African American men.  We need to understand that this was socially and culturally constructed, and that we need to desconstruct it.  And such deconstruction will take time.  We should never be too quick to declare racism over though we do continue to progress.  

Unfortunately, just as in times past, whites do not want to discuss such matters.  They refuse to recognize our country's original sin and will continue to believe what they have been socially taught to do.  That is a shame.  Obama says, as politicians always say, we need a honest dialogue about race.  I can say, after my own experiences with other white individuals, it will never happen. 

Guessing The Supreme Court

by Paul Siciliano


Since no one reads this blog anyway, and plenty of people like to guess what the Supreme Court is going to decide in the upcoming week with respect to four major cases, I figured I will throw my ideas out there.:

DOMA  - The Defense of Marriage Act will be struck down as unconstitutional.  There are definitely four justices who find it a violation of equal protection (even under a rational basis review).  I think Justice Kennedy may be convinced of the equal protection reasoning if the Court just does a rational review basis.  Honestly, other than moral disapproval, there is no reason why the Federal Government is treating the two marriages differently, and moral disapproval, as Justice Kennedy even noted, cannot serve as rational basis.

Prop 8  - Which brings us to the Prop 8 case.  Justice Kennedy may be more leery of the equal protection route in the DOMA matter because Prop 8 would require a thorough determination, under the equal protection clause, which level of scrutiny applies to laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.  Despite more recent victories for the LGBT community, I still believe that such a determination would lead to applying strict scrutiny which there is an unwillingness to do.  To side step that, the Court will punt and use a Romer style analysis to strike down Prop 8 which then would only affect California.  The Court is not going to like that the voters so easily overturned a state constitutional right in a majority-vote election, especially the vote was stripping a minority of a constitutional right.

Affirmative Action  - The scheme Texas uses in determining who gets into state colleges and universities - top 10% of students from every school in Texas - will stand even if an African American only got into such a school because he or she attended a lower performing school. Any racial anomalies based on this system is a result and legacy of segregation and to strike down the Texas scheme basically rewards such segregation.

Voting Rights Act - Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act requires certain counties to pre-clear with the Department of Justice anytime they change or alter their voting procedures and electoral process because of a history of using such changes to diminish the votes of racial minorities.  I would be deeply disturbed if the Supreme Court strikes this provision down only because the Supreme Court is the institution least competent, institutionally, to determine whether discrimination still exists and to what extent.  My gut says it will not be struck down but there will be another admonishment not to just reaffirm the Act without at least altering some of the counties effected.  If they do strike it down, the reasoning will be very convoluted and controversial.

If I was on the Court (and that will never happen), this is how I would rule: 

  1. DOMA is unconstitutional under a rational review basis of the equal protection clause.
  2. The Texas affirmative action scheme for university admission is constitutional. 
  3. Re-authorization of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is still valid under Section 5 of the 14th Amendment, and, thus, constitutional. 
  4. Prop 8 is the toughest for me.  I am more inclined to accept the equal protection argument on marriage equality but only because States have spent the last 20 years changing their laws to purposely exclude gay marriages (gays can still marry, just not a partner of the same sex).  At this point, I would just be like, fuck it, laws banning gay marriage are unconstitutional.