By Choetso Amnyetsang
Before I accuse anyone of cultural appropriation I step back and think about whether what I’m about to say has actual repercussions in real life that should be taken seriously. So when I saw Miley’s latest album, Miley Cyrus and her Dead Petz, I did some reflecting and realized that, yes, once again this privileged white girl that so badly wants to appropriate from communities and cultures that she is not welcome in has struck another unfortunate chord with people of color.
Regardless of the significance and meaning of the singing bowl (which is used by many cultures and often as an object for meditation), the fact that she put “Tibetan” as part of the song title is in itself annoying and unnecessary. That, along with casually referring to it as “bowlzzz” (oh Miley, how many weed references will we get from you?) is literally the cause of my nightmarish migraines.
Some may ask, so what? Why can’t she enjoy this part of Tibetan culture? The answer is simply that as a white girl who has used black culture as a prop for her music, she is now also profiting from her appropriation and distortion of Tibetan culture. Salt on a fresh wound, you could say.
I remember when she was making her album Bangerz, she actually asked that it “sound black.” It’s quite clear what “musical genre” she was looking for at that point in her career. And the way her newly-appropriated brand of music was received is a clear indication of the role racism plays in the music industry.
While Miley was praised for being a “feminist” icon, Nicki Minaj was subject to intense media scrutiny for her music and style. When Minaj pointed out this double standard in the music industry, Miley’s response was merely that Minaj had not been kind enough in pointing out racism in the industry.
I don’t know how one can be so delusional, saying that Minaj made it “about her and not the bigger picture” when Minaj’s critique was most definitely about the way black women are perceived and treated in the media. Miley, meanwhile, only revealed her glaring privilege as a rich white celebrity who has never had to bother to think what it would be like living as a minority.
Miley is thus in the same boat as Patagonia, a company that appropriated the traditional food of Tibetans (tsampa: wheat barley) and rebranded it after altering the recipe to satisfy the palette of their privileged white customers and profit off a marginalized culture with a deeply rich, complex history.
The truth is I don’t owe anyone an explanation on why it’s not okay to appropriate my culture. As a Tibetan woman, I want my culture to be respected, which I don’t think should be considered too much to ask for. Asking for basic respect towards my culture and community shouldn’t even be necessary and derided as overly sensitive.
I am a daughter of refugees who escaped Tibet with absolutely nothing and risked everything to be free from the forces of colonization and imperialism. My ancestors literally gave their lives to save their families and preserve our unique cultural legacy without fear of persecution. So, please excuse me if you think I’m being too dramatic about not wanting Miley to use my cultural heritage as another superficial prop and an excuse to make a tasteless weed joke for her own profit.