Wash-Off Color

I’m not saying whites can’t and shouldn’t keep recording Blues, Hip Hop, Jazz, Gospel or they should quit appropriating black African influences. Please. Keep it up. Let’s us know we’re alive and that we were here. Just stay in your lane.

So it is no accident that the source of Hip is the Negro...

— Norman Mailer

Nigger is a slow death.

— Hilton Als

It has been made obvious by the spectacle, speculation and news cycle of her MTV Video Music Awards show performance why Miley Cyrus is a white nigger or, clearer and stranger still, why she aspires to it.

This is, as you know, what academics and political pundits call “a highly charged” word, “a troublesome word,” according to the black intellectual Randall Kennedy — so much so I don’t know how many more times here I will be editorially allowed to use it, so watch me dance around it — and one that differs exponentially in meaning and intent from its first cousin, -a. 

And that is all OK, the conundrum, shyness and misunderstanding about the word and who gets to say it.

Who cares? By now, let he or she who feels comfortable enough to utter it find the same comfort and confidence to justify or defend its use.

And an occasional discourse on the word and its standing and the ways white people act it out without ever using it is always important and relevant.

Because even as Syria kills its own people, as whites gear up for Oktoberfest, that whitest of all white sales, and as wildfires rage across the West and Southwest, these people are important.

I don’t need to repeatedly say it to talk about Miley and her ilk.

She does not stand alone in a long line of them.

Here, then, is a list, real and realized:

Leonardo DiCaprio as Calvin Candie in Django Unchained. A classic example of a white man getting paid off his ability and charisma to get blacks to do harm to one another for sport. 

This can also be interpreted as what the essayist George W.S. Trow called “white euphoria”: white largess in the face of black suffering;

Ke$ha and any other young white woman cherry-picking from black culture ’til she figures out whether she is serious or not about rapping;

Kevin Federline for leaving the black mother of his children to be with Britney Spears, and who’s now married to a princess-looking white woman. (We will talk more later about washing off certain acquired behaviors to return to your original tribe.)

Justin Timberlake, when he rocked a curly perm and wore matching custom-made denim outfits alongside Britney Spears, but who’s now actually more African-American, what with his proximity to Jay-Z and Beyonce;

Britney Spears, for being one generation out of the trailer park without realizing or completely escaping it. Her black counterpart, without all the money, is Fantasia;

Die Antwoord, the white South African Rap duo who play-acts at it by appropriating South African working-class dialects, mimicking South African gang culture and who, in the video for 2012’s “Fatty Boom Boom,” appeared in blackface and bright red lips;

Eminem, for embodying and infiltrating the misogyny and braggadocio of black Rap culture on behalf of every white frat boy and every middle-management white banker desiring street cred if only for the length of an Eminem concert;

Justin Bieber, for over-correcting on his dreamy image in the most obnoxious and disrespectful ways, always with his flat-bill cocked to the back. Expect him, like Federline, to eventually wash off and return to the tribe;

Elvis Presley, the o.g. of this population.

Since the word is deemed by its very definition as derogatory, as the worst of us, then Miley Cyrus surely is that: the worst singer, dancer, actress, fiancée and twerker.

She now ranks top among a phalanx of other white “entertainers” behaving badly and who equate authenticity, street cred, swagger and rebellion with the worst ghetto versions of black culture that they aren’t just literally aping us, they’re demeaning black culture in the process without adding anything meaningful to it.

By the way, Robin Thicke isn’t one of them; he was duped in his performance with Cyrus, hoodwinked and used as a foil, a backdrop; however, it’s sweet comeuppance for a white soul singer married to a black woman who’s preemptively suing Marvin Gaye’s estate before he can be sued for basing his biggest hit on a sample without prior proper permission. 

This makes Thicke, though beloved by blacks, no better than the white music moguls who stole entire songs from black singers and songwriters and never paid them a dime.

Why do whites veer to the dark side in a quest to “keep it real?” They’re faking the whole thing, casting a collective penumbra with their half selves.

What’s real is when the white rapper Macklemore, despite what you think of his music, not only understands but clearly articulates his white privilege and leverages it to be subversive about the label whoring and homophobia rife within Rap culture. It’s real when he says he knows he can get away with cursing in his songs and still be adored by white soccer moms who probably would be criticizing him as a bad influence if he was black-skinned.

See, this is when the infiltration is good, or at least not offensive.

I’m not saying whites can’t and shouldn’t keep recording Blues, Hip Hop, Jazz, Gospel or they should quit appropriating black African influences.


Keep it up.

Let’s us know we’re alive and that we were here.

Just stay in your lane.

And if you do switch lanes, just remember you can pop out your gold fronts, pull up your pants, record a new album with a press release saying you’ve come to your senses, found your true self and these new songs are “a reflection of my new path.” 

Apologize for all that foolishness. 

Now back in your original lane, you can begin again speaking the Queen’s English and regain all your old fans who tweeted that you must’ve been ill.

In the entirety of the “white nigger” paradigm, nigger washes off; it’s merely an act.

White, however, is forever.

CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]