Sky Ferreira, a pop artist currently on tour with Miley Cyrus, released a music video for her song "I Blame Myself" at 9 a.m. Friday morning, in which she, a young 21-year-old woman, plays the leader of a black gang in Compton, Calif.
Now, she's informed us it's not racist and that it's demeaning to the "well spoken & aware" black actors (we're sure they appreciate it) involved to claim it as such. But it's pretty racially insensitive.
Controversy immediately erupted surrounding the video earlier this week, and the Internet community slammed her Facebook and Twitter with accusations.
Sky Ferreira 'I Blame Myself' video = racist. almost touching black men doesn't make you cool, dangerous, or liberated in 2014— Travis Gosa (@Basedprof) April 17, 2014
I'm tired of seeing black people used as props.— Olu Alege (@ReallYSL) April 17, 2014
Who the fuck let @skyferreira make this video. The distributed vastness of its racism should prevent all of them from working in the arts.— ?F????l? f?ς?o?? (@shallowrewards) April 16, 2014
Let's look at some basic facts:
The video — which features a gross overuse of slow-mo and hair-flip shots — has no plot. In place of a plot, it features everybody's favorite stereotypes about young black men. In the opening shot, two black guys in a car roll up, ominously, to another young black guy leaning against a fence. He looks around suspiciously and approaches. "Sup fellas, whatchy'all want." They glare. One of them makes some vague gestures with his hands (just black people, speaking in code). The other immediately understands and exclaims "Fuck you, get the fuck off my block." At this point, Sky Ferreira shows up to save her gang of black men from the glaring villains. Dancing and synthesizers ensue.
Sky Ferreira is likely not a racist person, but that doesn't change the fact that this video is really racially insensitive. In it, her black peers are used as code for legitimacy. Ferreira is shown first as a faceless leader, dressed in a black leather jacket and a black hoodie. When the camera slowly pans out, we're meant to be surprised that the mysterious hooded thug is, in fact, Ferreira. "How could you know what it feels like / To fight / The hounds of hell / You think you know me so well," she sings. In the context of the video, it sounds like she's suggesting that she is, like her stereotypical accomplices, more 'hardcore' than her exterior suggests.
These sorts of overused stereotypes are damaging in cases like this because they don't even rely on context to get their point across. It's not remotely clear from the video what the plot is — stereotypes fill it all in for us.
What's possibly worse is Ferreira's defense of the video. In a long and poorly punctuated Facebook post defending the video, an exasperated Ferreira argued that she chose her all-black dance crew because they were the "best ones" that came to auditions. Apparently, these were the best people to audition for the roles of: Black Man Doing Back Flip Off Car; Black Man, Pointing; and, most importantly, Black Man Driving With Hydraulics Jacked Up.
But don't worry, Ferreira has a "half-black brother."
This is precisely the kind of thinking that a group of black students from Central High School in Champlain, IL sought to combat when they released their video "Suit & Tie in the 217" that went viral earlier this week.
Their quotes — "We are not gangsters and thugs. We are employees and volunteers. We are scholars. We are athletes" — represent the actual aspirations and realities of young black males. They are not the immediately recognizable and overused, stereotypical bangers lining up behind Ferreira in that Compton lot. And people with clout like Ferreira need to help our country see that.
It's a shame, then, this video fell so short — the song is catchy enough to make any message stick. And it's especially hard to forget the hook: "I / I blame / I blame myself / For my reputation." Especially since she should remember who else's reputations she has her hand in.