D’Annibale: Students Swiftly combat racism

Protests are more successful through local involvement than they are through social media.

Ben D'Annibale

Ben D'AnnibaleIt’s the end of the summertime in an even-numbered year, which can only mean one thing: Taylor Swift will be releasing a new album soon, and both her singles and critics’ complaints about her perceived lack of talent will inundate our ears and News Feeds for weeks.

One thing that is evident and undeniable about Swift is that she has a savvy business sense; she knows what her market is and what they want to hearDespite all her successes – millions upon millions of album and single sales, awards practically shoved in her face and being a media darling with nary a scandalous story attached to her name – she has been able to crank out hits like a machine while leisurely transitioning from country to pop, as well painting herself as the “outcast,” thus making herself as relatable as possible to the widest demographic.

All of these things seem to point to the fact that Swift is in complete control of her career and knows exactly what implications the choices she makes will have on this perfectly crafted image of hers.

This brings me to her latest single and its accompanying video, an unabashed pop earworm called “Shake It Off.” A catchy little number about how Swift doesn’t respond to her “haters,” it depicts her in various scenes attempting to dance in different styles with professionals. These styles include modern, ballet, lyrical and – most controversially – twerking.

I know what you may be thinking, especially if you, like me, are against any kind of racism, sexism or other -isms which rightly receive vitriol from peers in the activist-minded environment of a university setting. Swift has been accused of appropriating caricatures of black women in order to develop her artistic image.

However, consider what actually happens in the video. Swift’s self-deprecating attitude demonstrates that she is in no way skilled enough even to attempt the styles of dance which are being portrayed as needing immense practice and artistry, because she is simply an ordinary girl.

By portraying the twerking style among other well-established styles of dance, does she not imply that it is on the same artistic plane as the others? I would understand anger if she had only used people of color for the segments a la Miley Cyrus, but she makes sure that almost every single group of dancers shown is racially diverse.

My time spent at Temple has been unbelievably eye-opening on a personal level. I’ve been exposed to social injustices – readily evident or otherwise – that were not discussed at my mostly white, upper middle class prep school. I feel uneasy about the amount of undue criticism Swift’s video has received, especially from peers whose viewpoints I generally respect.

Is posting a music video to Facebook decrying its racist undertones really accomplishing much?

If we as a community are to combat racism, shouldn’t we focus on issues that surround us instead, such as the university’s uneasy relationship with the community surrounding it or the atrocities in our African-American Studies department?

Payne Schroeder, a student involved with the movement to reinstate Dr. Anthony Monteiro, believes that social media can have a much stronger effect when Temple students are united for a cause on which they are able to have a direct impact.

Schroeder, a senior political science major, said  that the campaign created several Facebook event pages to boost attendance for rallies.

Although the movement primarily revolved around getting the former Temple professor rehired, another large problem the students focused on was racial issues.

“We also broadcasted our efforts on Twitter and blogged about the gentrification of North Philly and labor issues at Temple on our Tumblr,” Schroeder said.“Our broadcasting on social media eventually got us radio and print interviews.”

If the goal is to stop race-based discrimination, posting a link to a song by a popular artist will not help the cause. By sharing Swift’s video, are we not accomplishing exactly what she and her record label want, whether you support her or not? No matter who is viewing it, the video is still getting massive amounts of clicks from unknowing “activists.”

With a campus as diverse and motivated to action as ours, Temple students with an interest in activism should feel compelled to participate in ways that can elicit tangible results.

Ben D’Annibale benjamin.dannibale@temple.edu or on twitter @pianobell

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.