Within hours of the release of pop singer Sky Ferreira’s latest music video “I Blame Myself”, both news outlets and social media erupted with declarations of racism and insensitivity. Billboard.com’s Jason Lipschutz characterized the video as “the singer palling around a torn-up Los Angeles neighborhood with African-American men, who engage in heated confrontations on the street before combining as her backup dancers.” In an policymic.com article entitled “How to Promote Racist Stereotypes, Brought To You By Sky Ferreira,” Tom Barnes bashed the video as racially insensitive, calling it a showcase of “everybody’s favorite stereotypes about young black men.” One twitter user said, “Sky Ferreira’s new video is a #racist mess. She, white woman, dances in Compton in front of #POC [people of color]” while one youtube commenter called the video’s dancers were “Blacks used as props. Dehumanized and marginalized.”
Ferreira’s April 16th facebook post in response to her critics was met with perhaps even more condescension than the video itself: she wrote, “Some people are accusing of being racist. I usually do not need to feel the need to explain myself(which I’m not) but I DO feel the need to share my thoughts on the situation… I never exploited anyone & I don’t use people in any shape or form… Would you feel more at ease if I danced with a bunch [of] blond white boys at a mall? Should I consciously only cast white dancers for now on? If I’m racist does that mean you’re pro-segregation?!” In response, both journalists and internet users called the post a mess of poorly punctuated cop-outs.
But not all responses were negative, one twitter user asserting that calling a video racist solely because of the use of African Americans “a ridiculous accusation made by the very people who can only see the colour of someone’s skin.” Billboard.com’s Jason Lipschutz published a response article called “Sky Ferreira: ‘I Blame Myself’ Video Is Not Racist” in which he interviewed the video’s director, Grant Singer. Singer made the same argument that many of the video’s other defendants did: “To me it’s more disturbing to have white artists only have whites in their videos or black artists only have blacks in their videos. That’s segregation”
— Alex Berg (@AlexfromPhilly) April 16, 2014
It seems to have become internet protocol to declare any white musicians’ pop video featuring nonwhite faces racist- from Lily Allen’s “Hard Out There” to Miley Cyrus’ “We Can’t Stop” to Iggy Azaelea’s “Bounce.” However, sometimes the prescribed outrage doesn’t exactly fit. While it does certainly display stereotypes, Ferreira’s video doesn’t slander or hurtfully appropriate African American culture. It could be argued that the over-the-top video pokes fun at its own cultural inaccuracy with flamboyantly orchestrated dance routines and police-office strip routines. While critics make a point about representation of African Americans in the media, defendants have a message too: if we get offended by music videos primarily on the basis of their multiraciality, we’re discouraging diversity in the media altogether.
Racial sensitivity is important, but at what point does outrage facilitate more drastic race separation in mass media? That is, if consumers consistently find fault in nearly every music video featuring people of color, we may need to expect the media to begin to bypass racial diversity altogether.