Recently someone asked me what I thought about Taylor Swift’s new music video, “Shake It Off,” and I sarcastically responded, “It’s racist?”
I mean, not to be mean or anything, but racism is racism, and there isn’t anything particularly substantive to discuss about the video. Its racism isn’t insidious and coded, it’s so overt and obvious that what other thought could I possibly have about the video?
However, there is something truly horrifying about this video, and it has nothing to do with how bad the song is compared to “22.” It has everything to do with a recent trend to argue about the obvious, and focus conversations about race, class and sexism on superficial incidents that everyone can discuss.
Around the same time the Taylor Swift video debuted, communities across the country engaged in “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” protests. The police clashed with protesters and the Klu Klux Klan handed out candy and racism.
Why, then, did people feel the need to discuss whether or not something so obviously racist was racist?
I think it goes back to the difficult-to-peg nature of racism in more complicated cases. There are many situations where things seem racist, but figuring out exactly why something is racist, sexist or homophobic is more difficult. Thus, the Internet reverts to picking up the easiest cases, the ones where we can prove our clear understanding of oppression and how great we are at not being racist, sexist or homophobic.
The problem is that the fight against oppression isn’t about proving how much we know or how active we are, but about discovering areas we don’t understand.
The main problem with Taylor’s video isn’t that it’s racist. It’s that it gives us an easy way to feel better about our role in culture. It doesn’t implicate us or force us to think differently.