These past few weeks have undoubtedly been a whirlwind for Taylor Swift. As usual, she has kept quiet, save for a single hurried note on her iPhone that she screenshot and posted on her social media sites. She is suave; she knows how and when to step in and insert herself in a conversation.
Unfortunately, Kim Kardashian's release of footage showing Swift not only agreeing to Kanye West's "Famous" lyrics, but calling them a “compliment” have caused many to question the authenticity of the persona Swift has projected for the last decade.
While I am critical of her personality as well, I worry that some of the deeper and more significant issues this feud represents are being swept aside in favor of the reality TV show-esque nature of this drama. Everyone is freaking out over how Kim K has “kept those receipts” and wondering how Swift will make her comeback, now that her greatest PR strategy — her supposed genuineness — is being undermined.
But I think there are real racial issues that this situation magnifies as well. Namely, Taylor Swift's decided silence on all things related to race in America. Back during her Twitter “feud” with Nicki Minaj, the former sensed immediately that unless she apologized for inserting herself into Minaj's criticisms about the music industry's racial disparity, then it would become clear that she might lose a few fans.
And so in a single tweet, Swift apologized and the two sang together to a screaming crowd during the VMAs soon after. See? Everything is fine now. That is Taylor Swift's brand of feminism. It's the kind where we stick together, even if your refusal to recognize your privilege upholds my oppression. What's more important is unity, even if it means silenced specific voices.
Unfortunately for Swift, the damage had already been done. People like me, who had been diehard Swifties since she first came on the scene with “Teardrops on My Guitar” had to reconcile her white feminism with our social justice consciousness. And it was hard. It was becoming increasingly clear that Swift was not here for our struggle, despite her proclamation upon seeing Emma Watson's UN speech on feminism, that she was now a feminist. Taylor was here, but not here for girls of color. And if she was here for them, it was only to the degree that they buoyed her and her image.
To add insult to injury, when NME interviewed Taylor about the Twitter spat with Minaj, she responded with this:
"I don't want to talk about it… I send text messages now. If there seems to be some kind of misunderstanding, I go to someone's management, I get their number and I text them. It's an important lesson for anyone to learn in 2015."
While Taylor was probably responding honestly to this question, that in and of itself is part of the problem. That her concern was not her shortcoming as a feminist, (and by extension of this, her incredibly problematic perspective on race)—but instead her image, only adds to the distrust that she has earned herself.
This brings us to the ongoing “narrative” that she has been a part of since 2009. With the release of these videos, Taylor has claimed that she wasn't told about the line where West calls her “a bitch.” She makes this claim as if she hasn't slut-shamed or insulted anyone in the past through her own lyrics. In “Better than Revenge” she claims:
She's not a saint
And she's not what you think
She's an actress, whoa
She's better known
For the things that she does
On the mattress, whoa
Most people know by now that these lyrics are directed at Camilla Belle, who was at the time dating Joe Jonas, who dumped Taylor — apparently for Belle. Who knows. She'll never tell us, right? That's the point. We're supposed to keep guessing. And I think to say that Taylor's decision to stay silent on who her songs are about is based on privacy instead of PR or marketability would be false. She knows exactly what she's doing.
Many of her songs have this inherently anti-feminist nature. In “You Belong with Me,” she sings, “She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts,” as if short skirts are wrong, and the only way to be a decent woman is if you're in glasses with big curly hair and you spend all your time locked in a room reading. We, as her audience and her fans, are supposed to see her walking up to her dream man in her strapless white dress and root for her.
But if we look at nothing but her lyrics, it becomes clear that Taylor herself has no problem taking down other people for the benefit of her songs. “Dear John” is another example of this, though I won't get into that. You get the point by now.
So Kanye calls Taylor “a bitch” in his song. He didn't read that line to her. But she acts as if that's reason enough to go up on a Grammy stage and make almost her entire acceptance speech about how “As the first woman to win Album of the Year twice.” she wants to make sure that young girls every where know their worth and they don't let anyone try to take credit for their fame. This speech would have made some sense if Taylor didn't know about the song at all.
But she did, and in hindsight, the fact that she wants to spend her time on a stage getting revenge against someone who wrote a song about her instead of taking this time to at least pretend to be humble and grateful is also indicative of her entitlement.
She is no saint. She is not the underdog that she paints herself to be. But she capitalizes on this victimhood so well that most can't help but take her side.
So why does this matter? Because Taylor represents a kind of racism that is enormously nuanced and complex. Kanye, on the other hand, represents a type of misogyny that we are all familiar with: it's clear cut and simply mean. Saying that you needed to take 30 showers after dating Amber Rose doesn't require historical context. You can see that statement in a vacuum and you'd know it's sexist as hell.
Taylor on the other hand is emblematic of a type of racism that wraps itself up in the idea of connectedness, community, and victimhood instead of the importance of critical dialogue. When she called out Minaj, she sounded surprised and tweeted at Minaj by saying that it was unlike her to “pit women against one another.”
If you put this statement in a vacuum, it would be true. Yeah, we don't want to pit women against one another. Duh. But that wasn't even what Minaj was bothered by. She was bothered by the way that the music industry doesn't recognize all of black women's contributions. But Taylor didn't see any of this. She simply went straight to herself. She personally felt attacked, so she made it about her. This is Taylor Swift in a nutshell. Everything she does is about her. Everything.
This is racism personified. Taylor represents this because her racism is encapsulated by her outward kindness, her songs that have reached millions, and in the ways in which she includes herself in the discussion of feminism (as if she isn't white, rich, straight, thin, tall, able-bodied—basically possessing of almost every privilege possible).
The problem now is that Kim has exposed Taylor. Regardless of how you want to look at it, she knew about the song before Kanye released it. If Kim hadn't done this, it would be the second time that Taylor had stomped all over a black person. Yes, Kanye is problematic, but so is Taylor.
Why does Taylor get away with it? Because she's a white woman. Kanye on the other hand, will always be crapped on, precisely because he is black. It's not as if his type of misogyny has never been witnessed in another white man before. We just harp on him because he is portrayed as an attack on America's Sweetheart—by America's Sweetheart herself.
This Kanye West—Taylor Swift feud is so much more than just two celebrities "fighting." It's about how race in this country is usually explored: it's seen in terms of black and white, without an exploration of the grey areas and the enormous complexities that need to be seen in order to address these problems. Taylor may continue to make music, but I think many of her fans will now know her true colors—and some may even decide that her shortcomings on social justice issues are enough to stop listening to her.