Reflections on Amandla Stenberg "Calling Out" Kylie Jenner for Cultural Appropriation7/20/2015
by Evan Seymour Last weekend, Kylie Jenner posted a picture on Instagram of herself wearing cornr...
by Evan Seymour
Last weekend, Kylie Jenner posted a picture on Instagram of herself wearing cornrows, a move which sparked all sorts of angry comments and insults from some of her followers. The most high-profile of Jenner’s critics was Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg. This is not the first time the actress has been vocal on social media about the appropriation of black culture, but it was the first time she was specific with her calling-out of the practice, honing in on a single individual. Stenberg's comment read: "when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter."
I didn’t spend a lot of time on social media over the weekend, but I’d seen mention of the #WhiteGirlsDoItBetter trending hashtag. In an effort to get some context on Amandla’s call-out of Kylie, I did some research in the Twitterverse. I also read an article which offered some background on the original use of the hashtag and how its latest iteration was a subversive counter-attack launched by Black Twitter. All that being said, overall, when I looked at tweets using the hashtag, what I saw was superficial, mean-spirited, and misguided commentary about cultural appropriation. I saw generalized shaming and the sort of disappointing human behavior that makes me shy away from social media for days at a time.
Personally, I couldn’t care less about white girls wearing cornrows. It’s really not that deep. I am equally unbothered by black women who wear blonde weaves. What you do with your hair is up to you. Amandla is 16 years old, so there is a good likelihood that she sees her call-out as some sort of activism, instead of what it actually is: online bullying. But she is not the only person engaging in such behavior.
No doubt, many of Kylie’s followers who attacked her for wearing cornrows are adults. Grown-ass individuals who choose to spend their spare time being petty on the Internet. Adults participating in the bullying of a teenager—either through directly commenting on Kylie’s post, or by sharing articles that celebrate Amandla’s messiness as some sort of activism. This sort of behavior needs to stop.
Calling out folks who appropriate black culture by wearing our hairstyles, getting lip fillers, and so on is a complete waste of time. If the person isn't wearing blackface, using the N-word, or maliciously mocking black culture, I mean, really, who cares? The energy used for such call-outs could instead be used to celebrate real Black Girl Magic. It could be used to highlight inter-communal and intra-communal issues facing this country—specifically, the African American community. That time could instead be used to pay a compliment to the intellect, accomplishments, and natural beauty—including our hair—of a black girl or woman.
Cultural appropriation isn’t going anywhere, no matter how much we scream, shout, or ridicule it. Does that mean the practice should be ignored? No, it doesn’t.
There are times when pointing out cultural appropriation is valuable, or even imperative. For example, appropriation that results in the erasure of black accomplishment from the annals of history, or that has financial ramifications, should always be addressed. But pointing out a hairstyle worn by a 17-year-old, or asserting online that the only things white girls do better are get sunburnt, whine, and make bland chicken is counterproductive. The only thing this behavior accomplishes is to breed divisiveness, promote the shaming that has become ubiquitous on the Internet, and indirectly perpetuate stereotypes about black women, (No, we can’t all season chicken well, we don’t all have big behinds, and some of us do sunburn).
Sometimes, the Innanets could really stand to get some chill.
Editor's note: The author requested a change of title after this piece was published, and we have obliged her request.
Photo: Instagram / Getty Images / VIBE
Evan Seymour is a Southern California based freelance journalist whose daytime job is in entertainment news. She is also a professional daydreamer.