We are so in love with Amandla Stenberg, the young actress who played “Rue” in The Hunger Games. She’s got the nerve to be beautiful, talented and, if a video she made for a school history project is any indication, intelligent and passionate about our people, too. Witness her lesson on cultural appropriation, aptly titled “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows: a Crash Discourse on Black Culture.”
In the video, the 16-year-old Amandla—yes, she’s only 16!—breaks down the historical significance and practicality of Black cornrow hairstyles, then craftily weaves in examples of how those styles plus our style of dress, dance, music and culture has been “adopted” by the mainstream (read: white celebrities like Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, Macklemoore, Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift and the fans who worship them) with zero appreciation or context for the origins of the aesthetics or the people who created them (read: Black folk). She breaks it down so it’ll forever be broke thusly:
“The line between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange is always going to be blurred. But here’s the thing: Appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashion, cool or funny when the privileged take it for themselves. Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture that they are partaking in. Hip-hop stems from a black struggle. It stems from jazz and blues, styles of music that African-Americans created to retain humanity in the face of adversity, which itself stems from songs used during slavery to communicate and survive. On a smaller scale but in a similar vein, braids and cornrows are not merely stylistic. They are necessary to keep black hair neat.”“What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?” — Amandla Stenberg Click To Tweet
Amandla goes on to juxtapose mainstream cultural appropriation against the backdrop of the high-profile killings of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown and the Black Lives Matter movement, and ends her video, which she posted on her Tumblr page, with the bomb question: “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?”
We know the answer to that one, don’t we Amandla? Surely, we do.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.