Amandla Stenberg Checks Kylie Jenner on Cultural Appropriation


Jerica Deck | Co-Campus Editor

Despite the caption under the cornrowed Kardashian’s photo, Amandla Stenberg reminded Kylie that she in fact did not ‘wake up like this’. In April, Stenberg eloquently schooled viewers on cultural appropriation in the viral YouTube video Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrows. Recently the Hunger Games star went from simply talking about the issue, to calling out the appropriators themselves.

After Kylie Jenner posted an Instagram photo of her daunting cornrows, a protective hairstyle African Americans have been sporting for ages, Amandla quickly responded in the comments. She wrote “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.” Jenner snapped back “mad if I don’t, mad if I do…. Go hang w Jaden or something.”

Cornrows aren’t the only black ‘do Kylie’s ever imitated. Along with her colorful array of lace fronts, Kylie also sported dreadlocks on the May issue of Teen Vogue. The Huffington Post described this look as “glamorous” and “boho-chic,” and the popular celebrity blog Hollywood Life called Kylie’s cover “absolutely beautiful and stunning”. However when Zendaya Coleman, an African American starlet, wore the same natural style at the Oscars, her look received heavy criticism on E!’s Fashion Police. When discussing the dreads, entertainment news correspondent Giuliana Rancic said she felt like Zendaya smelled “like patchouli oil…maybe weed.”

It doesn’t just stop at hair. In April, Kylie posted a series of photos where the lighting and special effects darkened her skin, and she was accused of wearing black face. Her caption of choice? “What I wish I look like all the time.” Kylie also made headlines when she infamously plumped up her pout with lip injections. Historically large lips are a characteristic African Americans have been taunted for, but the surgery actually elevated Kylie’s career.  It later inspired the Kylie Jenner challenge where kids across the country sucked shot glasses until their lips became bruised and swollen.

Some wonder if it’s really that harmful to urbanize one’s demeanor for a few extra likes on Instagram. Justin Bieber jumped to Kylie’s defense by also commenting under her picture and saying “Guys leave her alone, were all trying to figure it out and she happens to be under a microscope… saying she’s being racist because she wants her hair in braids is ridiculous.”

However after sporting snapbacks, tattoos, and R&B music, Bieber is in hot water for cultural appropriation as well. His insensitivity became especially apparent when a video of Bieber telling a racist joke and using the n word surfaced in June, 2014. Television personality Andy Cohen also labeled the feud “jackhole of the day” initially garnering support from actress Laverne Cox and Andre Leon Talley.

However after researching Amandla’s stance, Laverne later wrote a blog post defending what Stenburg stood for. “We live in a multi-cultural society where being influenced by cultures different from ours is inevitable,” she writes “,but when the traditions and practices of marginalized communities are used by those in power and the material conditions of those who are marginalized are not changed individually and systemically this is when cultural appropriation is deeply problematic and even potentially exploitative.”

Culturally appropriating black culture allows groups to make black stereotypes trendy without giving up their white privilege. According to Professor Daron T. Smith’s blog post on the Huffington posts website, artists “can enjoy the benefits of ‘acting black’ without shouldering the racial burden of being black.”

Historically, African Americans link to their heritage has been very limited because of a lack of advantages. One simple example of this is how slaves previously weren’t allowed to read or write. Thus once staying in the United States it was difficult to properly document their own history. Over time it can be easy for certain stories or aspects to be lost in translation. Today, along with researching their heritage, the black community has rebuilt its identity by creating its own new culture.

The black community has invented its own unique fashion, music, jargon, food, and more. Thus it’s frustrating when other groups not only steal the ‘trendy’ aspects from this community, but also have the audacity to make a profit while doing it. An artist can make money off of an edgy urban look without experiencing racial hardships or understanding the history behind it.

It doesn’t matter many Instagram followers Kylie’s gained since daunting her urban new look. Contrary to what the media portrays, dating a black rapper like Tyga does not give anyone a free pass to turn black culture into a fashion statement. Imitation is not a form of flattery, especially when the world continues to ostracize and ignore the original. Cultural appropriation is a very serious problem that only seems to be discussed on minute Afrocentric Tumblr blogs.

While Amandla is portrayed as an angry black woman or a bully, it’s admirable that she’s brought such strong topics into mainstream media. As she said in her video that touched the hearts of viewers across the world, people wonder “what would America be like if we loved black people as much as we loved black culture?”

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