Give this girl an A! Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in 2012’s first installment of the franchise, is getting a lot of attention this week for a video she made for her history class a few months back. In the clip, titled “Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows, the 16-year-old up-and-comer discusses the issue of cultural appropriation, speaking eloquently about its implications in society.
The video begins with a discussion of black hair, and how styles like braids and cornrows are intrinsic to black culture. “So you can see why hair is such a big part of hip-hop and rap culture,” she explains. “These are styles of music which African American communities created in order to affirm our identities and our voices.”
From there, Stenberg goes on to note the increasing popularity of “clothing [and] accessories associated with hip-hop” — for example, cornrows and grills — among white celebrities and in the fashion industry. She specifically notes past runway shows for Marchesa and Alexander McQueen, as well as the rapper Riff Raff.
“Pop stars and icons adopted black culture as a way of being edgy and gaining attention,” she says, citing a few other recent examples. “In 2013, Miley Cyrus twerks and uses black women as props. And in 2014, in one of her videos called ‘This Is How We Do,’ Katy Perry uses ebonics and hand gestures and eats watermelons while wearing cornrows — before cutting inexplicably to a picture of Aretha Franklin…So, as you can see, cultural appropriation was rampant.”
She further spotlights rapper Iggy Azalea, who has been accused of cultural appropriation before, most notably by Azealia Banks. Like Banks, Stenberg points out stars’ reluctance to address issues of racism — namely the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner, among others — even as they “adopted blackness” for their image.
“That itself is what is so complicated when it comes to black culture,” Stenberg says in her video. “I mean, 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.”
She continues: “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 which African-Americans created to retain humanity in the face of adversity.”
To close, she quotes a question she’s seen a lot on social media: “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”
The video, which clocks in at around four-and-a-half minutes, was posted three months ago but began to pick up steam this week. After it went viral, Stenberg took to Twitter to clarify some of her thoughts, specifically her mention of pop stars like Cyrus and Taylor Swift.
“This is not a petty criticism of Taylor Swift, who, btw, I love,” she tweeted. “This is about creating a dialogue between races.”
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