Amandla Stenberg's Kylie Jenner comments and cultural appropriation. Let's talk.
Yesterday, Kylie Jenner posted an Instagram. It resembled many of the famous teen’s posts, a selfie that racked up over a million likes and over 100,000 comments.
In the comments, one Instagram user complimented Jenner’s look with the cringeworthy hashtag #whitegirlsdoitbetter. Basically, what this user was saying was that she was in favor of Jenner co-opting elements of black culture (in particular, her hairstyle), and believed that Jenner, as a member of a dominant culture, was entitled to appropriate from a historically oppressed people. The reason that doesn’t sound good is because it’s not good. The pro-cultural appropriation hashtag is ignorant at best, outright malicious at worst.
Amandla Stenberg—aka Rue from the Hunger Games, aka the woman who dropped some serious wisdom about cultural appropriation back in April—was troubled by this comment, and replied on the thread.
“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.”
Stenberg’s point: cultural appropriation is problematic in celebrity culture and made worse when issues of racial injustice are simultaneously ignored. At the same time, cultural appropriation is not a dues-paying system, it’s not like you’re entitled to steal aspects from a culture just because you gave a few supportive soundbites. Still, as Stendberg implies, that would be preferable to taking elements of a culture that are trendy at the moment and then refusing to support that culture in any meaningful way at all.
We wish Jenner had responded in a thoughtful and understanding way. Instead, she got defensive fast.
“Mad if I do… mad if I don’t,” she wrote on Instagram.
It’s reminiscent of how Iggy Azalea responded to Azaelia Banks’ accusations of cultural appropriation with similar defensiveness. When it comes to cultural appropriation, defensiveness is really not the move. This is not a case of “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.” This is taking from another culture without permission, and, because of cultural privilege, profiting from that acquisition.
Of course we don’t think that Azealia Banks or Kylie Jenner meant any harm with these appropriations. It seems they just don’t understand the ramifications of their actions. The idea of cultural appropriation isn’t something everyone is familiar with. It’s different than cultural exchange, which, according to EverydayFeminism‘s Jarune Uwujaren, is “something that should be mutual.”
Appropriation, on the other hand, “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,” as Stenberg, herself, explained in a viral video posted to Tumblr earlier this year.
Today, Stenberg followed up her exchange with a Twitter post examining the double standard black women face and further exploring the notion of cultural appropriation. It’s absolutely worth the read.
It’s important that we keep educating ourselves and others when it comes to these issues. And if we are accused of saying or doing something hurtful, rather than immediately deny any wrongdoing, really listen to the accusation, and learn from it.
(Image via Instagram)