She won then broke our hearts as little Rue in The Hunger Games, now Amandla Stenberg is speaking out against appropriation of black culture, citing pop stars like Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift as examples. But this isn’t a story about some starlet throwing shade at bigger celebs to steal some spotlight.
The 16-year-old Stenberg examined pop culture for a class project she called “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows: A Crash Discourse on Black Culture:”
She begins by explaining the importance of hairstyles like cornrows in black culture, and how this naturally fed in to hip hop culture. Then hip hop’s popularity inspired white stars (and whatever we’re calling Riff Raff) to appropriate cornrows and other elements of black culture.
“[In the 2010s,] pop stars and icons adopted black culture as a way of being edgy and gaining attention. In 2013, Miley Cyrus twerks and uses black women as props. And then 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.”
Her video clips succinctly display this trend, looping in T. Swift, Iggy Azalea and Macklemore. Stenberg then points out that these white stars may be happy to “adopt blackness” when it helps them seem “edgy” and “urban,” but were silent during protests over the murders of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice. That’s a disconnect that she takes issue with, and understandably so.
Here’s Stenberg breaking down appropriation in terms that any one can understand:
“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 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 they are partaking in.”
Then she ends with this question:
“What would America be like if it loved black people as much as it loves black culture?”
As awesome as this video is, I’ll admit, I worried that sharing it would be unfair to the ingenue. After all did Stenberg want the world to see her (incredibly insightful and smartly cut) school project? Well, yes actually.
She posted it on her Tumblr, where she is an outspoken advocate for social change and feminism. From the looks of her page, she’s currently enjoying both the highs (GIFs of her kickass speech) and lows (being accused of “reverse racism”) of her vid going viral. But no surprise, Stenberg’s handling all this attention just like she did the video up top:
Kristy Puchko might spend the rest of the day on Amandla’s Tumblr.