Amandla Stenburg is 16 years old. As smart as I like to believe I am, at 16 I could never have explained cultural appropriation as eloquently as she. I’d imagine her poise, confidence and maturity make it easy to forget she’s still a child, but nonetheless, she is. Apparently, though, she is not deserving of the same care and protection her white peers are granted, as she has once again been disrespected in front of and by America.
You may recall how Twitter went wild with racist “jokes” and commentary about their disappointment and outrage over the fact that the character of Rue in The Hunger Games was played by Stenburg. Despite the fact that the character is described as having dark brown skin, white fans were floored that a black girl would actually be selected to play a black girl. Thankfully, this typical yet revolting display of good old American racism helped to produce a young woman who embraces, defends and loves black women, understanding how we are vilified, demeaned and degraded for the world even as our style and features are imitated.
Surely an executive producer with a team of editors, public relations reps and production assistants could have researched Amandla’s “feud” with Kylie Jenner before labeling it “Jackhole of the Week.” Surely a middle-aged man with the kind of power Andy Cohen holds should have known a 16-year-old girl was off limits. And it’s unfathomable that two black celebrities, Laverne Cox and Andre Leon Talley, sat there watching this shit show without handing you your ass.
You’ve exploited black women for years. I’ve watched you roll your neck, snap your fingers and mock Nene Leakes, feeding the caricature of black womanhood. You’ve sat back amused and pleased as black women sat on your stage calling each other bitches and whores drawing in viewers who love to watch us fight each other. You’ve directed black women to pull hair and hurl insults to keep your show interesting and your network winning. You’ve asked the most invasive of questions to black women, inquiring about their vaginas and sex lives, and keeping cameras rolling through their most devastating moments.
And even with all your black meal tickets friends, you still didn’t understand, or make any effort to, that the exchange between Amandla and Kylie was not a feud but part of a conversation black people have been having among ourselves for years about the stealing, marketing and profiting of our culture without our persons. You really cannot be this ignorant. I take that back, you actually can. Your privilege allows it. Imagine that. You have the privilege of not dealing with this while a girl a third your age does not.
But surely your two black guests, Laverne Cox, who responded to your question about whether white women in cornrows was ok with “ummm, Bo Derrick,” and Andre Leon Talley, who’s been in the fashion industry for decades no doubt seeing (or overseeing) black culture appropriated for his publications, knew. And Laverne’s statement that culture appropriation required much more than the 10 seconds she had to speak would make sense if she had not within the same show used 10 seconds to compliment Caitlyn Jenner’s wardrobe and address how women have so much more to offer than how they dress. I guess 10 seconds is enough time when it counts.
I really don’t mean to give you a lesson on race and blackness. Surely if you wanted that, you’d have found the time in your four and half decades on earth. Nor do I mean to shame you, as it’s clear from your history of programming that you do not know shame. I only wish to call you out on your bullshit for the sake of Amandla who is a part of me. I wish to show her I stand for her as she shows time and again she stands for me. I wish to keep her lifted and encourage her to continue to learn, teach and grow.