Amandla-Stenberg-on-Cultural-Appropriation

In a country as diverse as America cultural exchange is a necessary and normal part of life. But I’ve come to realize that, when it comes to black women, the rules of this exchange are very different and often work against us. That is when cultural exchange becomes cultural appropriation. Here is what it looks like to me;

1. Black women are copied for profit but don’t financially benefit from their own culture in the same way
There is something about a white woman doing ‘what black girls do’ that fascinates America. So women like Iggy Azalea, Fergie and the Kardashians can heavily adapt elements of black female culture and ride them to the top of their respective arenas while black women doing the same things don’t attract the same level of interest. And I don’t say this to diminish the hard work these women put into their careers. But when Beyonce singing traditional R&B is no longer a sellable concept, while ‘blue eyed soul’ artists like Meghan Trainor and Adele climb the charts, the dichotomy becomes clear. Super producer The Dream;

“What’s crazy is that blacks can’t do soul records any more. We love Adele singing it, but Beyoncé singing it? No.”

2. Black women are copied but not supported
When they need a sassy or magical black sista-girlfriend, non-black women are there for it. But when black women face real violence and discrimination, we are often met with silence. A 15-year-old black girl is slammed to the ground by a white police offer and feminist groups are silent. Rihanna tortures a fictional white woman in her Bitch Better Have My Money video, white feminists are up in arms. The inconsistency is disconcerting.

3. Black women are copied and not credited
For all the ways in which our style is copied you would think black women would have a reputation for trendsetting. That there would be countless thinkpieces about our unique style and contribution to American beauty.

But when flaunting derrieres came en vogue, it was Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez who were credited with making it popular despite the parade of ample-bottomed black women who came before them, and the fact that big bottoms are a common occurrence among black women. Bantu knots are called mini-buns and credited to Marc Jacobs. Kendall Jenner and Kristen Stewart are credited with making cornrows a hot style. Baby hairs are high fashion. Miley Cyrus is the public face of twerking. Hipsters at music festivals rock box braids and African dashikis and it rarely ever comes back to the black women who created and popularized those styles. It’s almost as though America goes out of its way to erase black women and dissociate them from the trends they innovate.

One of our writers, Geniece, has a sociology degree from Harvard and recently wrote an article entitled Why Are Academics Ignoring the Natural Hair Movement. Her conclusion is searingly poignant;

I would argue that one reason for the dearth of academic research on the issue is an unfortunate trend in social science that focuses on the problems faced by some groups, rather than their revolutionary successes… In social science, women of color and specifically black women, are often studied in the position of an oppressed group. Case in point: I can barely go one week without reading a study or citation that discusses the high rate of single black women/black women with children born out of wedlock.

What about the significance of black women, who in the span of decade, have harnessed social media, created blogs, vlogs and hair products in order to self-educate and challenge a standard of beauty that reigned in our society for hundreds of years? The natural hair movement, I would argue, is much more than “just hair.” It is not just about individual style choices. Collectively, this movement demonstrates the ability of a so-called “oppressed” group to mobilize cultural, economic and technological resources to define their story and shape their movement. Therefore, the relative silence in academe is due to in part to the challenge of reconciling the empowerment of a group that has long been characterized as weak due to racism, sexism and classism.

Which brings me to my next point…

4. Black women are copied but are comically (mis)represented

Let’s take a look at two YouTube personalities.

BUIODabCIAASgE-

Glozell, vlogging since January 26, 2008
3.7 million subscribers
634 million channel views
Most popular videos include My Push Up Bra Will Help Me Get a Man and Is That Your Breath

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 7.02.21 PM

Naptural85, vlogging since August 8, 2009
617,000 Youtube subscribers
50 million channel views
Most popular videos include How to Cheat a Flexi-Rod and Do It Yourself: Homemade Hair Deep Conditioner

I’ll let you guess which one is more popular with white YouTube viewers and which is more popular with black YouTube viewers.

The representation of black women America is most interested in portrays us in the worst light — as loud, unintelligent, unfeminine and undesirable. So we are being copied even as we are being constantly publicly humiliated.

And not only that, America loves to remind black women of our ‘place’ at the bottom of the beauty totem poll. Viola Davis is not classically beautiful, Serena Williams’ arms are manly, Michelle Obama is fat, Zendaya Coleman’s faux locs are gross and Psychology Today declares that black women are objectively less attractive. All of this, ALL OF IT, as our beauty and style trends are copied down to the last detail.

5. When black women speak against cultural appropriation they are punished, or called paranoid and petty
When we point out the ways that cultural appropriation affects us, we are punished.

‘It’s all in your imagination, because after all, who would want to copy black girls?’
‘There are bigger issues to talk about than this’
‘Shut up. Nobody cares.’

The most recent example of this is Andy Cohen calling Amandla Stenberg a ‘jackhole’ for speaking against Kylie Jenner’s cornrows.

Now let’s step back for a second… Amandla is a 16 year old child. She just attended her prom. She is a child actress who has never been caught up in drinking, drugs or illegal activity, unlike many of her industry peers. And yet her 32-word comment inspired the 47-year-old Cohen to attack her publicly, and hundreds, hundreds of news outlets to cover this ‘story’ with an overwhelmingly disapproving and angry tone. That is intimidation and silencing at its finest. And never mind that Amandla never once said that white girls shouldn’t wear black styles. But who cares about semantics when you are sending a public message that young black girls have no right to challenge the status quo and assert their voices.

Luckily we are not defined by how mainstream America treats us. And in the wake of America’s insidious messaging towards black women, we should continue to celebrate and document our beauty culture and to innovate and uncover traditions. We owe ourselves that much.

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noelliste, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop culture and black beauty enthusiast. bell hooks' hair twin...

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57 Comments on "5 Reasons Cultural Appropriation Pisses Me Off as a Black Woman"

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patsy
WHEN ARE BLACK WOMEN GOING TO VALUE THEIR DOLLARS? Complaining doesn’t make much of a difference but in the USA money talks. As long as black women’s 7.5 BILLION DOLLARS goes toward white owned hair care businesses ANNUALLY; as long as black women buy or allow their children to buy demeaning rap music originally inspired by prison industry leaders to demoralize our youth; as long as we do not contribute to organizations that empower our youth; as long as we don’t teach our kids to not litter; as long as we are unwilling to sacrifice our hairdos, clothes, jewelry and… Read more »
Dorian Gray

At some point in your life I hope you come to accept that you are, in fact, racist. It is amazing how blind you are to your own ignorance. The same goes for all these driveling imbeciles that parrot your nonsense.

foreveryoung
Thank you so much for this article. As a young black woman (early 20s), it makes me cry from its honesty and depth. You’ve hit all the nails on the head in an articulate manner — with a balance of history, the media, facts and black female experiences, raw emotion and much needed doses of the truth. You voiced the frustrations of Black girls/women from all over, who see our own image and culture being recreated (or mocked, in many cases – subtle and not so subtle) into something that does not represent, give credit to, honor, encourage, or benefit… Read more »
Lindsay Mead
I’m conflicted by the concept of cultural appropriation. I have naturally curly hair. The only way to manage it is with bottles of hair product, which leaves it feeling stiff and crunchy. Not to mention that I can’t imagine the chemicals are good for me. Anyway, I wanted to try box braids because they’re pretty and seem like less work than my curls. However, it doesn’t look like a white girl is allowed to wear box braids. There are a few such braided white females on YouTube and their comment sections are nothing but hate and cultural appropriation comments. I… Read more »
Rich Garriques

black and african are not two different things. all black people are africans the term black was made up by whites not africans. the problem with american africans is they do not identity with african people because they are the lost Africans that were stolen and have no knowledge of where they came from which was africa.

Morgan McCray

Right…. Look I want nothing more than to know from where in Africa my ancestors were stolen from. Unfortunately in society if I were to stand next to an African woman ( who grew up in Africa) there would be stark cultural differences and experiences that have shaped us into two different women based on those things can I truly say that I am African? Sure we all know that my brown skin indicates where my roots come from but my culture is African American.

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[…] the issues of appropriation and gentrification, which have been addressed eloquently by people more versed on the subject, what bothered me was the faux message of body positivity. I don’t want to rehash All About […]

Karin Eclectic Luckey
Karin Eclectic Luckey
NOTHING is credited to Marc Jacobs. Not everyone knew they were Bantu knots, but that “twisted mini bun” fiasco was a joke and I’ll leave it at that. Oh and Beyonce isn’t the only black/brown vocalist around so why compare ONLY her to a multitude of non black artists when there are plenty more? I’m actually tired of her voice and THAT has nothing to do with her color OR culture. Overexposure does that for me. Ultimately I either like or dislike an artist long before I see what they look like. That’s how it SHOULD be. I’m totally pro… Read more »
.

I really don’t like that chick appropriating 80’s generation’s styles, what does she have to do with the culture ?

Simply Mia
I agree that the media are very guilty of cultural appropriation and don’t give credit to certain ethnic groups when it’s due. And I also agree with most of the points made within this article. However, I don’t share the same sentiments with the last point you made. I think Amandla genuinely cares and is willing to speak out for the issues that black women (and men) face in America whether it’s police brutality against black people or the media’s involvement in cultural appropriation. However in that particular incident with Kylie Jenner, I don’t think it was fair of Amandla… Read more »
frufru

Do you realize how racist you sound? Appreciative Beckys of the world… okay Shaneequa.

KSonyka

Exactly what is racist about that? Because if your problem is that I used a stereotypically white-suburban name, it’s kind of weird that you’re calling me Shaneequa.

It’s also pretty weird that of all the things I said, that’s the thing you focus on here. That’s telling.

Sabrina black
This really infuriates my mind. This is a dishonor and I’m 19. I must say that that I emmensely like the fact that BGLH has changed and is socially aware of their concerns surrounding the community and prejudice media. I’ve been noticing that more women are becoming social councious. I find it heart warming that more of you take the time and patience to address what you feel and what you want to say. You guys care about what’s bothering you and troubling other women. I like this big act, actually it’s not an act, I mean revolution of like… Read more »
Zaza

I keep saying to black women – we need to stick together! We are ALWAYS at the bottom of any society in which we exist; and what’s the first thing we do when confronted with one another? Hate. In my personal experience when I travel, black women are the last to communicate with black women they don’t know, so I always end up hanging with the guys or white people; then I get hate for wanting to be white. We are not united.

D. R. Maggie

I agree!!!

The Darling Kinkshamer
The Darling Kinkshamer

Interesting, as a black lesbian I do not necessarily agree though.

melissa

Great piece. Good argument and well thought out. This topic has been trending for a while and I love how you put it all together. great job

MalagasyGirl
I mean no disrespect to anyone, im on both sides…so im in the middle 🙂 I’m a very open person. I dont think about colour or race when I see a person, I just see them. I cant judge people because of their appearances and their race, because to me its just a person like me. A person that has their own feelings etc.. My point is, I feel that there is a hint of discrimination here; towards the “non-black” people. First of all what does being “black” mean? What does a person require to be “black”. Africa is in… Read more »
KSonyka
> I believe that the “non-black” women who SINCERELY rock those styles mean no harm, they just like it on themselves that’s it. The trouble is, that doesn’t actually matter— whether they mean to or not, they’re still contributing to this phenomenon, and it is harmful. That’s the thing about systemic racism: it’s BUILT INTO THE SYSTEM. At this point, a lot of it doesn’t *require* conscious participation. It really is a case of: if you’re not fighting it, you’re contributing to it. For example, the white woman who just thinks dreadlocks are pretty doesn’t actually have to *do* anything… Read more »
FreeTea

Hahahahahahahah. You aren’t American, are you?

Get back to me about discrimination when we start arresting, beating, and killing non-Black people en masse based solely on their appearance.

Morgan McCray
It’s equivalent to the reason why white people cant say the n word. If it wasn’t used in a derogatory way against black people in the past it wouldn’t be a big deal now. If black women weren’t made fun of and judged for our big butts big lips and myriad of hairstyles in the past then it wouldn’t be a thing now. The message of “it’s beautiful on fairer skin” is what is being portrayed. What is black? … Black is being displaced. Black is tracing your lineage back to a time of oppression and seeing how far we’ve… Read more »
SW
I think you are missing the point of the article. This article is not attacking or “discriminating” against individuals. It’s bringing awareness to the fact that the media perpetuates the points in the argument and society as a whole accepts what the media portrays and ignores the facts/history. There is a lot of history that created this and many other problems in today’s black and white race relations. No offense, but if you don’t identify with either racial group, have never experienced a situation involving this relationship then you would not understand and can’t effectively weigh in on the situation.… Read more »
Camille
I don’t think it’s intentional, but it’s hard to see proof of how palatable something is just for not being done/said/performed by a black person. Kim K and J Lo were girls with big butts before they dated famous black men. In the late 90’s Kim was Paris Hilton’s fat Persian friend. IMO white culture isn’t really that into curves yet, and almost all of their fame is a result of buzz created by their popularity with black people. I can’t think of a fully white woman with a big butt who is famous among white people and not for… Read more »
The Darling Kinkshamer
The Darling Kinkshamer

Kim K’s is “modified”, J Lo was the original and then Beyonce of course.

blackgirllonghair

Lol! Thanks. This was inspired by all the attacks on Amandla Stenberg. I was going through the Google feed thinking, “Oh my God, they are NOT attacking a 16-year-old girl!” But they were, so I got mad and wrote this, lol.

Kari

There are times when anger can bring about the best in creativity and brilliance, and this piece is evident of such.

blackgirllonghair
Michael, thanks for the comment! I would say it can’t be proper imitation if the person being imitated isn’t credited. What do we gain from seeing hundreds of women walking around with butt injections and lip fillers and ‘trendy’ African prints if we turn on our TVs to an onslaught of ‘black women are ugly and pathetic’ media coverage. Is that flattery? I don’t really think so. I do think that the adaptation of a black(er) beauty standard is good for America because it’s not (IMO) as stifling as the white beauty standard. Black women, IMO, are a lot more… Read more »
Caela Bialek
Yes! I am so with you on all of this, but especially the liberation of adopting a ‘black(er) beauty standard’, as you put it. I am mixed Welsh/Jewish, so I have pale skin and therefore have not experienced racism in the US. But I’ve had loads of body image issues throughout my life, because I don’t look like other pale people (especially the ones in mass media). Bushy/frizzy hair, broad shoulders, big butt, large nostrils, caterpillar eyebrows, etc. Anyway, long story short (ish), I’ve recently begun following/reading a lot of pages created by and for black women, including BGLH. The… Read more »
Emma W
I loved this article. One minor issue is the comparison between Glozell and Natural85. One is a comedian and therefore, looking for a wide audience. The other as you know is a hair and beauty vlogger who by the nature of her hair texture will have a limited audience as a non-kinky textured viewer may not see relevance in what is being discussed. Perhaps a comparison of another black female comedian who doesn’t rely on a clown style routine would have made your point more strongly. in other news, thank you for writing this piece. I didn’t know about that… Read more »
Emma W

Bleugh! Typos galore!! My apologies, all – I was typed the post above on my mobile phone

blackgirllonghair
But the interesting thing is that hair and beauty vloggers reign on YouTube. Michelle Phan, It’s Judy Time, Andrea’s Choice, Ingrid Nilsen, Bethany Mota. And yes, Naptural85 focuses mostly on natural hair, but a lot of her tips are applicable to a variety of textures. So, the question becomes WHY is Naptural85 not in the same level of influence as other non-black women (I think Andrea’s Choice might be mixed??) who vlog about hair and beauty. And why is a black comedian who presents terrible images of black women as a bedrock of her comedy the ONLY black woman to… Read more »
Morgan McCray

I’ve been wondering the same thing . I’ve also noticed and I HATE to say it but based on the followers and views just going by the apperances of beauty YouTubers I see a divide like in slavery. The dark skinned women have a smaller following than the lighter skinned women. I wish it weren’t true and I’m hesitant to bring it up but it’s there. And glozell is the house n**** that gets the attention from majority of white people. Of I’m wrong tell me I would love to be wrong about this.

Emma W
It’s horrible that Glozell’s style of comedy is what is currently selling. The first time I saw one of her videos, I honestly thought it was a joke. Then I realised all of her videos are in the same style of stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I love puerile childish humour, but her stylings just weren’t for me. I had NO IDEA she was as popular as she is. My hope is that the comedic stylings of YouTubers like Smoothiefreak become more popular and overshadow that other foolishness. I will be checking out the other bloggers you’ve mentioned as I… Read more »
blackgirllonghair

KrissyChula is hilarious without all the, well, we’ll say ‘affectations’ of Glozell. She is witty and hilarious https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUlwm7c8pzVM79fLJRojK_Q

Jasmine S

Yes, this is the best article I have read on this blog in a while, not that I didn’t enjoy the others but this shit right here…you know the rest, much love and respect..you better use this platform:)

Philly Jawn

Yes sister tell them

Michelle Emeritus

Spot on. Unfortunately (and here’s another worthwhile topic for examination and article write-up) black men have bought into the lies about black women – WHOLESALE! – and consequently, whilst struggling with their own damaged self-esteem, have opted to effect their own ‘solution’ in their own special behavioural way. No prizes for guessing which social phenomenon I’m referring to here…let’s just say their own-hating mindset explains the past few decades epidemic of jungle-fever that’s broken out in the western hemisphere.

Guest

Don’t worry, those non-BW are not getting a prize. An article just came out that states that, 92% of mixed race children of BM are born out of wedlock and 80% are on welfare. The self-hate of these BM is deep.

Alex

Appreciate your textured hair it’s one of the things they can never claim, maybe that’s why they always ask us about straighting it.

Michael
I’m a White gay male and I’ve never read an article quite like this. You’d be a fascinating person to have coffee with! : ) Very provocative and you really make a lot of thoughtful points. Thanks for sharing. Of course, as with anything this deep, after hearing it for the first time, I really need to think about it carefully and take some time to understand it more. However, my first reaction is remembering the saying that ‘imitation is the height of flattery’. I remember a time when being Black was not cool (among Whites) and most White people… Read more »
Lucie

Only one question. Did you physically drop the mic when you were done writing this or is that only in my head? This article was perfect perfect perfect. Thank you for putting it all into words.

Elowwole

Go OFF!

Dee

This post is absolutely perfect!!

StraightShooter
I hope this shift in Black American consciousness continues. I was so upset about Andy Cohen attacking a 16 year old girl, while trying to say Kylie should receive a pass because she is 17. I won’t be watching Bravo anymore and I hope that other Black people join. Bravo makes a lot of money off of Black women and this is the appreciation we receive. We are only allowed to be the “sassy friend”. The other thing that pushed me over the edge was a Black woman sitting next Cohen cosigning his mess. This really makes me look at… Read more »
Jayjay

Yeah, I lost all respect for Laverne after that. What really amazed me, is that she is transgender, and basically wanted to become a black woman. So how could she sit there and allow another black woman to be attacked?

Janet Holmes

well said

Keda

Thank you for this article! !! So on point. Things are getting stranger and stranger in this country. ..n we were once a people unafraid to speak the truth. It sickens me how we are belittled in the media n even some of our own think it’s a laughing matter. In the middle of white girls trying to twerk n flaunting their purchased body parts Black churches r burning in 2015!!!!!

cryssi

Whew I’m at work, why did I read this now??? I can’t be in here side eying all of my white coworkers…college is what really helped me to see the white double standard and low key made me dislike and distrust most.

Reading this sadly reminded me why…

Nicole

yaaaaaaaaaas miss Leila I’m soooo glad to see you writing again; I STILL remember the old blogspot when you would do the sunday reflections on this natural ish posts.

blackgirllonghair

Oh dang! That was waaaay back in the day, lol! And thank you 🙂

AfricanAmy

The updated BGLH which ‘speaks’ about more than hair gets a thumbs up from me.
Well thought out argument. It’s important that more black people stand up for ourselves and count ourselves as valuable, beautiful, successful, trendy, innovative, intelligent, etc. We do this for ourselves first then in time others will acknowledge. There will unfortunately always be someone putting someone else down BUT let’s celebrate ourselves, right?

blackgirllonghair

Yes! The monkeys don’t stop the show. The flyness is in our DNA 😉

blackgirllonghair

It is not the borrowing of the culture that is problematic. And I hope that that came through in the piece.

Camille

It did. My point was that the borrowing is the gateway to the cultural appropriation and disrespect. We can’t stop them from copying us but we don’t have to help and support them. As black Americans the line between culture and entertainment is VERY thin, and when there are so many blacks around helping the Justin Timberlakes of the world, it sends a confusing message about what belongs to who.

kalexa1

Agreed. Unfortunately some will do anything for money. They’re traditionally known as ‘sell-outs’ and they have been doing so for decades/centuries, to the detriment of their own.

Camille
Our culture is seen as entertainment, not as sacred. The plantations that our ancestors are buried on are vacation spots. We need to appropriate their culture and get those plantations roped off like concentration camps. They are sacred spaces and we need to make sure they’re treated accordingly. We have more power than we think. We shouldn’t have tolerated the Confederate flag for as long as we did. Also, those white artists didn’t appropriate all by themselves. Almost all of them have black producers. Chances are a black hairstylist put in most of those cornrows. Is it stealing if you… Read more »
LC

Thank you!

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