Kylie Jenner posted a pic on Instagram of herself wearing cornrows with the hastag “whitegirlsdoitbetter” which she immediately removed and reposted her pic without the hastag when Amandla Stenberg commented:
When u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention to towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism
A controversy stirred discussing whether Kylie was racist for wearing cornrows, whether Amanda was wrong for commenting on instagram and a much larger discussion about cultural appropriation.
This why we love Amandla Stenberg and why the mainstream media can’t take her expressing herself. While they would want her to be childishly ranting on social media and taking inarticulate petty jabs at Kylie that could be easily dismissed or devalued, she has instead provided intellectual, articulate expression for her instagram comment, which is more than we can say for Kylie. And I do get that Kylie probably realizes that she’s put her foot in her mouth and doesn’t want to make it worse than it is but then why so many people defending her. Unless she, too, is going to put forth some sort of statement or thorough analysis over why rocking cornrows and posting #whitegirlsdoitbetter is not cultural appropriation or just flat out disrespectful then I say she should take the spanking Amandla is giving her and learn her lesson. Big ups to Amandla for calling it out.
Nothing pisses me off more than using ignorance as a scapegoat for consequence. This notoriously happens in racial situations where a White person wants to escape the public defamation, criticism and consequence that goes along with their action. How quickly do we hear the responses “I didn’t know” and “They had no idea it would be taken that way.” Amandla was criticized by talk show host Andy Cohen who later apologized citing “I didn’t understand the larger context of this cultural discussion.” Oh please Andy, you’re a grown ass man with a television show on which you critique and comment on reality tv stars behavior but you couldn’t grasp that this conversation wasn’t just about style? And do we remember Paula Dean’s not understanding that having used the word nigger to describe Black people even if it was 15 or 20 years ago wasn’t cool. Or better yet that her deep southern roots are drenched in sterotypical views of Black people. Again, when is ‘I didn’t know’ going to stop being enough to absolve people of the actions of their biases. Because not knowing is just as much a problem as the action. It’s 2015 damnit White people and Black people didn’t just start interacting in the same spaces. But, of course, the glory of privilege affords White people the ability to exist with other people and cultures without actually learning about them. And yes I know White culture is and has been the major cultivator of Black culture but it has been done in such an objectifying fashion – with this exotic obsession – that it lacks true connection and understanding in most cases and results in appropriation rather than intelligence on the subject. Hence, the rocking of cornrows, the use of the word nigga, the transracial identities and all these things that have been done in ignorance of how that might make the people of that culture feel.
I often like to cite the Jewish community as a cultural example as I think they have done a phenomenal job of maintaining their cultural roots, demanding respect for their cultural differences and never letting America dismiss what happened to them. That said, if Kylie had posted a picture of herself wearing a Yamaka, I’m sure no one would be defending her. If she had posted her latest tattoo of a swastika, no one would be saying oh she’s just a kid she doesn’t know any better. Why is that? Because public opinion has not ever left room for the disrespect of the Jews. The history of the holocaust is taught in school. Tolerance for their religious beliefs and the preferences that make them different than others – such as their diet and their keeping of the Sabbath- to such a degree that in 2015 even a teenager would be expected to know better. So why then when it comes to Black people and Black culture people are allowed to get away with murder – literally – simply because they don’t know better or don’t understand the culture.
It is this same scapegoat of ignorance that we see police officers using to excuse the profiling, stereotyping, accosting, harrassing and killing of Black people. Zimmerman pled ignorance when he killed Trayvon because he didn’t realize that every Black kid in a hoodie isn’t a thief and he didn’t realize that if he stalked and attacked a Black person they might defend themselves. Michael Brown was killed because the police didn’t know if he had committed a crime or not when they approached him. Eric Garner was killed because the police didn’t know that he wasn’t lying when he said he couldn’t breathe. Freddie Gray was murdered because police didn’t realize that the manhandling of Black body causes injury and death like any other person. Renisha McBride was murdered because a White person didn’t know that a knock on a door and a plea for help didn’t mean that she was trying to rob them. It’s 2015. It’s the age of Information. Ignorance is no excuse.
First of all we have to stop this myth that proximity to Blackness equates to cultural intelligence and understanding. Having Black friends or even family members isn’t the same as being Black or being knowledgeable about Black culture. A man can have dozens of women friends, family members and coworkers but it does not mean he will ever know exactly what it means to be a woman. The same goes for culture. Second, we have to stop this American tendency to study the unusual with an objectifying gaze that seeks to make us superior either in the devaluing of the other or in the power of our “knowledge” about the other. Too often we feel we have transcended the potential for misunderstanding. We feel that somehow having studied the other we are somehow unified with them and can speak for them. Lastly, we have to hold ourselves to a much higher standard of consideration. If America is this cultural melting pot one the road to “post-racism” (as they often try to have us believe) then certainly their must be a much more sensitive and thoughtful way that we all are required to engage cultures and people unlike ourselves. If anything our goal should be to interact with an learn from different cultures while leaving them whole, intact and devoid of our desire to collect them.
I do understand that there is still a learning curve as our country is only just now consciously going addressing the differences and biases that are among us but in the Black community we have a thing about children entering the conversations with grown folks. It’s not because the children may not have valid thoughts and opinions, it’s that they don’t know enough about any entire adult situation to be able to evaluate the thoughts and the opinions they have. Likewise for all these very vocal ignoramuses who interject themselves by word or deed into contexts and conversations that they do not truly understand, educate yourself first. Get some knowledge before you engage the situation and if in doubt, shut up and don’t say anything at all. Ignorance is no longer a strong enough alibi for acquittal and excuses are no longer allowed. Because ignorance is not the same as being incompetent and excuses are for the incompetent.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man