Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg is taking Kylie Jenner to task for wearing cornrows — a hairstyle choice that Stenberg considers cultural appropriation at its best.
On Saturday morning, 17-year-old Jenner, the youngest sister of the Kardashian clan, posted an Instagram photo of herself wearing the hairstyle that’s traditionally been worn by black men and women, setting off a firestorm of comments about whether or not the cornrows are offensive. At one point, Stenberg, who played Rue in the first Hunger Games installment, jumped into the conversation, posting:
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
It should come as no surprise that 16-year-old Stenberg lent her voice to the conversation, as the starlet recently released a video about cultural appropriation called ‘Don’t Cash Crop on My Cornrows.” In it, she talks about the ties between black hair — twists, braids, cornrows, locks — and black identity. Linking those styles to the formation of hip hop culture, she explains how the presence of black artists who wore these styles became popular over time, inspiring white celebrities to follow their lead. The problem with this cultural appropriation, Stenberg argues, is that white people are adopting and capitalizing off of elements of black culture while ignoring the systemic oppression of the people they’re emulating.
“That itself is what is so complicated when it comes to black culture. 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 or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed high fashion, cool, or funny when the privileged take it for themselves,” she said. “Appropriation occurs when the appropriator is not aware of the deep significance of the culture they’re partaking in.”
Stenberg’s statement on Instagram is a continuation of this theme. On the surface, Jenner’s photo may seem harmless. But much of her brand and image is built around her hair, so she’s profiting off of a style that black people are criticized for wearing. Cornrows are banned in some schools. Black women worry about not looking professional enough in the workplace, so many opt to straighten their hair to avoid scrutiny. And the military has strict, racially biased rules about what hair styles are acceptable.
The problem isn’t Jenner’s hair, per se. It’s the fact that her image is rooted in black culture, but she’s never acknowledged those underlying influences. Months ago, Jenner’s filled lips sparked a social media debate about beauty double standards for white and black women. Girls across the country joined in on the Kylie Jenner Lip Challenge to make their lips more plump — leading black women to post photos of their natural features, which have been ridiculed in the past. Jenner is knowingly or unknowingly profiting off of beauty standards that black women and black men are degraded for.
Adding insult to injury, the hashtag #whitewomendoitbetter has been trending on Twitter since Friday.
But it’s not just Jenner. All of a sudden, white women with big butts are the new, coveted norm, overlooking women of color who’ve been harassed and belittled for their curves. Just look at Jenner’s sisters — the Kardashians. Kim’s butt has been a source of desire and envy for years, but Serena Williams can’t even play a tennis match without the world picking apart her body.
This isn’t to say that white women — and men — can’t experiment with different (hair)styles. The point is that they need to be more conscious of what those styles mean to the people who birthed them, and be verbal about longstanding social inequalities and institutional racism.
Kylie Jenner, do better.