Another day, another incident of unapologetic cultural appropriation.
Recently, reality TV star Kylie Jenner posted a selfie to her Instagram where she was sporting cornrows and mean-mugging the camera. The photo quickly drew criticism from her 29.5 million followers, some of which came from Hunger Games actor Amandla Stenberg. In a comment on Jenner’s Instagram that has since been deleted, she wrote:
When [you] appropriate Black features and culture but fail to use [your] position of power to help Black Americans by directing attention towards [your] wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter.
Stenberg was voicing a common frustration among Black women who repeatedly see their style, speech, facial features, body parts and even dance moves celebrated only after they are embraced by white women. She is understandably fed up with Black culture being seen as a fun accessory.
Jenner was dismissive of Stenberg’s remark, blithely telling her to “Go hang with Jaden [Smith] or something,” and Stenberg faced a swift backlash for speaking out.
Even Justin Bieber had to throw himself into the fray, commenting that Jenner is just a kid trying to figure it out and that Stenberg’s accusation was “ridiculous.”
And in case you thought this circus was just confined to teens on Instagram, Andy Cohen, a grown man, referred to the feud as the “jackhole of the day” on his Bravo talk show. He later apologized, but the fact that he even found it appropriate to use his platform on national television to attack 16-year-old Stenberg shows how Black girls are never seen as children. Stenberg is branded a vicious bully by tweens and adults alike, while Jenner is so fragile, so young—despite the fact that at 17, she’s older than Stenberg.
America loves to defends those it perceives to be the most vulnerable—i.e. young white girls—at the expense of and detriment to young girls of color. This propensity to see Black girls as adults not deserving of protection or empathy is the same mindset that allowed Dajerria Becton to not be seen for what she was, a child, when she was assaulted by a male police officer twice her size.
Though some may say this is just a pointless Instagram beef between children, this mentality of putting white womanhood on a pedestal has violent, real-world ramifications. Dylann Roof used the protection of white womanhood as justification for murdering six Black women and three Black men in a Charleston church last month.
Stenberg, who in the past few months has become Black feminism’s sweetheart with her insightful social media posts and videos, tweeted a fitting response to the media coverage:
Photos taken from the Instagrams of Stenberg and Jenner