Let This Badass “Hunger Games” Actress School You On Cultural Appropriation

Her thoughtful video explanation went viral.

I don’t know about you but when I was a teenager, I mostly spent my time racking up neopoints on Neopets and writing Harry Potter fan fiction and angsty poetry for my Xanga site! Not making videos educating people about the important social issues of our time! I guess teens these days are just not like how they used to be. Take real-life teen Amandla Stenberg (who is also an impressive actress mostly known for playing Rue on the Hunger Games—she was subject to racist criticism when she took the role), for an example, whose video about cultural appropriation went “viral”, as the kids say, yesterday and continues to gain major traction today.

In the video, called “Don’t Cash Crop My Corn Rows”, Stenberg concisely outlines the historical significance of black hairstyles, specifically in the context of the music industry, and their adoption by white music artists like Taylor Swift and Miley Crysi. And she does this with more eloquence than I can ever hope to achieve. In one praiseworthy moment, Stenberg notes how artists like Iggy Azalea and Katy Perry were appropriating black hairstyles, fashion and language to further their own careers while black people were protesting fiercely against police violence in Ferguson. “What would America be like if it loved black people as much as it loves black culture?” Stenberg asks.

What makes cultural appropriation especially offensive is when it’s invoking racist stereotypes—for example, Katy Perry eating watermelon while wearing her hair in cornrows—or when a culturally-specific style is deemed trendy only when privileged group adopts it. Earlier this week, South Asian women also sought to reclaim the symbols of their culture that have been borrowed by white people. Growing up, many of these women were mocked by classmates for their bindis and their nehindi. Of course, it hurts to see other women be praised for what they were once mocked for. These are the kind of histories people have to be familiar with in order to understand why cultural appropriation is hurtful. And Stenberg disburses this knowledge with handfuls of generosity and an equal amount of grace.

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