Watch 16-Year-Old Amandla Stenberg Explain the Problem with Appropriating Black Culture in Under 5 Minutes

"Don't cash crop my cornrows."

Amandla Stenberg
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Amandla Stenberg might be best known as an actress (you probably recognize her as Rue in The Hunger Games), but someone needs to give this 16-year-old (yes, she is only 16!) a Ph.D. in cultural history. The actress and (clearly, quite adept) student dropped some serious knowledge in a video for her history class titled "Don't Cash Crop on My Cornrows: A crash discourse on black culture." The video was posted to YouTube by HypeHair, and promptly went viral.

Beginning with a discussion of black hair and the practical history behind styles like braids and cornrows—"it's a functional way of keeping black textured hair unknotted and neat and but, like, with style"—Stenerg describes the significance and history of these styles and what happens they're adopted by the mainstream without appreciation–and thus, appropriated. With the mainstreaming of black aesthetics, Stenberg explains, we saw artists like Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry and Taylor Swift use black culture and benefit from associations of "cool" but lack the context for the struggle that those styles often come from. It's not the borrowing that's inherently appropriating, Stenberg continues, but "…when a style leads to racist generalizations or stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed as high fashion or funny when the privileged take it for themselves."

Not to be outdone by her own brilliance, Stenberg takes it a step further and draws parallels between the continued use of black culture in the mainstream and the struggle against police brutality, which disproportionately affects black people. "White musicians that adopted blackness…failed to speak on the racism that comes along with black identity."

This all happens in less than five minutes. Whew.

Even as someone that writes about these issues pretty frequently, it's hard, damn hard to write these things well, which is why this video is so bomb. She leaves us with a pretty important question, "What would America be like if we loved black people as much as if we loved black culture?"

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