“Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows”: Are we Living in an Era of Cultural Appropriation?

Amandla Stenberg, known for her roles in Columbiana and Hunger Games, is stepping out and making a statement about cultural appropriation in 2015. In “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows” (an extremely clever and captivating name by the way), Sternberg takes the audience on a history of cultural appropriation of black culture.

Before discussing the video, I would like to define cultural appropriation and cultural exchange.

  • Cultural appropriation: the adoption of an oppressed people’s cultural elements by members of the dominant culture, or by members of any culture that has historically oppressed the peoples of the originating culture.
  • Cultural exchange: adopting influences from other cultures with mutual understanding, equality, and respect. Essentially, there has to be an understanding of original ownership and the importance of the custom to that particular community.

As you can see, cultural appropriation is a concept based on social structures and privilege in society.

The key facts Amandla Sternberg covers:

  1. Black women see black hairstyles as part of their identity because it originated with them. As a result of the incorporation of those hairstyles in their lives, it began an essential part of the Hip-hop and R&B industry.
  2. Due to the unbreakable tie between black culture and the Hip-hop community, black culture became popular in mainstream music and media along with hip-hop.
  3. But as black culture was pulled to the forefront of society, it became separated from black bodies and incorporated into other genres and claimed as something edgy and different.
  4. Stenberg draws a parallel from hip-hop to politics. She discusses that hip-hop has roots in jazz and blues. It was used as an outlet to express pro-black politics dealing with everyday realities from home life, education, poverty and violence. By exemplifying parallels in police brutality and use of black culture in music video, she acknowledges an acceptance of black culture while devaluing black people.
  5. Lastly, she posed a question, “What if America loved Black people as much as they loved Black culture?”

I have to applaud Amandla because she schooled everyone with grace. But she has opened my eyes to more examples of various ways cultural appropriation can occur in 2015. For example, Kylie Jenner has evolved her look in a few ways. She has gained a lot of attention for the obvious change in her lips. Her lips have noticeably gotten bigger. Her lips have gotten so big that a hashtag was created, #kyliejennerlipchallenge. To get lips similar to Jenner’s, girls have been using shot glasses and bottles to plump their lips by sucking the air out of the glass and the pressure is supposed to give the desired look. Despite the fact that the process can cause bruising and cuts, there has been backlash from women of color (WOC). These WOC in particular are stating their lips are not appreciated because it is associated with their blackness, but appreciated and popularized by Jenner due to her whiteness. I am not saying that bigger lips belong to people of color, but it is a common quality of people of color. People of color, specifically African-American people, have been criticized and teased for their ethnic features like their big lips. For many African-American women, they remember being bullied for their big lips and now it is celebrated on a white or white passing celebrity.

But I am stating, this is an instance where qualities are labelled ugly in society because of blackness and labelled beautiful on non-people of color. I believe this is an inaccurate form of cultural exchange. Ethnic features should not be considered beautiful, once it becomes a trend. Its interesting that there is an admiration of ethnic features while condemning ethnic features on people of color to be ugly and animalistic. Like Sternberg addresses in this project: If black bodies was as high as the value of black culture, where would America be? Where would African-Americans be in society?

It is essential for growth in American society to recognize the stratification of black qualities and culture over black bodies. To place importance of one’s culture over their existence will continue to be the downfall of society. Like Sternberg expresses, don’t cash crop my cornrows. Now, I am stating — keep your replicated admiration and give credit.

4 thoughts on ““Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows”: Are we Living in an Era of Cultural Appropriation?

  1. Yes, snaps to this post. I was having dinner with my friends yesterday talking about the kylie jenner lip thing, and I said to them, “Cultural appropriation orrrr…” Of course, they didn’t know what cultural appropriation was, but I just thought it was crazy how something that blatant was spread around the internet. Like, come on people. I just home that Amanda’s message will become more widespread, and people will learn to recognize cultural appropriation when it’s there.


    1. Exactly! It is tough to discuss because it is not talked about in public as often or people ignore it. I think Amandla’s video is good progression towards more discussion on oppression and even institutional structures in society.


  2. “What if America loved Black people as much as they loved Black culture?”

    What an important line to reflect upon. The reality is that America DOESN’T love black people, and that’s reflected in both police brutality towards black people and the media’s demonization of black victims. Not only is cultural appropriation an insult to black culture, it is downright dangerous for black people themselves. By “criticizing and teasing” black people about their ethnic features and praising white people for the same features, as you mentioned, we are further emphasizing the idea that what is “good” and “normal” is the white body. That concept reinforces the idea that black bodies (read: black LIVES) don’t matter.


    1. Exactly, you could not have said it better. People need to realize the connections of cultural appropriation to larger issues in society. I thought it was an interesting perspective that Amandla brought up in her video about the parallels of popularizing of black culture and police brutality.


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