Bravo chief Andy Cohen is under fire for seemingly calling 16-year-old actress Amandla Stenberg “jackhole of the day” on Sunday night’s episode of Watch What Happens Live.
In an episode that featured actress Laverne Cox and Vogue editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley as guests, Cohen wondered whether the Hunger Games star was right for accusing Kylie Jenner of cultural appropriation for sporting cornrows in an Instagram photo (more on that here).
He said: “Today’s Jackhole goes to the Instagram feud between Kylie Jenner and Hunger Games star/Jaden Smith’s prom date Amandla Stenberg, who criticized Kylie for her cornrows, calling it cultural appropriation. White girls in cornrows … is it OK or nay, Laverne and Andre?”
“To me, it’s fine,” said Talley. “Um…Bo Derek,” concurred Cox.
But the entire segment wasn’t fine with Twitter users, who immediately started the #BoycottBravo hashtag.
— Rosella Chibambo (@Chibambo) July 14, 2015
Andy attacking Amandla is a prime example of how black children are viewed as a adults way before they’re viewed as children #boycottbravo
— Muy Bonita 😉 (@awesomebeauty91) July 14, 2015
— Erica Esq. (@EricaEsq) July 14, 2015
Cohen has since explained his position. “To clarify, I gave the jackhole to an online feud & certainly not to the topic or to any individual.” he tweeted today. “I ironically hate online feuds.”
But the damage has already been done; in Cohen reducing an important conversation about cultural appropriation to a Twitter feud; in Cox bringing up Bo Derek—whose cornrow hairstyle in the late 70s/80s was a stark reminder of the ways white culture continually takes from Black culture and sells it back to us as “new,” and in no one stopping a 47-year-old man from calling two teenaged girls “jackholes.” What gives?
Cox has since written a blog post dissecting the controversy and her part in it, noting that she “felt that the topic of cultural appropriation needs way more than the 10 seconds or less I had to respond at the end of the show to fully unpack” and that she “understood when I said, “Bo Derek” that her rocking of cornrows with beads in the 1979 film “10” and that look on her subsequently becoming a cultural phenomenon when the black folks who had been rocking cornrows for decades before her had not similarly become a sensation is an example of the ways in which what bell hooks calls imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchal systems privilege certain bodies’ performances of cultural traditions over others. This is when cultural appropriation can tend to erase the marginalized people from whom the culture emerges.”
Conversations around cultural appropriation cannot be reduced to “White girls in cornrows … is it OK or nay” because it is never that simple. And Cohen appears to get that now:
I want to apologize to Amandla. I didn’t understand the larger context of this cultural discussion and TRULY (cont) http://t.co/zRSOm2rxtN
— Andy Cohen (@Andy) July 14, 2015
We live in a world where the Los Angeles Times, a major newspaper, can ascribe cornrows to Derek, Rita Ora and Kristen Stewart. A stylist quoted in the paper’s piece on cornrows gave us this priceless quote: “Cornrows are moving away from urban, hip-hop to more chic and edgy.” Because chic and edgy could not possibly co-exist with urban and hip-hop. And then there was the time when the Army released an updated appearance and grooming policy, known as AR 670-1 in 2014 that limited, or banned, cornrows, twists, braids and dreadlocks. The policy was eventually modified after public outcry.
Black women continually have to fight for the right to have agency over our hair. We should be applauding a 16-year-old Black girl for having the courage to speak truth to power when everything around her says fall in line. Like it or not, the Kardashian clan has a tremendous amount of influence over pop culture trends and Stenberg (whose first name so fittingly means “power” in Xhosa and Zulu languages) is not wrong in questioning why Jenner couldn’t use her love of Black culture for constructive purposes, like the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
If there’s anyone deserving of a “jackhole of the day,” it’s anyone trying to stop a young girl, no matter her race, from speaking her mind.
End the “angry black girl” narrative. It’s just another attempt to undermine certain perspectives. I have strong opinions. I am not angry.
— Amandla Stenberg (@amandlastenberg) July 13, 2015
We see and appreciate you little sis.