“Hunger Games” Star Amandla Stenberg Takes Back Black Hair

“These students would undoubtedly graduate and re-enter the lifestyle they had temporarily left behind, while my friends and I will continue to have black hairstyles out of both love and necessity.”

About a year ago I made my first foray into Los Angeles as a featured writer for the Mixed Remixed Festival. My fellow writers and I were on a panel of five, and when the first speaker proudly pointed out Amandla Stenberg in the sparse audience, I became a giddy school girl even though I’m old enough to be Amandla’s mother. After the panel, members of the audience came up to me star struck by reading; however, I was star struck by Amandla, and when I finally got the chance, I rushed over to meet her. Our exchange went something like this:

Me: Hi, it’s so great to meet you.

Amandla (poised and professional): Thank you.

Me: It’s funny, I saw “The Hunger Games” just a few months ago and my boyfriend said I looked just like you… well, I don’t know if that’s true or not… but… it’s really great to meet you.

Amandla: Thank you.

Me: So, you’re biracial?

Amandla: Yeah, my dad is from Denmark.

Me: Oh yeah, I remember reading that in Wikipedia.
(We both laugh.)

Me: So, do you have anything new in the works?

Amandla: I’m currently working on a project with “blah blah.”

Me: Oh, that’s great! Well, actually, I don’t know who “blah blah” is.
(We laugh again.)

Amandla: He was the “blah blah” for “blah blah,” “blah blah,” and “The Office.”

Me: Oh, I love The Office!

Me: Would you mind taking a picture with me?
(Said picture is now squarely on my fridge in my Los Angeles studio.)

Amandla Stenberg recently posted a video to her Tumblr entitled, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows,” and the collaborative school project subsequently went viral and was picked up by such sites as MSNBC, USA Today, and The Huffington Post. In her 4 minute, 30 second video, she rationally and eloquently delivers a well-researched speech about the recent cultural appropriation of black hairstyles, dance moves, and grills by white entertainers such as Katy Perry and Iggy Azalea. While her video is cutely naïve (long before celebrities cash cropped cornrows, they did the same with dreadlocks and Zoot suits, just to name two), the overall message she delivers is right on point.

These girls spend time and money to appropriate dreadlocks, while I put my hair in twists each night to avoid them.

One of Amandla’s most solid arguments is that “cornrows are a really functional way of keeping black, textured hair unknotted and neat.” Meaning, what black women do out of necessity, white men and women then appropriate for pleasure. There are two instances in my own history when I was most aware of this particular appropriation.

Shannon Luders-Manuel

Shannon Luders-Manuel

Shannon Luders-Manuel is a freelance writer and editor living in Los Angeles.

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