Andy Cohen is messy. We know this. Recently, on Watch What Happens Live, Cohen called Amandla Stenberg a ‘jackhole’ for a comment she left on Kylie Jenner’s Instagram about appropriating cornrows, but not speaking up about serious issues that affect the Black community. Laverne Cox and Andre Leon Talley, who were guests, sat idly by as this happened and then the discussion about whether it was cool for White women to wear cornrows or not opened up. Talley said it was okay, and Cox offered up Bo Derek as an example for why it’s supposed to be cool.
I don’t think anyone expected much from Talley, but we did expect more from Miss Laverne Cox. The problem isn’t with White women wearing cornrows, it’s generally about how Black people, especially women, are made to feel bad about their style and culture, yet when White people turn around and adopt certain aspects of said culture, it’s cute or in fashion (see the “mini bun” and “baby hair” for example). That was part of the point Stenberg was trying to make and everyone on WWHL that day failed to comprehend, or to at least get her message across.
Cox, in hindsight, got taken to task for not speaking up. However, she had time to think about what happened and penned an essay about what was going through her mind in that moment. Cox started with explaining that her initial answer was an attempt to not get involved with the Instagram feud between Stenberg, with whom she wasn’t familiar, and Jenner, but she then elaborated on the effects of cultural appropriation on society
Here’s a snippet:
In that moment, I also 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. I said as much to Andre Leon Tally after the cameras stopped rolling. So on camera with seconds left in a live broadcast I said, “Bo Derek” the first iconic example of a white woman wearing cornrows I could think of. To be clear I 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.
Many are taking me to task for not defending Amandla Stenberg who I now know is a 16 year old black actress known for her work in the “Hunger Games” who has spoken out quite eloquently on the topic of cultural appropriation. In researching Amandla’s work and words, I was very impressed with a video I saw from her on cultural appropriation where she chronicled a recent history of cultural appropriation and black hair specifically.
I was most moved by the question she poses at the end of her video, a question I, too, have asked from lecture stages. “What would America be like if we loved black people as much as we love black culture?”
It was big of Cox to reflect on why people may have been upset with her, and to address it without getting defensive.
Read Cox’s full essay here.
In related news, Andy Cohen has apologized to Stenberg for his comment.
You mean to tell me that this man who makes money largely off the backs of Black women on reality TV didn’t understand the larger context of this cultural discussion? Tuh! Now isn’t that irony (insert sarcasm).