July 31, 2015
I enjoy pop culture. For me, it’s mind candy. Half the time, I’m reading and writing about topics I find profound. It’s important to me that I am balanced and able to go from the ethereal to the mundane with ease. For that reason, sometimes I find myself watching E! and Bravo. Yet, I find I can only watch so much because I quickly get fed up with analysis of celebrity feuds, scandals, and other goings-on that are really meaningless in the grand scheme of things. For example, the other day I watched E! news discussing what Kourtney Kardashian’s next move will be after her break-up with Scott Disick. Disregard the fact, that I am this acquainted with these people and what’s going on with their lives, but do I really need the day to day analysis of what their next move is going to be? It doesn’t affect my life, public policy, or the world at large. I had to change the channel.
However, I do understand that some people really enjoy celebrity fare. That’s fine. That being said, when it goes so far as to distract the public from what’s really an issue and really matters, that’s a problem. There are hundreds of examples of nonsensical media tidbits that get way too much attention then what they deserve and are distractions to a public that’s already easily distracted anyway. The one that’s really got me in a whirl is this whole Kylie Jenner/Amandla Stenberg Instagram tiff and the whole misdirected discussion that ensued because of it.
Okay, she’s a white girl who decided to put cornrows in her hair. White girls go to the Caribbean every day and get braids. Who cares? Kylie Jenner is also a teenager who experiments with different looks for her hair all the time. Remember her blue hair for her sister’s wedding? Is she appropriating Jetson space age culture? Should she expect a lawsuit from Hanna-Barbera? Some random commentator wrote #whitegirlsdoitbetter on her picture. That was culturally insensitive and divisive, but Kylie Jenner didn’t say that and just her act of cornrows doesn’t make her those two things.
Let’s talk about real cultural appropriation. Back in the 90’s, you had so many white rappers come out rapping about guns and bling and whatever else that they thought was “gangsta” or “hood.” Meanwhile, they went to prep school and had trust funds. Taking someone’s sometimes harsh reality and pretty much stealing it and pretending it’s yours to make money is disgusting.
Or in the 50’s and 60’s, white artists took songs from black artists and turned them into hits while the black artists who created this music languished in the background. Then, they didn’t even make a quarter of what the white artists made. Further back, black artists couldn’t be patrons at nightclubs where they would be the performers. To this day, white artists make millions with songs that were done by black artists first. That, to me is more important than Kylie Jenner wearing cornrows.
Now, I understand Amandla Stenberg’s righteous indignation over a traditionally black element of culture showing up in mainstream culture and being labelled innovative and fashion forward. The #whitegirlsdoitbetter comment summarizes how when black girls do something it’s marginalized. Then when white girls do the same thing, it’s high fashion. Fashion magazines are lauding the pants under the dress trend like it’s new when South Asian women have been doing it for centuries. Now, Indian fashion and textiles have somehow become Boho. Yes, it’s ethnic and marginalized when people within a culture do something, but it’s a movement when it’s moves to white mainstream culture.
However, I don’t agree with telling Kylie Jenner she’s appropriating black culture, and she should use her platform to expose real issues in the community. Firstly, she probably just thought it was a unique way of drawing attention to her wigline. She’s a 17 year old kid who didn’t think something through. Secondly, aren’t there more prominent figures who don’t talk about police brutality and other blatant reminders that racism still exists?
The other domino in this media hyped scenario I don’t agree with is calling Amandla Stenberg a “jackhole” for speaking her mind. I applaud her for standing up for something even if I didn’t agree with everything she said. I respect the perspective from which her comments came. Andy Cohen, like Kylie Jenner didn’t think things through either. He should have kept his mouth shut because he didn’t understand the cultural context. But let’s leave him alone, too because he was head of development of a network that showcases people from walks of life that may not have been seen otherwise. (Muslims and gays, not the Housewives). At the end of the day though, he is a small symptom of the overall lack of awareness of people who don’t face these issues every day.
The media’s focus on this high school tiff between high school age kids takes attention away from real issues. Real issues of racism and oppression, here and all over the world. In many instances, the mainstream media minimizes these issues.
How is it that the burning of one CVS gets media attention in Baltimore after yet another instance of police brutality, but 9 black churches burning in the South is barely mentioned? Or our President has suffered taunts and insults like no other has? How does he get called a liar by a South Carolina Congressman when he didn’t lie, but Bush who actually did lie goes unscathed? Obama should have been given the same respect as president that Bush got, but that just didn’t happen. A brutal occupation is still going on in Gaza that the world continuously shuts its eyes to. Modern day slavery still happens all over the world. Let’s weigh in on those issues and the countless others that really affect our humanity. A social media tiff between two children does not qualify.
What this social media tiff does qualify as is a shell in the cultural shell game that the media plays to divert attention from real issues. The real issue is that ours is a flawed system designed to benefit only a few. It is a system that can only change when people are united and focused. We, as a society are quibbling over the crumbs on the floor and we’re missing the moldy loaf of bread on the table.
Instead of talking about boycotting Bravo, why don’t we boycott companies that take jobs overseas so that they can underpay and exploit non-unionized workers and children? Why do we continue to elect people who disrespect our President and uphold racist and discriminatory policy? Put pressure on our elected officials to support legislation that actually benefits citizens. Instead of preoccupying ourselves with celebrities and what they’re doing or not doing, how about focusing our attention on being proactive for real change?
Stop the shell game, people. Open your eyes.
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil…
Sameena K. Mughal, Author, Freelance Writer