I caught wind of the social media “beef” between Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg and celebutante Kylie Jenner earlier this week. When the latter shot back “Go hang out with Jaden” in response to Stenberg’s criticism of her latest sampling from the deep well of Black girl steez, I thought to myself, “Ooh, I hope he replies.” And then I felt guilty for 1) even knowing that both girls had been linked to the Pinkett-Smith child socially and 2) wanting a teen battle of words to escalate. Nonetheless, I do know too much about all these crazy kids, I think Jaden is hilarious, and I’m still waiting for that clap back.
Alas, there has been some immediate lashing out against Stenberg for her comments under an Instagram picture of Jenner rocking cornrows, which was predicable. The remark (“when u appropriate black features and culture but fail to use ur position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards ur wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter”) nodded to a hashtag from a few days ago that was hijacked by Black Twitter and satirized White female privilege and notions of superiority over Black women and girls.
As the 16-year-old again captures the hearts of feminists across the Internet for wise-beyond-her-years thoughts on cultural appropriation and the Black female image (the first time was with this video just weeks ago), Jenner fans and others who could care less about Black girls have been extremely harsh in responding. The social media trolling is at predictable levels of mercilessness—which would technically make this the second time Stenberg was subject to racist abuse online. Scores of Hunger Games fans who were surprised to learn the “Rue” character was Black infamously took to Twitter to complain when the first film was released in 2012—but a few famous folks have also joined the fray, namely Justin Bieber and Bravo host Andy Cohen.
The singer chimed in via his own Instagram comment, defending Jenner’s youth because “were [sic] all trying to figure it out” and assuring anyone who may be concerned that his friend is no “racist.” Now, correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t recall Bieber, who’s career was shaped and inspired largely by Black men, ever using his voice for any “bigger picture” issues—not a #BlackLivesMatter tweet, an “I Can’t Breathe” shirt, nothing. But he’s got the cape ready for Miss Kylie because, of course.
If you want to really feel annoyed, Google “Stenberg attacks Jenner,” because that’s the word a lot of these gossip rags felt the need to use: “attack.” Thoughtful critique from a 16-year-old to a 17-year-old is not an attack. A grown man calling Stenberg a “jackhole,” however, is another story. On Watch What Happens Live, Cohen gave his “Jackhole of the Day” dis to the teen for her criticism of Jenner last night. More disappointing? His guests for the evening, André Leon Talley and Laverne Cox both chose to answer his question “White girls in cornrows, is it ‘okay’ or ‘nay’ ” without taking the host to task for speaking of a little Black girl in such a way.
If Jenner is in need of protection, I’d say it’s from a 25-year-old paramour who doesn’t seem to recognize the 17-year-old as a little girl, not from a non-bullying comment on an Instagram picture. Has Cohen called her alleged boyfriend Tyga a “jackhole?” What about the writers and editors who treat the two as if they were any celebrity couple, showing scores of teen girls that dating a full-grown man is totally cool? How could any reasonable person think of Amandla Stenberg’s words as threatening, yet ignore the implications of this alleged relationship?
Earlier this year, an image of another White teen girl wearing braids made its way across the ’net. I expressed my own discomfort with it in what I thought was a nuanced and respectful way (not addressing her directing, stating clearly that there is never a reason to bully or harass a child online) but was subject to a lot of trolling over it. Ironically, most of the folks who complained about my remarks claimed they were doing so because I am an adult and she is a teenager.
The response to Stenberg from adults proves that to be completely false; no matter who is older or more popular or powerful, there is a pervasive notion that White women and girls are consistently in need of protection from Black ones, that our critiques are “attacks”—even when we’re defending ourselves from what feels like a persistent pillaging of our culture from people who value our bodies, lips and fashion sense (and often our men) but could do without the actual Black female human beings who come with.
Jenner, like her sisters before her, triggers some very uncomfortable feelings for many Black women. Yet when we speak about it, we’re accused of attacking or envying White womanhood. You want to lose a lot of hope as it relates to Black male/female relations? Look at how certain brothers get on Twitter when the conversation turns to the Kardashians. The sentiment is often, “Finally, we get the lips, hips and butts without having to deal with the Black women they’re usually attached to!” It’s not enough to say “These are pretty girls and we like them.” The pallet pushers gotta be all, “White girls are winning! White girls got booty now, we don’t need y’all.” But when a Black girl is brutalized by a cop in McKinney, Texas? Or killed by one in Cleveland or Chicago? The women and girls who watch us for style inspiration are almost always silent.
Amandla Stenberg brings me joy and I will raise my voice for her anytime she needs it, because Black girls need protection and rarely get any. She wasn’t nasty or dishonest with her words, but the response from Team Kylie was unwarranted, rude and racist, period. Meanwhile, I still want Jaden to pull out that Batman cape and defend his homegirl. But even if he doesn’t, I think she’ll be just fine, because she’s already cloaked in true Black girl magic—and no one can ever copy that.