HuffPo: Cultural Appropriation Isn't Okay, Neither is Attacking Kids

16 year old Amanda Stenberg Andy Cohen is messy. We know this. Time magazine called "playing with fire every night" the "appeal of Cohen's brand." It's why so many tune into the highly-rated shows he hosts for the Bravo network.

That said, he got too messy labeling 16-year-old Hunger Games star Amandla Stenberg "Jackhole of the Day" on Sunday night's episode of Watch What Happens Live. What's worse, Laverne Cox and Andre Leon Talley, two Black folk, sat there and let that slide.

I wish Cox had been as outspoken and articulate and passionate in the moment about protecting a 16-year-old Black girl as she has been about transgender issues. I wish Talley, who has never been known to parse his words, had let them flourish in defense of Stenberg.

A little backstory of how a teenager wound up being called a "jackhole" on TV: Reality TV star Kylie Jenner posted an Instagram picture with her hair cornrows, a hairstyle that originated with Black people, and directed her nearly 30 million Instagram followers to click on a link to her wig line. Stenberg, who shares mutual friends with Jenner (such as Jaden Smith) slid into Jenner's comments to chastise her. "When [you] appropriate black features and culture but fail to use [your] position of power to help black Americans by directing attention towards [your] wigs instead of police brutality or racism #whitegirlsdoitbetter," Stenberg wrote, sarcastically using a popular hashtag.

Stenberg's thoughts on cultural appropriation reflect the angst of many Black women who feel frustrated and rejected when pop culture criticizes Black women for their style, facial features, body parts, dance moves, etc., but celebrates the same traits when white women adopt them, sometimes even pretending white women created them. For example: see Lucky magazine during 2014 New York Fashion Week celebrating the "instant edge" of a white model's "slicked down tendrils", a style that's been known forever-ever in Black households and salons as "baby hair". Or we can look at the LA Times doing a full trend report on "head turning" cornrows without mentioning any Black people, and crediting actress Bo Derek as popularizing the hairstyle, but not the original creators and most common wearers of cornrows: Black girls and women. And then there was the time Vogue proclaimed in 2014, "We're Officially in the Era of the Big Booty!", crediting non-Black women such as Jennifer Lopez, Kim Kardashian, and Miley Cyrus for ushering in a "trend" that has been celebrated across the African Diaspora since the beginning of time. This is the kind of cultural appropriation Stenberg was referring to when she chastised her fellow teenage frenemy.

Jenner later responded to Stenberg, " Mad if I don't, Mad if I do.... Go hang [with] Jaden or something."


Cultural appropriation is a larger discussion that absolutely should be discussed on wide platforms, and I'm very proud of Stenberg for using hers to speak out. But that topic wasn't what Cohen wanted to discuss on Sunday. He preferred to weigh-in on a conflict between two teenage girls, choosing sides against 16 year old Stenberg because, as he later admitted, he didn't grasp what she was talking about, and then didn't do any research before insulting her on television.

Frankly, I'm surprised that comment was even allowed to air. Despite the name, Watch What Happens Live is not always taped live. (I appeared on the show in 2014. My appearance was taped days before the show aired.) Maybe it was live on Sunday? I also wonder if there were any Black folk on production of the show or in the editing room, well, editing it. I'd like to think someone Black (or of another color) would have foreseen the fallout to Cohen's offensive and unnecessary statement, and cut it from the script or broadcast if for no other reason than Stenberg is a kid. An outspoken kid, a very smart kid, but still a kid. She doesn't deserve to be insulted by an adult on national TV. And she does deserve to be defended now that it's happened.

I recently saw Laverne Cox's long essay on her Tumblr page, explaining why she didn't defend Stenberg during the show. "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," she explained. "I said as much to Andre Leon Talley after the cameras stopped rolling."

I hear Cox on it taking more than 10 seconds to properly delve in on a weighty topic, but I also know you don't always need a dissertation to get your point across. It takes a breath or two to say, "whoa, that's a child you're talking about." It's about the same to say, "you know you just [screwed] up, right?" Sometimes the best moment to address an issue is in the actual moment. You don't always have to fully explain it, just make it clear you don't agree with what's being said.

Cox's explanation reminds of a YouTube clip I once saw of when Harry Connick, Jr. was a guest judge on an Australian competition show called, "Hey, Hey It's Saturday!" The host brought out an act called the Jackson Jive, who performed in blackface and Connick rightfully killed the upbeat vibe, rating the act as a zero. He pointed out to the host, "Man, if they turned up looking like that in the United States, it'd be Hey, Hey There's No More Show."

That wasn't even his battle to fight, really. But his point, his coming to the defense of Black people, was done concisely and effectively. After the commercial break, the host apologized. I've been a Connick fan ever since.


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OITNB Episode 2 Recap: Taystee Girl

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Most OITNB viewers endure Piper to get to the characters they really want to see, and that’s actually by design. Show runner Jenji Kohan gave an interview to the Huffington Post in  December that detailed why viewers are subjected to Piper: "If you go to a network and say, “I wanna do prison stories about black women and Latino women and old women,” you’re not gonna make a sale.  But, if you’ve got this blonde girl going to prison, you can get in there, and then you can tell all the stories.  I just thought it was a terrific gateway drug into all the things I wanted to get into."

So we’ll endure her to get to everyone else in Litchfield, especially “Tasha  Jefferson” aka “Taystee”, who emerged as one of the break out stars of OITNB, (in addition to “Sophia Burset” aka Laverne Cox, who was so popular she landed the cover of Time Magazine.)

Episode 2 begins with a backstory viewers have been waiting for. In Season One, we learned Tastyee didn’t have any family she could rely on when she was released from prison and wound up sleeping on the floor in an over-crowded apartment. But now we get the details. She grew up in a group “home”, desperate for a conventional “forever family” that never came despite being a smart girl with a big personality and a serious case of the cutes.

She’s around 10, when she encounters “Vee”, a neighborhood dealer who immediately makes me leery. It’s one thing to sell drugs, it’s another thing to seduce kids with crappy home lives into working corners for you by presenting yourself as a mother-figure, especially when the consequence of coming up short on the count is sleeping outside. Taystee, still just a pre-teen, has lived enough life already to suss out Vee as “a connect”, and despite her desire for a family, Tasha isn’t desperate enough— yet— to take Vee up on her offer to “learn the trade”.

Years later, Taystee is out of viable options. There are problems in her group home and Vee, who has always paid attention to her, is her last resort. She wowed her with her science skills when she was 10-ish, and years later it’s her quick math skills that win Vee over, and set Taystee on the road to prison.

The upside here is that Taystee gets the family she always wanted. In exchange for participating in Vee’s heroin operation, she gets a Mom (types of motherhood are a theme throughout the episode) who bakes bread from scratch, listens to—and humors— her crazy ideas and an older brother, RJ who lovingly teases her. When the family prepares for dinner in the kitchen table, it almost feels Cosby-esque— minus the heroin baggies they have to clear first.

Back at Litchfield— finally— it’s “Career Day” and we get an update on what the people we really care about are up to.

Taystee is the only one taking “Career Day” seriously. She picks the outfit that won the year before and she actually studies for the interview with a Phillip Morris recruiter. Her interview skills are impressive, perhaps better than most of the people on the outside with a legit job. Like most—but not all— of the women at Litchfield, she’s smart. With the right chances, a support system and a little luck—like say the cushy life Piper was born into and takes for granted— many of them could have gone far in life. (But, as Vee once told her, “you’re from the hood. You don’t get a career. You get a job. And this one [selling heroine] is the best one around.”) Still, Taystee is a stand out among the ladies of Litchfield. And best friend Poussey couldn’t be prouder.

Poor pregnant Daya hasn’t pooped in five days and swears she’s “dying”. Gloira and Daya’s Mom, Aleida—moreso Aleida than Gloria— battle it out to see who can make Daya poop faster. When she finally poops, Daya declares it a tie. They’re both winners.

Red’s not adjusting well to her loss of power in the prison. She’s let herself go – her hair isn’t fire red anymore or standing up— since she was ousted from both the kitchen and her position as the matriarch of her prison family. To make matters worse, her real family hasn’t added money to her commissary, so she’s forced to return to the cafeteria and face the Latinas who have taken over the kitchen— or starve.  Since she’s been kicked out of her group, the Grey Mafia offers her a spot in theirs. She declines. “My life is sad and small and a burden to those I love,” she tells her son on visiting day. Because old ladies don’t take no for an answer even from other old ladies, they ignore her rejection and push up anyway.

Little Boo (the dog) is no more after an incident between the dog and Big Boo got “weird.” The implication is that Big boo had the dog perform oral sex on her. Desperate times call for desperate measures… I guess. O_o

Morello is still holding on to the idea of marrying her fiance’, Christopher, when she gets out of prison. “Fig” aka the lady who runs the prison brought in some sort of resume specialist to help the women clean up their resumes and when he asks her what she wants to do for work when she gets out, she responds, “I just want to get married to Christopher and have his babies and make the house look nice.” Um, okay.

Pennsatucky isn’t dead, as we learned in OITNB’s season opener, but it’s here we get a glimpse of the damage Piper’s done. It’s been over a month since their big fight and Pennsatucky’s face has healed, but… When asked about the fight, Pennsatucky downplays how brutally Piper beat on her: “I suppose she got a few licks in”, she offers, but her teeth tell another story. If thought they were bad before….

New teeth or nah?

Healy’s still trying to make headway with his wife when Pennsatucky shows up and reminds him that she remembers everything about her fight with Piper, specifically that Healy saw it revving up and did nothing. She might be a “hillbilly meth addict” (and completely delusional), but she isn’t stupid. She also reminds Healy that she is still the poster child for the Right to Life movement and her version of the story holds more weight than he thinks it does. Healy buys her silence by agreeing to fix her teeth.

Natalie Figueroa aka Fig’ is the executive assistant to the Warden and her husband is running for office. Hubs heightened popularity has brought more scrutiny to the prison that his wife runs. There are funds missing  (because she embezzled them) and an overbearing reporter is determined to get the story. Fig shows off her rehabilitation activities at the prison (aka “Career Day”), then flirts her way out of the questions reporter’s questions before brushing him off.

Outside of the Litchfield, we learn Piper’s best friend Polly had the baby, and her husband Pete promptly bailed to go find himself on a “vision quest in the Tundra.” Polly, is a stressed new mom who gives zero f****s, evident when she greets Larry, who’s pitching in to help, at the door with a boob hanging out.  For what it’s worth, she offers Larry her sympathies about his break up with Piper, but she’s loyal to her bestie: “She’s my friend and I will always take her side over yours,” she tells him. “And I will always be friends with her, and who knows how long I will know you.”

Piper’s ex-fiance’ Larry and his father wind up at gay bathhouse—Dad found it on Groupon—to discuss Piper. Larry isn’t ready to move on yet, which his father (and the entire viewing audience) doesn’t get. That said, I do understand why no one would be interested in him. He’s an ass, just like Piper. They’re actually pretty well-suited for each other. His one redeeming quality thus far is his paternal skills.

Other thoughts:

*Gloria has been locked up long enough that she doesn’t know what “Molly” is. Luschek, the CO who fixes the electricity, explains, “it’s the pure powder form of MDMA. It’s supposed to be a clean ecstasy, but it made me grind my teeth.” Here’s a CO admitting to taking illegal drugs. “How come you ain’t in jail?” Gloria asks Luschek. Technically, he is, which he points out. What she meant is how come he breaks the law, but isn’t punished for it like all the women in Litchfield. Gloria asked a great question.

*The only real lick we saw Pennsatucky get on Piper was when she cut Piper’s hand with the shank. But when an inmate sees Pennsatucky she says, “I heard you beat the holy mess out of each other.” Um, was there a part of the fight we missed? Or is the prison grapevine like a game of telephone where the story gets distorted the more it’s told?

*Taystee is none too happy when Vee shows up in the prison doorway after Taystee wins the interview competition, one that garners her $10 to her commissary, not the job offer she was expecting when she’s released.  The last we saw of Vee and Taystee, Vee was promising to protect her forever. Seems Taystee hasn’t forgotten she had nowhere stable to turn when she was released.


What did you think of Episode 2?