Andy Cohen and Laverne Cox have both seen the light when it comes to Sunday night’s episode of Watch What Happens Live!
“Today’s Jackhole goes to the Instagram feud between Kylie Jenner and Hunger Games star/Jaden Smith’s prom date, Amandla Stenberg, who criticized Kylie for her cornrows, calling it cultural appropriation,” Cohen had said before asking guests Cox and Andre Leon Talley: “White girls in cornrows—is it OK or nay?”
Both Talley and Cox agreed with Cohen that it was perfectly fine for white women to wear cornrows. Cox even used Bo Derek as an example. But that wasn’t even the point Amandla was making. No one ever said white women couldn’t wear them; what the teen pointed out was the appropriation of culture.
Shortly after the episode aired, #boycottbravo became a trending topic. Many felt that Cohen crossed the line when it came to labeling Amandla’s views “jackhole,” and others felt that Cox, of all people, should have defended the teen.
On Tuesday, Cohen issued an apology to Amandla, claiming ignorance.
“I want to apologize to Amandla,” he wrote. “I didn't understand the larger context of this cultural discussion and TRULY meant no disrespect to her or anyone else.”
And that’s the point. If you don’t understand the larger context of the cultural discussion, then ask what the larger context is before making a fool of yourself. Pretty simple concept.
Then there’s Cox. A transgender black woman who allowed a young black teen to be thrown under the bus by Cohen. Cox’s excuse, at first, was, “Well, I didn’t know who she was.” But does that even matter?
Why do you have to be familiar with someone in order to defend them? Or allow his or her attacker to go unchecked?
When in answer to Andy Cohen’s question on “Watch What Happens Live” on July 12, “White girls and cornrows, yay or nay?” I said what I said in an attempt to not get involved in what I understood at the time to be an Instagram feud between someone with whom I was not familiar and Kylie Jenner on the topic of cultural appropriation. I have never been interested in getting involved in any celebrity feuds.
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.
Cox ended her piece by posing her own question: “How do we lovingly make people aware of [cultural] history and the potential [effects] of cultural appropriation that further marginalize and stigmatize those already the most adversely affected by systems that disadvantage certain experiences, bodies and identities over others?”
Which isn’t a bad question at all. It’s too bad it had to come at the expense of Amandla, who was humiliated on television.