Amandla Stenberg on Being a ‘Revolutionary’: ‘It’s Worth It’
“I have a friend who has this thing called ‘shine theory,’ which basically says that when you become friends with other powerful, like-minded people, you all just shine brighter.”
For its February issue, Teen Vogue features 17-year old actress and activist Amandla Stenberg. Last year her articulately scripted YouTube video, “Don’t Cash Crop My Conrows,” went viral as the young intellectual made a point regarding those who use Black culture as a means to gain attention.
Interviewed by musician Solange Knowles, the two women relish in their self-awareness without making themselves smaller for mainstream society.
In Knowles’s article opening, she explains she didn’t prepare for her interview with Stenberg because she could already connect to the underlying sisterhood between two uncompromising Black women.
She writes, “So here we are, connecting as two nonconforming black girls. Connecting as two trailblazers who recognize the borders that have been built around us as we steadily tear them down, dancing through life while coloring outside every line. Connecting as two lovers of music, art, and the color orange. Connecting as two chicks who are over talking about our hair — although we know it’s badass! Connecting as two descendants of powerful queens who made the journey before us and whom we hold in the highest regard.”
The connection is undeniable as the young women discuss their position on accepting their Blackness in today’s world, “I think that as a black girl you grow up internalizing all these messages that say you shouldn’t accept your hair or your skin tone or your natural features, or that you shouldn’t have a voice, or that you aren’t smart,” Stenberg said. “I feel like the only way to fight that is to just be yourself on the most genuine level and to connect with other black girls who are awakening and realizing that they’ve been trying to conform.”
Here are a few highlights from the interview where Knowles and Stenberg sprinkle “black girl magic in every crevice of the universe.”
On the value of speaking her mind:
Solange: I know that you made it for a class assignment, but in terms of sharing it with the world was there ever a moment of fear before hitting the “publish” button?
Amandla: I really didn’t think it was going to be so controversial. And then to have the label of “revolutionary” pinned on you afterward felt really daunting. I kind of had a moment with myself, like, “OK. Is this what you want to do? Do you actually want to talk about issues? Is it worth it?” There are still moments now where I’m like, “Whoa, this is a lot of pressure.” But it’s worth it because when people come to me and say, “I’m more comfortable in my identity because of you,” or “I feel like you’ve given me a voice,” that’s the most powerful thing ever.
On natural hair empowerment:
“I know when I used to chemically straighten mine, I did it because I wasn’t comfortable with my natural hair. I thought it was too poofy, too kinky. So for me, personally, when I started wearing it natural, it felt like I was blossoming because I was letting go of all the dead hair and all the parts of me that had rejected my natural state. But, you know, it’s not like that for all black girls. Some have their hair straight because that’s just how they like it, and it doesn’t mean that they accept themselves any less.”
On her comic book Niobe: She is Life
“Growing up, I was always super into fantasy and The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones and all of that, but I could never find black characters whom I really liked. And so immediately I identified with Niobe, the lead character. She’s this rad black girl elf. It’s interesting because it is fantasy, but it’s also really kind of self-reflective. She’s finding her faith and finding her identity. And she’s going to keep growing until she becomes this warrior destined to unite the human world and the elf world. I think it’s officially the first comic book to be written by a black girl, starring a black girl [Niobe Ayutami], and illustrated by a black girl [Ashley A. Woods].”
We shouldn’t dismiss this as an article only on hair and style. The back message for Black girls and women to internalize from Solange and Amandla’s interview is: The magic within comes from expressing who you are, naturally.