Amandla Sternberg’s video Don’t Cash Crop On My Cornrow’s is an example of compelling digital rhetoric. It is informational, relevant, and has over a million views on youtube.
I think the primary and intended audience is the general, nonblack public, unsure as to how a mere hair “style” could cause such controversy. Her argument is organized in way that starts off small (referencing black hair) and ends with police brutality and the subsequent, yet telling, silence of appropriators. Thus, she builds her argument from micro to macro, from cultural specific to universal, kind of like a layer cake.
The piece is compelling due to her contrast of photographs and videos of black and nonblack celebrities. Of course, the substance of her argument shapes the contrasts of the visual elements. Because the video is comprised solely of a headshot of Amandla in front of a light orange background, speaking directly to her audience. Images break up this monotonous view. Although simple, it provides no distractions from what she is saying. Instead the audience is compelled to focus on her words. Amandla’s soft voice yet pedagogical tone engages her audience. Her youthful face mitigating tensions between the viewer and the contentiousness of her argument. She does not sound like she is talking down to her audience (okay maybe a little bit in the beginning), but offering an explanation for general curiosities or questions people have thought but not asked.
The orange background, reflected in the glow of her skin, creates a warm inviting space for viewers to listen rather than judge. Even though the film is of a lower quality, this may actually help her convince her audience, or at least educate them. She doesn’t resemble the institutionalized version of authority and knowledge. Rather we see that she is a human being who understands the experiences of others.
What’s interesting is that this video has been turned into a gif set with the standard white text/black border you see on memes. And those gifs are almost as effective as the video. Gifs are moving images and soundless videos. Their bold text elucidating whatever the subjects are saying. However gif sets are not effective for longer messages, rather they function like the large quotations within Atlantic arguments that summarize main points and provide limited context. The last part of her argument has been reproduced many times, and is perhaps her “thesis”.
What’s absolutely fascinating, is the backlash Amandla received from her tweets regarding cultural appropriation. I think when her face is on something, when people are confronted with a face rather than text, the empathy is greater and so people were less likely to call her angry. Of course, Twitter offers direct communication between users, while her video was a general explanation about cultural appropriation and hair (perhaps promoted by Kylie’s cornrows, but I am unsure), it did not have this direct element.
I do believe a video is the best option for this message. Amandla is able to be confrontational without being condescending. She can engage people, audibly and visually, but still hold onto the personal touch that a PowerPoint or text on a page does not.