Amandla Stenberg and Janelle Monáe Discuss Racism In America
Their friendship and dedication to elevating marginalized communities is a reminder to us all to be vigilant and relentless in the pursuit of equality.
Tragedy—especially that which is fueled by bigotry and hate—calls for amplifying the voices that must be heard, during the times we need them most. Such is the case with actress and activist Amandla Stenberg, in conversation with actress, musician and activist Janelle Monáe in an interview published by Teen Vogue as part of their Volume III: Icons issue.
While the interview took place before the horrific violence in Charlottesville, VA this past weekend, this only serves to underscore the prescience of their conversation about race, representation and mental health, emphasizing the ongoing and pervasive nature of the issues our culture and country must continue to confront.
Below, we’ve compiled excerpts from their conversation that are more relevant than ever. Read the full interview here.
On the moment they realized Donald Trump had been elected president:
AS: I was shooting a scene in Where Hands Touch, a film about a biracial girl growing up during the Holocaust. In the scene, my character’s papers get taken away by a Nazi officer and the officer yells in her face, basically telling her that she does not belong in her own country. An actor playing a Nazi soldier took out his phone to refresh the news and announced that Trump was president.
I was actually seeing this come out of the mouth out of an actor dressed in a Nazi uniform. Immediately, I excused myself because I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore. I started sobbing. It was shocking. It made me really question how we could reach a point where our country is so divided.
The director, Amma Asante, came to check on me, and she told me that progress is like a coil you have to go down in order to circle back up again. That’s how it’s worked throughout history. That’s how it will continue to work.
JM: I empathize with you there. I was in Georgia, and on the outskirts of Atlanta, there are parts where we still have the KKK riding to little black girls’ birthday parties, burning crosses and performing hate crimes. After the results were announced, I thought, "am I going to be safe?"
Amandla on the importance of self-care and why she got rid of her iPhone:
AS: Amid all of the chaos in the world right now, it’s so important that everyone actively works to preserve their mental health so that we’re able to heal and create change. I got rid of my iPhone, and that was essential in preserving my mental health.
Now I have a flip phone that I just use to talk to people and hear their actual voices. I’m worried about the mental health effects of smartphones and social media on kids because it is one large social experiment that we don’t know the outcome of. I see a lot of people around my age who are really unhappy or experiencing disconnection from reality because they base so much of their existence on the Internet and on their interactions with people they might not even know.
Words: Deena Drewis