Black (Celebrity) Lives Matter (more)

Weeks of protests across the country have been missing lots of your favorite black pop stars, including one formally pink-haired princess.  Nikki Minaj has been silent on the issue of police misconduct and brutality.  Turns out, even though she has assured us that she is both a monster and a boss bitch, that she is worried about taking a hit in the pocket if she stands up for black lives.  Not so tough now…

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In a recent interview in Rolling Stone Minaj said that she feels like she can’t speak out about racism in society without her career taking a hit:

“I feel like when Public Enemy were doing ‘Fight the Power,’ we as a culture had more power — now it feels hopeless,” Minaj says. “People say, ‘Why aren’t black celebrities speaking out more?’ But look what happened to Kanye when he spoke out. People told him to apologize to Bush!”

Minaj must not have notices tens of thousands of  people around the country participating in die-ins:  laying on cold streets, in traffic, on highways, and across the sticky floors of malls.  These people– many young people squarely in Minaj’s demographic–have been unafraid to speak out and to literally lay down to stop the world and make people hear their chants of black lives matter.

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Some of these people left work or class to participate in protests risking all kinds of consequences.    But most of the protesters are not famous, and few are likely to have a corporate record deal, so admittedly, most of us have a lot less to lose than our favorite rapper.

141124_seattle_maclemoreThen again, look at Macklemore who has made a career in rap speaking out.  From celebrating thrift store swag to same sex rights, Macklemore has made millions, topping charts and hearts with his uber-unity rap.  Even Eminem, the bad boy of rap, has spoken on on a variety of social issues like suicide and poverty.  Em didn’t get black balled, he got put in car commercials .

What could possibly be different between Kanye and Nikki and Macklemore and Eminem?  Black artists don’t get the same pass, don’t get to play the same parts that their white counterparts play, even in the land that blacks created–hip hop.  Black artists can easily be labeled as radioactive for the same stances that we swoon to see white stars in.  Bill Gates can dump money wherever he wants, but when Dr. Dre gave a massive donation to USC he was criticized for not giving black enough.  Critics questioned Wyclef’s work in the wake of the Haiti earthquake.  And of course, there’s Kanye.

Of all the spheres for black celebrities to orbit, hip hop was supposed to be the genre where black lives–and voices–really did  matter.  Truth is, there is lots of great hip hop talking about these issues, but to Minaj’s point, that is the game of mainstream media.  Market forces determine the lowest common denominator for pop stars to aim at, hoping to please the bland palate of the masses while ignoring the issues of the smaller classes in the audience.  the risk is real, but is that an excuse?LeBronJames1

Despite having offered an apology to George Bush, Kanye persists. Despite the potential backlash, dozens of sports stars have made their voices heard.  Despite the cold, Black Lives Matter Protests persist.  So what’s up, pop princess?  In the face of racism we each have to chose how we will respond.  When we choose to sit on the sidelines and not risk what we have despite our best intentions, racism persists.

Minaj bemoans the hoplessness of these times–I feel her.

“[Kanye]was the unofficial spokesman for hip-hop, and he got torn apart,” she says. “And now you haven’t heard him speaking about these last couple things, and it’s sad. Because how many times can you be made to feel horrible for caring about your people before you say, ‘Fuck it, it’s not worth it, let me live my life because I’m rich, and why should I give a fuck?'”

We create these stars when we buy their shit, but they cannot be bothered to say in public that your life matters.  Go ahead, Nikki and live your life, because fuck it, it’s true–you’re rich and why should you give a fuck.   Selling out pays well.  But if you ever want to see what a real star looks like, look at the bodies dotting the pavement.  They’ll be out there, holding you down.

Susan X Jane

Susan Jane thinks a lot about media and race…a lot. She teaches Communications at Wheelock College, writes and speaks about media…and race... and generally encourages everyone she meets to think about the way media shapes their sense of self and their ideas and beliefs about the world. If you're reading this, she wants you to think about it too. Want to talk about it? Let's go.

3 thoughts on “Black (Celebrity) Lives Matter (more)

  1. It’s wrong. Russell Simmons just spoke up about NYC. Kayne is a massive celebrity bc he spoke out. If celebs don’t use their voice then the people will and should not buy her music.

  2. If I may offer an opposing voice. I am not a fan of hip hop, nor do I know much about it. But Kanye West gets blown apart by the public and media is not because he’s speaking out for black issues, it’s the way he does it. He’s arrogant and self-important and it rubs people the wrong way. There are many other hip hop artists who speak out and are well received, Common, John Legend, T.I. (to a certain extent), Q-Tip etc. When you tend to ‘rant’, as is the speaking style of Kanye West and I am quoting his wife in saying that ‘rants’, your message gets lost in the ranting. Perhaps if Kanye West changed his delivery style, he would be well received. When I read his interviews, I really like what he says and he is an intelligent and thoughtful man, however, when I hear him speak, I just want to switch the channel. When Kanye West speaks about race issues, I am presuming his target audience is the white audience and the white mainstream media, he may want to modify his delivery style (not the content) so that it’s better received so that he’s not written off as some sort of ranting braggard.

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