Celebrities overshadow social justice movements

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By: Kyndall Cunningham, Columnist 

As the Trump administration continues its wreckage and social movements that were once solely hashtags gain worldwide consciousness, the role of social media in activism has become undeniably essential. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram have replaced homes, churches and schools as meeting spaces for people, young and old, working towards change. 

The word “work” is debatable for some. A lot of people view millennials tweeting at politicians, correcting others politically and posting hashtags followed by a fist emoji, as a sorry excuse for activism. Or maybe they disagree with them and want to be quiet. To the people who partake in social media activism, it’s simply about raising awareness to bring about change, and in some cases, arguably so.

Look at the influence of the three black women – Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometi – who founded the Black Lives Matter movement and began the hashtag after George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the shooting of Trayvon Martin. Not only did it raise social awareness and conversation over police brutality in the United States, it influenced policy to some extent with the use of police body cameras in certain police departments. While a major reform in the criminal justice system and convictions for officers who murder innocent black people have yet to come underway, the philosophy of BLM has crept its way into all areas of society and social consciousness expanding our worldview.

But as of recently, I’ve noticed a major trend on social media that overshadows activism at its core. It’s the overwhelming amount of activism that is centered around celebrities; who are using their platform to speak on injustice; who are not using their platform to speak on injustice; which celebrity tweeted something touching and powerful the other day; versus who said something tone-deaf and ignorant consumes a lot of the conversation, and rightfully so, to some extent.

Celebrities have an abundance of privilege, whether it’s money, access or influence. It takes people in power to speak up against discrimination of all types in order for the ball to roll on change, whether they be politicians or movie stars. We support their livelihoods with our dollars. The least they can do is support us with a tweet! It all sounds perfectly reasonable. However, there comes a dilemma when our reaction to celebrity involvement in social movements is glorification.

There’s a frustration that social media users have when people in power, whether they be of privilege or belong to a marginalized group, stay silent on social issues. The most notable target of this anger is Taylor Swift who gets a lot of heat for not getting political when it comes to Black Lives Matter, the past election and Trump’s discriminatory legislation despite her huge fanbase and gigantic platform.

I get it. Taylor Swift comes from country music. A lot of white women listen to her music. Statistically, a large sum of her fans probably voted for Trump and support him. I’m not saying she could have changed the end result of the election. Taylor Swift can’t save us from white supremacy, but she definitely would have impacted the minds and hearts a lot of women who voted for Trump if she publicly supported Hillary, or denounced Trump’s hate.

Either way, it’s one of the reason that both black and white liberal Twitter despise her. But I begin to question the frustration that people have when celebrities don’t get political when I see what happens when celebrities do get political on social media.

Last week, Justin Bieber, who is by today’s standards an appropriator of black culture, posted on Instagram the Black Lives Matter logo with a caption stating that he believes in the equality of black people. Justin Bieber has been in the business since I’ve been in middle school, wearing saggy pants, singing urban pop and collaborating with black artists. The fact that he’s simply stating that black people are equal shouldn’t mean much to us. I expected most black people to respond with a shrug or an eye roll. But what do I see in the comments? Hearts, “we love you, Justin,” “he’s with us” and all that jazz.

Why is a white celebrity who’s engaged in and profited from our culture for his whole career being applauded for acknowledging our existence. Is it personally comforting to know that Justin Bieber thinks you are worth respect? Why do black people get excited when celebrities are nice to them?

The same thing happens when Beyonce or Rihanna “get political” on social media. A brief tweet or simple Instagram gets Twitter into an uproar, replying with clapping hands emojis and compliments like “my woke queen.”

As black women who have black fan bases, I expect nothing less from my favorite black celebrities to be educated in social issues that affect us. They certainly aren’t strangers to it. It’s like when Rihanna released her inclusive makeup line for all shades and skin tones. I wasn’t impressed by it because it’s what we deserve.

All of this makes me think about the nature of liberal activist Twitter. It’s like everyone’s competing for the cleverest, most woke tweet because they know the pat on the back that comes with it. Are people spreading awareness or are they trying to get the most likes or retweets? You can literally become a celebrity activist if you’re tweets are good enough. Just look at Deray McKesson.

Competition also builds tension. When people are constantly correcting each other, not for the sake of teaching one another, but just to clap back and get likes for it, it doesn’t mean anything. Being woke isn’t a contest. It’s a common understanding, or basic human rights that we should all have.

It doesn’t take much for Beyonce to tweet Black Lives Matter or for Chrissy Tiegen to say F you to Donald Trump. What should be applauded is the change that occurs from the conversations we start, and actions we take to move our country forward.

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