Why Celebrities Should Speak Out About the Stuff That Matters
Wait! Don’t leave me!
I know, I know. We’re hitting the home stretch and, by this point, you really don’t want anything else to do with this election, politics, voting, your “civic duty,” or any of the other bullshit that’s been polluting your spirit over the last several months. You don’t even know why you bothered to click on this.
I get it, believe me.
No matter who wins, it’s been a downer for sure. In fact, it’s been downright traumatizing for some of us. And I’m not joking.
I’ve had friends’ talk about how much their mental health issues have been triggered because of the rhetoric and behavior that has wrestled its way into this election. Mine have flared up, too.
And what’s more, when the clock strikes midnight tonight, it doesn’t even bring us any relief. The violent, harmful rhetoric will continue to reign come Wednesday, the streets will be unsafe for many of us. We lose no matter who wins because there isn’t enough bleach to remove the stain that is this election cycle. It’s atrocious.
And yet, here I am, writing about politics. Because seriously, it’s important. Hear me out.
On Sunday, I found myself thinking about how vocal many celebrities and other well-known people have been throughout this election cycle. From former politicians and civil servants to actors, singers, comedians, directors, journalists, and media personalities, the onslaught of (re)tweets, Facebook essays, op-eds, rallies, musical performances, and even political ads has been non-stop for at least a year.
Famous people being political is, of course, nothing new.
Lucille Ball, Paul Robeson, Bob Dylan, Harry Belafonte, and many others during the course of modern U.S. history have participated in marches and protests, stood with workers on picket lines, used their platforms to speak out about injustice of various kinds, encouraged others to participate in the political process, and have even been targeted by overzealous — nay, fascist — government officials.
Since becoming a legal adult and gaining more awareness of and involvement in political issues, social justice, and liberation over the years, I’ve heard time and time again how annoyed some lay people become when celebrities wade into the political pool. They should “stay in their lane” is the oft-touted phrase. They get paid to entertain and they have no influence. Besides, what do they know about politics?
And it’s true. Just like regular, everyday folks, some celebrities are clueless, as Lil’ Wayne has recently reminded us.
That some people — celebrity or not — are uneducated about the issues doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be talking openly about the issues that matter, advocating on behalf of our communities, using our platforms and privilege to be real allies to marginalized groups, and showing up when movements like Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock need visible supporters, financial aid, and legal assistance.
And that goes for celebrities too.
If Beyoncè were a bank teller, if Susan Sarandon were a cashier at McDonald’s, if John Legend were a high school biology teacher, would we say the same? That they should “stay in their lane?” That they have no influence? Would we ask, “What do they know?”
Sure, being overtly political isn’t for everyone, but everyone doing their part — to the best of their physical, mental, and financial abilities — to move us forward will be crucial as we look toward the next presidency.
Whether Clinton or Trump wins, we will need people at the frontlines keeping politicians’ feet to the fire, reminding them of who they work for and who can put them out of a job in two or four years. Whether Clinton or Trump wins, we will need people engaged and working with their local civil servants to bring about the local, grassroots change that builds to larger movements.
No matter who wins, we will need all the help we can get as far as this writer is concerned.
So I hope that celebrities continue to speak out about racism and white supremacy, sexism and misogyny, gay, bi+, and trans antagonism, ableism, Muslim antagonism, animal rights and climate change, the working class and class struggle, and many other issues. I hope those who have been wholly silent — including many of my favs — will begin to speak up and out. I hope those who only speak out on certain issues will begin to recognize the interconnectedness of all these problems and begin to speak out about the things on which they’ve been silent.
Of course, the people leading the movements should remain the faces and voices of these efforts, to avoid appropriation and erasure. In addition, as public gaffe after faux pas after public gaffe continue to show us, it’s imperative that people are educated on the issues before they speak. It’s not helpful to marginalized folks for people with a platform to use it to spout harmful nonsense.
Just as one shouldn’t attempt to speak in-depth on a ballot measure they haven’t researched, one shouldn’t try to talk about racism, sexism, sex workers’ rights, ableism, fat antagonism, or bi+ issues if you haven’t consulted the cultural and academic works and leaders of those communities to better understand the issues and what those affected are actually saying about it. In that sense, celebrities should most assuredly “stay in their lanes.” But they can, and should, reach out to those laying the groundwork and use their social and financial capital to affect positive change.
Because, celebrity or not, silence speaks volumes.