BLACK VOICES

Yes, Silence Can Be Violence — But These Celebs Should Shut Up

Too many Black stars have made comments condemning the movement for Black lives. It may be time to leave some of your faves behind.

You know that viral Hip-Hop Harry “who’s next” meme? That song plays in my head every time one of these celebrities outs themselves as strong and wrong about the Black Lives Matter movement.

“Go! Go! Go! Go! Go! Go!”

Since the string of police killings that took the lives of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others sparked nationwide protests, celebrities and influencers have said some really wild shit. Their comments range from predictably embarrassing to shockingly ridiculous. Of course, non-Black celebs are saying dumb things on their platforms, too. (See: This incredibly empty gesture featuring white actors including Kristen Bell, Sarah Paulson and Aaron Paul really leaning into their white guilt.) But it’s especially hurtful hearing Black stars say these things during such a critical time. 

Here’s a quick and dirty rundown: Shameik Moore suggested race didn’t play a factor in Floyd’s killing and claimed Black people could be calm and polite to avoid being killed. He then got on Instagram Live, ignoring his publicists’ advice, to “listen” to people’s viewpoints. Instead, he shared his unsolicited advice for Rosa Parks: Apparently, she should’ve taken a cab instead of riding the bus. Rapper Tokyo Jetz “joked” that she would “George Floyd” her friend. And most recently, Terry Crews said that Black protesters who are weary of white protesters’ intentions were feeding into “Black supremacy.”

A lot of celebrities have also been quicker to defend destroyed property than they have been to stand up for Black lives. Trina called Black Lives Matter protesters in Miami “animals” and called on the city to keep them off the streets. She also said that protesters need to be worried about Black-on-Black crime. Desi Banks posted a meme calling protesters engaging in civil unrest criminals. Virgil Abloh slammed the “kids that ransacked” his store in the protests and then donated a measly $50 toward a bail fund. Abloh’s net worth is $4 million. (After an online backlash, Abloh apologized for giving the impression that was the sum of his contributions and said that he had actually given $20,500 to bail funds.) People on social media also called out Lori Harvey for showing compassion over her friends’ stores that were affected by the unrest in Atlanta but initially stayed silent about Black Lives Matter. And Shekinah cried over a Gucci store that was looted. 

They’re on a roll. And you truly hate to see it.

Celebs making offensive and erroneous claims about Black communities isn’t a new thing, of course. Black folks who identify as LGBTQ often bear the brunt of this. However, I’m especially fed up with celebrities making dangerous comments about Black lives at this particular moment. It’s frustrating and unproductive. When people with major platforms and millions of followers spew false and harmful rhetoric condemning the movement for Black lives, it has an impact. 

The Black community has a special relationship with its stars. We’re constantly rooting for everybody Black loudly and proudly, especially knowing that Black celebs are often robbed of the flowers and recognition that they deserve. Black people aren’t a monolith, so we can and will have differing opinions. But when your words don’t align with the fight for the same lives who’ve helped build your career, we don’t care to see you cry when you’re canceled. 

And I get it. Everyone doesn’t always get it right. Sure, celebrities didn’t sign up to be role models. But the culture of celebrity worship gives their words even more power. It makes way for us to overly value their social commentary, even on topics they don’t have the range to speak on. Celebs like Trina, Tokyo Jetz, Shameik Moore and others have apologized since making their comments, but how often does the apology get as much attention as the initial comments?

More celebrities should take notes from John Boyega, who’s been passionate and unwavering when speaking out against racism. Or Michael B. Jordan, who has committed to do his part in defunding the police by hiring private security for his production company instead of cops. Or Keke Palmer, Jamie Foxx, Karrueche Tran, Zoe Kravitz, Russell Westbrook, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole and others who showed up at protests around the country. Kendrick Sampson, who has been committed to activism work since before the start of his career, even created an organization called BLD PWR specifically to help Hollywood learn how to engage in activism and organize. It’s really beautiful and powerful to see so many folks in Hollywood join the cause. 

I get it that doing the work is hard and not everyone knows how or where to start. Hell, some may just be unwilling to. But if you have a major platform and you don’t even try to get with the program, then you can’t be surprised when you get left behind. 

If you don’t have anything productive to say, keep your comments to yourself and open your purse like — I can’t believe I’m using him as an example — Kanye West did.

One thing that’s noticeable about the public’s response to these terrible celebrity comments, however, is how many folks are noting on social media that they’re keeping track. This likely won’t shift our celebrity-driven culture too much, but I do hope that folks are paying attention to who’s supporting and amplifying the movement for Black lives.

’Cause some of our faves may need to be left behind.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story noted that Abloh had only donated $50 to bail funds initially. This story has been updated to note that Abloh clarified that he gave $20,500 to bail funds.

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