This week leading actor, singer and activist Harry Belafonte was presented with yet another accolade for his various works promoting Civil Rights and social justice. Not just content to receive his award, he placed responsibility on the stars of today, claiming that the likes of Beyonce and Jay-Z do little in highlighting the inequality in society for people of colour. Many have rushed to their defence stating all of the good works they do for various charities. However, the most powerful couple in music have been noticeably silent on this issue.
I do expect celebrities to have a social conscience. Carefully stage managed acts of charity are a good thing but not to be unexpected when you earn more than the Commonwealth combined. The Black community were the first to support their careers and start their ascent to superstardom so you would think that the support would be mutual. By way of comparison Bruce Springsteen has consistently championed the plight of working class Americans throughout his nearly 40 year career. On issues such as mass unemployment or the Trayvon Martin murder, the majority of Black celebrities are conspicuously silent. Many Black entertainers show two very worrying traits, apathy and selfishness. As long as the individual’s needs are being met, the rest of the poor masses can eat cake.
Whether they like it or not, celebrities are a massive influence our young people. This deliberate avoidance of any political thinking by Black celebrities has helped to create a critical thinking vacuum with our young people. Instead they are force fed the same message daily: ‘Get rich or die trying’. Concepts such as consequence, self esteem, racial pride and love are no where to be seen in mainstream hip hop and rnb. The results are startling and depressing. The rise of colourism within the Black community on both sides of the Atlantic is a pathetic backwards step. We now have Black people who insult other Black people who look exactly like them because they are Black. Where is this generation’s James Brown to say ‘I’m Black and I’m proud?’
I am not taken with the argument that Jay-Z (or any other multi platinum rapper) embodies the ‘American Dream’. This statement implies that there are equal opportunities for all. In the U.S. as of June 2012, unemployment for African American men is at 14.4% compared to the national average of 8.2% (source CNN) Jay-Z and his ilk cannot represent the American dream if only a select few can realise that dream. The inference that just because there are a few multi millionaire Black celebrities and a Black man in the White House that we live in a warm and fuzzy post racial age is hogwash. When Black men on both sides of the Atlantic are still several times more likely to be stopped by the police, unemployed or jailed we do not live in a post racial age.
Terms like post racism/post feminism are misleading because we do not live in a world without racism, misogyny or homophobia. It hoodwinks our youth into believing that this is as good as it gets, that there is nothing left to fight against. Racism has not disappeared, it has merely changed form. Black footballers no longer have bananas thrown at them as they did in the 70’s but in the last football season two high profile footballers Luis Suarez and former England captain John Terry were found guilty of using racist language against Black footballers. The lack of any real consequence, the apologist language of those seeking to defend their actions goes to show that racism is still a malignant force. The killing of Mark Duggan served as the catalyst for the London Riots of 2011. The police claimed that they killed him as he pointed a loaded gun at them. The police have been unable to prove that he was armed at all. Therefore, it would appear that his race was a determining factor in death.
We are not society free from racism or sexism. We cannot be swayed by the superficial. The odd Black millionaire or the acceptance of Black culture in mainstream music or fashion does not indicate that we now live in a harmonious utopia. The engine behind equality is power. Until all people of colour can influence legislation, access to wealth, are present on the boards of schools, businesses, media outlets and other institutions we will find ourselves in a state of racism continued.
I have also noticed that in tandem with this post racialism fallacy is the normalisation of Black ‘dysfunctionalism’. The video of the Black bus driver giving a female passenger an uppercut is a perfect example. I agree that the bus driver in a role of authority should have removed her from the bus and used excessive force. I also agree that the young woman was out of line and should not be acting in a violent manner and then be surprised to be assaulted herself. On reading comments about the video I am also very disheartened at the acceptance of violence against Black women within the Black community. I raise the video because once again it reinforces every negative stereotype and justifies why there are only a few Black success stories because the vast majority supposedly lack the discipline, finesse and talent to become one. This is really dangerous because it places the onus of responsibility on the disenfranchised and not on social inequality. Tragically, it also acts as proof for the growing amounts of Black people who do not believe that they should strive or expect more from life.
We do not live in a post racial age. I will freely admit that I have had more opportunities than the generation before but the fight for equal rights continues. Equal rights require equal power across various societal structures. Access to that power will not occur without the belief of various communities that that power is owed to them. We have to energise our youth so that they strive to have more not less opportunities than the current generation in charge. To do otherwise would be an abject failure in our responsibilities. We cannot continue to be content with individual success. The political silence by the majority of the Black famous elite reinforces that we are not in this all together. It is also very limiting that majority of Black millionaires are all within the entertainment sector. I am looking forward to a time when I see celebrated Black scientists, politicians, architects and law makers. Stagnation is not progress. If that does sadly come to pass, the blame does not just lie with any rapper or a punching bus driver – it will be a damning indictment of us all.
Please let me know your thoughts