10 Celebrities We Love for Using Their Voices for Good12/16/2014
by Malaika Jabali The number of black men and women who have been victimized by the hands of injustice has grown uncomfortably long in t...
by Malaika Jabali
The number of black men and women who have been victimized by the hands of injustice has grown uncomfortably long in the past two years. While we have yet to see the consistent mass movement of previous generations, many of our people have been reawakened. Black celebrities have been among those joining the fight for racial justice and human rights. It’s easy to focus on those celebrities who have disappointed us with their silence, but many actors, musicians, and athletes have used their platform to raise awareness and they deserve recognition. In no particular order, this list acknowledges some of those celebrities who have been most engaged and vocal when it comes to raising consciousness—whether through social media, direct community action, or discussing these issues on mainstream broadcast media.
“I don’t believe in post-racial. It’s like saying we should live in a post-gender world. But I love being a woman! I am interested in living in a post-sexist world and feel the same about race. I don’t want to live in a post-race world because being black is really exciting. I mean...it’s who I am. I’m a woman, black, from New York, Aquarius – these are things that create who I am. I’m interested in living in a post-racist world, where being African-American doesn’t dictate limitations on what I can do – but I don’t want to live post-race.”
Known for his biting stand up comedy, Chris Rock also fails to pull punches when discussing race. Covering New York magazine in anticipation of his upcoming film Top 5, Rock was particularly poignant in his interview when describing racial progress. People often fall back on comfortable platitudes when discussing racism—with tropes like “we all need to love one another” or using ambiguous phrases like “racial tension”—as if both blacks and whites have an equal hand in systemic injustice. However, Rock held no qualms about calling out white communities for maintaining or being complicit in oppressive systems and placed the onus on them for changing the current state of anti-black racism.
Activism comes in many forms. While Solange hasn’t been on the ground or as public with her views on racial justice, she has continued to show her support of the struggle against recent civil rights abuses. When a celebrity is willing to put her money on the line, then you know it’s real. Solange postponed the release of her Puma collection, which was scheduled to debut on Black Friday, in the wake of a grand jury failing to indict now-resigned cop Darren Wilson. Eschewing the largest retail sales day of the year, Solange’s participation in the Black Friday boycott showed a good deal of muster when sales likely would have been strong after her well-publicized, Pinterest-ready wedding.
One of the few mainstream rappers who has often dedicated his craft to conscious lyricism, J.Cole provided a stirring tribute to Mike Brown in the aftermath of Ferguson and going to the city to pay his respects. Beyond Ferguson, the mixed race rapper has been fluent in discussions on privilege and colorism, which shouldn’t be surprising for a man who received graduated Magna Cum Laude from St. John’s University.
Many other celebrities—including Rihanna, Diddy, and Gabrielle Union—have lent their support by being vocal about racial justice issues. Simply speaking on these issues is not enough to implement the social and cultural change we need, but we should always encourage those who are speaking out against white supremacy. As consumers, we can use this as a cheat sheet to stay aware of those black celebrities who don’t just call on us when they need our money and ratings, but who are in some ways risking their own livelihoods by taking our society to task.
Malaika Jabali is a regular contributor at For Harriet. She has a J.D. from Columbia University's Law School. Her J.D. does not preclude her from communicating with cleverly placed emojis and on Instagram @missjabali. She also pretends to know about music and travel on her personal blog, www.freshphiles.com.