“Accidental Racist” will never have the same meaning for me again. This week has brought the spotlight back to celebrities and their forays into the political sphere.
It’s only the next logical step for well-established celebrities to risk expressing themselves into the political game. They do so for a number of reasons. First, celebrities may be confined to small elite circles and rarely receive genuine feedback on their work from the public. The public is the barometer to which these ideas are gauged. Depending on the success, the ideas will be accepted or rejected. It’s kind of like stand-up comedy. Second, the world of politics and celebrities are mutually drawn to each other. It’s where ambition and power attract others. Scandals plague both spheres and for some, it can be forgiven. Remember the crazy antics of Mel Gibson?
On top of this, the explosion of social media and reality television shows plays a big part as celebrities are increasingly able to broadcast snippets of their lives with unexpected consequences.
Here are six celebrities who’ve received some flack for expressing their political stance.
1. Lena Dunham
Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s hit show Girls, has become the guiding voice for millenials and in particular, women. Whether one agrees with the show’s particular views on sex and relationships in which modern women face today is debatable.
Dunham’s video approach to first time voters was to look at it as losing one’s virginity. This strategy didn’t go over too well with conservatives for the obvious reason. This video gave the assumption that there was one uniform experience, but time and time again, significant numbers of people regretted their “first time.”
Although Dunham was trying to encourage young people to get out and vote, likening sex to voting was not the most appropriate marketing strategy. Part of the uproar is that voting has always been viewed as exercising one’s civic duty. To infuse sex into an unsexy activity makes it feel as if nothing is sacred any more. There are very few areas where sex is off limits and voting should be one of them. Any time that manipulating someone’s personal choice for the benefit of another is bound to incite fury. Sex, like religion are very personal areas in which people feel strongly about. As such the rhetoric used to encourage first time voters could have been phrased somewhat differently.
Furthermore, it was discovered that Dunham didn’t vote in the 2012 election since she was out of the country filming a movie.
2. Serena Williams
Currently ranked number one in women’s singles tennis, Serena Williams is a role model for women and in particular, for people of color. To have broken the cultural and physical barriers that have enabled Williams to become the face of women’s sports is incredible
Yet in the world of international sports, race is still tinted with class and elitist undertones. As an example, AEK Athens midfielder Giorgos Katidis was penalized for making a Nazi-salute gesture after scoring a winning goal. Similarly, Paraskevi Papahristou, the Greek triple jump athlete was disqualified in the Olympics in 2012 for her tweet on African migrants in Greece.
Serena Williams invited scrutiny by performing a controversial dance, The “Crip Walk” in the Olympic 2012 singles after beating Maria Sharapova. In her defense, the dance was not pre-meditated. Expressing joy and relief at realizing a long and hard-fought goal is expected. But critics blasted Williams for her inappropriate choice for her glamourizing a gang dance in the “lilly white” upscale sporting event.
The power of this dance divided people. Impressionable students in schools which this dance is banned may be at-risk to be accepting of gang lifestyle. On the other hand, Serena Williams is a role model and to what extent should she be responsible for her own actions? Was this just a dance or a political statement?
3 & 4. Jay-Z and Beyonce
Hip-hop power couple, Jay-Z and Beyonce have been scrutized for their visit to Cuba to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. While relations between Cuba and the US in recent years have been cordial than in the past, the embargo is still ongoing.
Several politicians including Senator Marco Rubio has inquired further details as to the particular “licensing” involved. Under the current guidelines, licenses are given for academic, religious, journalistic or cultural exchange trips. Seeing as this trip was not for one of those reasons, Rubio has blasted Cuban officials for propagandizing the power couple in what he asserts is used to gain favor for the communist led country.
US representatives Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart jointly submitted a letter to the U.S. Treasury (available on this government website here). In it, they point to the use of U.S. dollars being used to fund a government that oppresses its people. This issue has divided politicians across the aisle. It seems that some conservative lawmakers are making an example out of Cuba (and rightly so).
The backdrop behind the politics is that Cuba is still sputtering along economically. Its state sponsored tourism industry are attracting three million visitors annually to the island nation, of which one million are Canadians. The U.S. being its most prominent neighbor is still adhering to its principles but at what cost?
Meanwhile, Jay-Z responded to critics in his song, Open Letter. Here’s a Soundcloud link here.
5 &6. Brad Paisley and LL Cool J
The hoopla over country singer Brad Paisley and rapper LL Cool J’s new duet "Accidental Racist"has created an uproar over its innocuous and good-intentioned lyrics. Critics were less forgiving and instead charged the song for perpetuating stereotypes.
Paisley defends the song and states that the song is meant to be a conversation starter and to get people talking about our contentious history, one that tinted with color and class.
Social interactions with people of color are problematic. From search and frisk, to our current prison industrial complex, extending all the way to our president. Progress has been a mixed bag so far.
While it is commendable that the duo is engaging in this new project, Ta-Nehisi Coates, editor of The Atlantic posits in his new piece Against the "Conversation on Race," that this song bombs because it plays into the "mushy," "intentions" of ‘good people’ but in the end, fail to make real headway.
This is evident on the way that American history is taught, Coates posits. It’s hard to disagree with this. In my experience, during my elementary school years, the curriculum emphasized the accomplishments of the typical American heroes. If you were lucky you were able to celebrate one month (out of the whole year) for your culture but beyond the superficial events that were typically coordinated, you were pretty much left on your left on your own to educate yourself on the intricacies of the effects on American imperialism.
My main gripe is that like so many things in America, it seems like we always start something and never really get to finish it.