A 3D model render of a Black cartoon hand holding a microphone up over a yellow background.

My Black Perspective #6: Arts & Commentators

I have always admired Black People who are famous performers across different mediums, or scholars, who take on the fame (or notoriety) without forgetting their community (because that’s very easy to do). In other words, For every Eartha Kitt and Lena Horne, there’s a Stacey Dash and Candace Owens. Let’s examine that.

Are the Standards Black People Have of Their Artists & Commentators Unfair?

First, let’s discuss the question of whether or not there’s any undue burden on Black People in the performative arts (Actors, Musicians, Artists, TV Personalities, etc.) from the rest of their race.

Is it unfair for Black Culture to respond angrily to those “of the race” who PUBLICLY criticize us in the spirit of reinforcing negative stereotypes cast upon us by those outside of the race?

I would answer that – fairly I think – with a “No”.

While it sucks when any free-minded opinion or singular social faux-pas gets someone ostracized and kicked out of a collective, and society operates a full-on cancel culture – I don’t 100% think that’s what’s happening when the majority of Black People rescind an invitation to the (figurative) cookout.

This is as simple as “you dance with the one who brought you.

Many of these people who gain the ire of the Black Community at-large seem to have forgotten where they came from. They were probably raised in supportive Black families or encouraged by a primarily Black support system. Their primary needs, education, and (likely) career opportunities were supported first – by Black People. Much of their initial breakaway to fame and/or accolades were supported by Black-dollars, voices, and fandom. And at the end of the day, if none of that rings true, it can’t be understated that they are where they currently are due to the sacrifices of many Black People before them.

Even if the scenario above isn’t entirely true of their provenance, to have even one element of the particular origin described in the preceding paragraph, and then use your platform to criticize rather than to uplift… All in the name of the perspectives of a group to which you now associate with and feel you’ve worked your way into? Well, that’s a little harsh… And people respond in kind.

That said, I can understand some of the realities successful Black People face. They make good money and start running in different circles. They see opulence at levels an average person may never know. Exposed to certain views in these circles, their perspective changes (or at least “it’s expected to change” so they can continue to flourish).

A fictional Black male celebrity with bodyguard being interviewed by paparazzi.

And then, one day, they “blah” over a microphone like a parent talking down to their children (as opposed to an adult considering the thoughts of peers or “well-being of a community to which they belong”). And they publicly embarrass that child in front of others who “aren’t in the family” (sometimes repeatedly). That is how it feels and appears to those who have supported your rise who are suddenly on the receiving end of any support you are giving to a “less than” narrative being aimed in their direction.

Carrying on the parent-to-child analogy, even if the kid did objectively poop their pants a lot growing up – and the parent isn’t incorrect in recalling that objective fact… No kid wants their parent constantly telling the world about those pooping incidents over a loudspeaker as the kid grows up. That’s just a messed up parental thing to do, and it doesn’t help build your child up at all. In fact – it’s likely harming that kid’s self-esteem and social standing, all while making them resent the parent.

So, yeah… “You dance with the one who brought you.” I don’t think that’s unfair. Even if they aren’t perfect — they brought you. You didn’t mind their imperfections on the way to the dance — so don’t suddenly become repulsed by them now that you’re on the dance floor. If there wasn’t anything wrong with Black People as they elevated you, there shouldn’t be anything too wrong with them now – that’s all I’m saying.

Giving Credit Where It’s Due

Given the draw of success and the very human trait of not wanting to be seen as part of a lesser group, I can understand how some Black celebrities fall astray. But, that makes the ones who don’t lose their way seem all the more impressive to me.

Seeing famous Black People at Black Lives Matter protests and rallies was heart-warming over the summer of 2020. And knowing that sense of unity stems from a history of similar behavior is equally impressive.

So, I’d like to call out a few of my favorite notable moments that Black People who work in fields related to artistry and thought have spoken out in the name of social issues. This excludes athletes, as they’ll get their own highlight in tomorrow’s post (it feels appropriate to recognize them on the day of the Super Bowl).

Black Thought & Art Collide

Famous Black People promoting Blackness (in all its shapes and sizes) isn’t anything new. However, I’ll be focusing on moments when prominent individuals spoke or acted out regarding things that impact Black Lives, especially if they did so in traditionally White spaces. I am also acknowledging things that happened in places with a higher likelihood of being viewed by the general U.S. population (think newsworthy clips or viral YouTube videos).

I lead off with that qualifier because some of you may notice that I’m excluding things that happened on BET, NAACP Awards, or Essence events, etc. I did that because although Black People are aware of them, many non-Black People probably have no idea those moments exist.

(These are presented in no particular order, but I do try to group them)

Black Thought Leaders

I love the moment(s) that Ta-Nehisi Coates has famously broken down the power of words, specifically a single word, for the masses. Here is a good one…

Michael Eric Dyson is a long time favorite scholar of mine. I own a lot of his books and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him speak live about 3 times. Always an interesting guy to hear speak…

Women Refusing Silence

I have always respected Beyoncé as a performer, but it was her unapologetically Black entrance in the 2016 Super Bowl that made me recognize I was witnessing a historical figure in the making…

Rihanna, while not as acknowledged for focusing on specifically Black Issues (and also not born in America) – is still just “her” in every space she’s in. And I really like the fact that she pissed off the Indian Government recently about an issue that hadn’t been getting much American acknowledgment before…

Issa Rae just being Issa Rae (and encouraging many Black women in the process)…

And Viola Davis for speaking blunt truths in her moments of triumph, even if it makes some people uncomfortable…

Those Who Historically Went Unheard

Seeing Billy Porter look at a table full of straight men in the face and express his views is brave for his industry and was unheard of when I was a kid. I love seeing how times have progressed in this regard and knowing that Black People are supporting his voice…

Aside from Laverne Cox’s strong representation for the Transgender community as a whole since her rise to stardom from Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black – she’s quotable. My favorite moment from the video below was when she said, “The reality is that Trans people have been using the bathroom for many years without incident…” 🤣

Comedians Speaking Harsh Truths

Comedians aren’t always out for laughs these days, and that weighs heavily into why I’m a huge fan of Mark Twain Prize recipient Dave Chappelle. Not just because of his comedic talent, but his ability to cut to the truth of matters in the area of social commentary. If you haven’t seen 8:46 (his response to the filmed murder of George Floyd and the resulting protests) – please spare the time…

Chris Rock has had many moments where his comedy brought clarity to oft-unspoken social truths, but this is one of his stand out moments…

Rappers Elevating Minds

I am not the biggest Kendrick Lamar fan in the world, but damn if I didn’t love his 2016 Grammy performance. The value of that performance and its overtly politically charged spectacle cannot be understated…

Childish Gambino’s video for “This is America” was a scathing visual commentary on America’s relationship and treatment of gun-related violence toward Black People (among other things) at the time…

And I love the fact that JAY-Z uses his voice now to try and act as a sort of mentor on issues regarding social-standing and wealth creation in Black America. Even though this video has over 119M views, I wouldn’t be surprised if many still hadn’t seen it…

Unfiltered Moments

There are times that just certain voices just need to be heard (whether they want to speak or not). This was the case for Killer Mike…

And even though Kanye West has pulled a complete 180 these days with his temporary support of Trump’s America and controversial stance on slavery, anyone who was alive back then couldn’t help but hear about when he did this as a younger man with plenty to lose well before becoming a billionaire married to a Kardashian (for now)…

That is all that I’ve got for this one. If anyone else has any moments that meet the criteria of this list that I forgot, please post a link or something in the comment section below.

Peace, and thanks for reading.

 

The soundtrack for this post provided by…

Image Credits:
– Cover Image © NeoLeo (Shutterstock)
– Body Image © sirtravelalot (Shutterstock)

Sharing is Caring
Resize Font
Contrast Mode
Created by Alex Volkov