Post from @LeslieMac
Definition of The Blaccum
Today I called in to my favorite podcast The Black Guy Who Tips to discuss a phenomenon I have dubbed The Celebrity Blacuum. I define the Celebrity Blaccum as “the deafening silence from black celebrities in the aftermath of social & racial incidents that effect Black Americans.”
14 days have passed since Mike Brown was shot to death at 12:01 pm on Saturday August 9th and left in the street for 4 hours following the shooting with no medical attention called to the scene of the shooting. The day after the event daily demonstrations in Ferguson began with an armed response from St Louis County police. Yet so few black celebrities, sports figures & even politicians have stepped up to make public statements or take public actions in response to the issues clearly on display in Ferguson.
There is a history of black celebrities & public figures speaking out publicly in the face of social & racial injustice in the United States. Harry Belafonte, Eartha Kitt, Sidney Poitier, Tommie Smith, John Carlos & Sister Souljah are just a few names that have lent their voice & celebrity spotlight to social concerns in eras of large upheaval. All faced potential significant backlash both professionally & personally and all paid a price for their public stance on issues related to race relations in the United States. Most notably was Paul Robeson, who risked everything speaking out in the 1940’s in vocal support for anti-Jim Crown legislation, getting blacklisted and eventually leading to the 1949 Peekskill Riots where during over the course of 3 days of his concerts in Peekskill, NY the “stage was smashed, chairs were torched, concert goers attacked & Robeson’s life threatened”.
Over the last 2 weeks there HAVE been black celebrities stepping forward to help and/or voice their concerns and opinions on Mike Brown’s death & the protests in Ferguson – notably, Jesse Williams, Talib Kweli, John Legend, J Cole & Keke Palmer.
What IS the Blacuum saying?
However, here are some twitter posts from leading black celebrities, athletes & politicians after the death of Mike Brown & civil protests in Ferguson:
- Diddy (@iamdiddy) 9.87 million followers on Aug 11: #cirocPinapple Ask your local liquor store & Night cub Now! @ciroc #circolife…“
- Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) on Aug 13: “Racing to the alter on the set of #withthisring in Ohio… <3 my cast!!…”
- Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) on Aug 14 posting her “ice bucket challenge” video to her 25.1 million followers: “I challenge #StevenSpielberg, #HelenMirren & @DayalManish. In the name of ALS…”
- Maxine Waters, arguably the most influential black politician in the country besides the President on Aug 14: “Today marks the 79th anniversary of Social Security. We must continue to preserve Social Security & safeguard the right of our seniors”.
- Note: Rep Waters first social media statement regarding Ferguson comes today Aug 21: “This weekend, I will travel to my hometown of St. Louis to attend the funeral of Michael Brown on Monday…”. In her press release Rep Waters says she has “been in contact with some of the elected officials and community leaders in the St. Louis area and join with the overall community in calling for justice for Michael Brown”
- Rev Run @RevRunWisdom posting on Aug 16 “Everytime you feel your swag is off a lil bit. Remember —> GOD GOT YOU…” to his 4.36 million followers
- LeBron James (@KingJames) Aug 16 – “San Torini with the fellas… Wayn! Love these dudes #Greece #Vacation…”
- Robert Griffin III (@RGIII) Aug 17: “Honored to be a part of something greater than me. Faith. Family. Football.”
- Usher Raymond IV (@Usher) Aug 19: “Throwin’ bombs in rehearsal… #VMA #Touchdown # Countdown…”
- Chris Rock (@chrisrock) Aug 23 “Today is the birthday of Jeremy lin the 14th best point guard in the nbc. And schools are closed. Thank you president Obama. Linsantiy continues.”
Disconnect between Black Americans & the Blaccum
I can’t help but ask myself how these individuals are able to remain so firmly ON their own message while so much is going so wrong for the black community in this country. It’s easy to say, well these people are JUST – rappers, actors, musicians, artists etc. I get that. I also understand the pressure that almost certainly is placed upon widely popular celebrities to remain neutral in the face of such complex subjects as race relations and a the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer. I understand that right now may not be the time to make a public statement in support of Mike Brown or even in support of the protests that have erupted nationwide since the killing.
But when Will Smith is posting selfies from a Vegas pool party while tear gas is being thrown at peaceful black protesters, something strange is occurring. There is a disconnect between these celebrities who are keen to sell their products, push their projects and ask for support of their revenue streams and the group of our population who make up a large portion of their audience. What are we to think their concern for Black America is when even this level of civil unrest (a virtual military occupation of a US city with 67% black residents) cannot deter them from their non-stop sell sell sell positioning to the public?
Do I expect a statement from Oprah & Diddy & Will Smith in support of the #JusticeForMike movement? Hell no, but I do expect these black Americans who have been afforded an extraordinary level of wealth, power & influence to offer some level of (even latent) support to:
- the children of Ferguson who have not been able to start school because of this situation
- the teachers of Ferguson who have been working tirelessly to feed & offer a day time safe haven to their students
- the clergy in Ferguson who have been on the front lines trying to keep the peace
- the media who have been attacked by law enforcement in the midst of exercising the freedom of the press so cherished in this country
Support for these types of things require very little risk & would go so far to show the American people, both black & white, that these black celebrities are at a minimum AWARE of what is happening in Ferguson & that it is something that needs nay REQUIRES our attention. Their silence and lack of shift in media interaction subject matter is the same as telling the American people:
It’s business as usual in the USA. Nothing of note has occurred. Don’t worry about all that hubbub in Missouri, it’s not important. For this, I am deeply disappointed.
Harry Belafonte received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal last year and in his acceptance speech he spoke about his mentor Paul Robeson,
“For me, Mr. Robeson was the sparrow. He was an artist who made those of us in the arts understand the depth of that calling, when he said, ‘Artists are the gatekeepers of truth. We are civilization’s radical voice.’
Never in the history of black America has there been such a harvest of truly gifted and powerfully celebrated artists. Yet, our nation hungers for their radical song. In the field of sports, our presence dominates. In the landscape of corporate power, we have more African-American presence as captains and leaders of industry than we’ve ever known.
Yet we suffer still from abject poverty and moral malnutrition. Yet our nation hungers for their radical song. Let us not sit back silently. Let us not be charged with patriotic treason… And I’ll tell you, our kids, those who languish in the prisons of America, are waiting on us to change the system.”
Mr. Belafonte’s point is one that resonates with me. I for one do not think it’s unreasonable to expect some level of public support from black celebrities in times like these, especially when our culture (the US culture as a whole) values celebrity above all. I charge us all with spreading the ill will generated by The Black Celebrity Blaccum far & wide. We want to hear from you Oprah, Diddy, Bill Cosby, Rep Waters, Will Smith, LeBron James, Robert Griffin III, Gabrielle Union, Chris Rock.