Black entertainers’ lack of genuine solidarity with radical protesters demonstrates their social insulation and allegiance to the capitalist status quo.
Tory Lanez isn’t the entertainment world’s most pro-Black figure. But times make the man. He took to social media Sunday to passionately express that he was “appalled” by his celebrity peers who are condemning countrywide uprisings in protest of George Floyd’s death. “If you haven’t been outside..and (don’t) understand the pain that niggas is goin’ through, then you shouldn’t really be saying anything,” he said on his Instagram Live.
Pro-Black themes and radical aesthetics dominated 2010s pop culture. Roc Nation brunches are packed to the brim with celebrities giving toasts to Black excellence, but few of them have the stomach for Black resistance. They sought our help while seeking award show representation and fashion industry inclusion. They opportunistically evoked the tragedies that befell Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, and Mike Brown, but are unwilling to support the fight to supplant systemic oppression. That’s because they’re cogs of the system as puppets of consumerism, only flouting their pro-Blackness when financially beneficial. We gave them their voice, and too many have refused to use it to amplify our fight. Their lack of genuine solidarity with radical protesters demonstrates their social insulation and allegiance to the capitalist status quo.
The civic response to Floyd’s death at the hands of Derek Chauvin has been momentous. Black people are channeling the late Fannie Lou Hamer by being “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” setting the figments of their oppression ablaze. There has been intense unrest in Minneapolis, LA, New York City, Atlanta, DC, Detroit, and nearly every other major American city. Minnesota Governor Tim Walz called in the National Guard to Minnesota on Saturday because, “that right to speak stops at destruction of lives, destruction of property, and destruction of livelihoods.”
But the only people who have faced violence have been anti-Black aggressors and protesters at the hands of white vigilantes and antagonistic cops. People such as David McAtee, James Scurlock, a pregnant Chicago woman, and a 21-year-old Detroit man have been killed during protests, which means that the cycle of death and protest may simply continue. The media aired similar coverage of the Ferguson and Baltimore uprisings, diverting attention from police brutality to the people’s response to it. But they haven’t reported about footage of cops driving into crowds or assaulting people at protests. Minneapolis’ burned down Target and 3rd police precinct can be restored, but Floyd’s life, like that of other police brutality victims such as Breonna Taylor, cannot.
Some, like actor Shameik Moore and Lil Wayne, who thought we should “blame ourselves” for police violence, were actually better off silent. Others, like Killer Mike, T.I., Wiz Khalifa, have sought to quell the property damage in their cities by calling for peace. Diddy tweeted that, “it’s not just a Black issue, it’s a human rights issue.” Beyonce’s curiously curated clip acknowledged that people are “broken and disgusted,” but referenced POC instead of Black people, and pled to American solidarity. JAY-Z released a vague statement where he said he was “determined to fight for justice” but didn’t go in further detail. Their toothless responses cued to their billionaire status that prolonged unrest challenges. What billionaire, clamoring for more wealth, will condemn themselves and support cries of abolition?
JAY-Z and Beyonce have anonymously donated to bailout funds in the past, and other artists may currently be doing the same. But entertainers like Cardi B, Talib Kweli, Chance The Rapper, Noname, and others have figuratively shook the table by contributing to bailout funds and expressing shared politics with protesters. Their advocacy has demonstrated how celebrities can augment the movement: by donating and magnifying the cause, not calling for passivity to placate potential consumers.
Chauvin’s callous act is the latest high-profile instance of police brutality in 2020. In March, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was murdered by Louisville police who barged into her home on a warrant for an already apprehended person. Ahmaud Arbery, 25, was jogging through a South Georgia neighborhood when he was chased and murdered by former Georgia cop Gregory McMichael and his son Travis McMichael. In Toronto, 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet was thrown off a balcony by police last week.
Floyd’s death was the final straw for many, especially those in Minneapolis. Seeing Floyd’s last moments lit a flame — and protesters set fire to over 170 Twin Cities establishments in response. Video from Wednesday night shows Minnesota protesters stripping the Lake Street area Target store of virtually every product inside. The store was then engulfed in flames by protestors. A day later, Minnesota’s 3rd precinct was also set to flames by demonstrators. Employees at that Target received two weeks pay and were allowed to transfer to another store. No one was hurt, but the message was sent: continue to mistreat Black people, and the establishment will burn.
Trump, like Obama to Baltimore protesters, called the resistors “thugs,” and literally threatened to shoot them on Twitter in a controversial tweet. Noname replied to Trump and said that “this fascist is advocating to have black people murdered over property damage.” She also deemed Twitter owner Jack Dorsey a “white supremacist” because the platform hid the tweet instead of deleting it.
SWIFT DRAMATIC CHANGE ONLY COMES VIA REVOLUTION 🔥⬇️
— Chance The Rapper (@chancetherapper) May 27, 2020
Cardi B spoke for the Minneapolis protestors Tuesday night when she tweeted, “As much as I don’t like this type of violence it is what it is. Too much peaceful marches, too much trending hashtags and NO SOLUTIONS! The people are left with NO CHOICE.” Chance The Rapper tweeted, “SWIFT DRAMATIC CHANGE ONLY COMES VIA REVOLUTION,” and shared a tweet from Chicago media personality Andrew Barber who surmised, “Some things gotta be burned down for a new beginning.”
Noname also donated to the Minnesota Freedom Fund, and challenged celebrity followers to match her. People such as Thundercat, Rico Nasty, Kehlani, J.I.D, Earthgang, Janelle Monae, 6LACK, Smino, Yara Shahidi and more have publicly shared that they took her up on that request, bolstering the bail fund for protesters and aiding their peace of mind to continue fighting. Kehlani donated and also shared a Twitter thread about alternatives to policing, helping educate her fans who view the police system as an indispensable institution. (Minnesota Freedom Fund raised over $20 million in four days.)
BAIL FUND THREAD!
— bread (@time2ryot) May 29, 2020
Similar looting took place throughout the weekend, with numerous luxury designer stores being emptied. Atlanta residents set the precedent by emptying the Dior and Gucci stores Friday night. Atlanta artists Earthgang tweeted “I hate seeing our cities burn. But Next time, do your civic duty and treat us humans with dignity.” Their perspective differed from that of T.I., who said “we can’t do this here,” and Killer Mike, who tearfully told Atlanta residents “we have to be better than burning down our own homes” on Friday night. The-Dream echoed their sentiments by demanding, “do not destroy property that negates the decades of work. my children will not be set back by you!”
But playing to a sense of community is disingenuous. Black people can foster no loving sentiment for a “home” governed by a ruling class that resents them, exploits them, and kills them with impunity. Fashion designers Sean Wotherspoon and Marc Jacobs’ Instagram Posts indicate that they understand that, as does Brian Cornell, the CEO of Target. The South Asian restaurant owners of Minneapolis restaurant Gandhi Mahal uttered “let my building burn, justice needs to be served.” Apparently the Black capitalists feel differently.
T.I. has proposed multiple boycotts, including one on July 7th. While Off-White founder Virgil Abloh criticized looters for damaging Sean Wotherspoon’s Vintage by Round Two Los Angeles location. Do they realize that looting is also a form of divestment? Attack on economy is an integral facet of rebellion. The ‘60s were littered with fiery uprisings as a response to racial injustice. There are numerous violent revolts of Black people who were enslaved during the 19th century. And while most of us are no longer literally enslaved, the system of white supremacy persists, and the same rings true: a surefire way to hurt the capitalist establishment is through capital loss.
There has been legitimate anger that Black businesses were destroyed by protesters. But uprisings are never neat; commercial property insurance will help them rebuild. Unfortunately, they were collateral damage as demonstrations sought to destroy any establishment that represented our systemic oppression. It’s obvious why the third precinct, which housed Chauvin and Thou, was attacked. There’s also an inextricable link between behemoth corporations like Target and the carceral state. The angry hoard in Minnesota may not have been aware of Target’s decades-long funding of the MPD. But it’s poetic justice that the store faced consequences for the draconian police state that they helped fund through their SafeZone program, which paid over $300K for CCTV cameras in downtown Minneapolis.
European fashion houses like Moncler, Dior, and Gucci are notoriously racist, and few designers are speaking up against police brutality. Their pieces are a quintessential symbol of 1% opulence. but last week they were snatched by the 99% who were demonstrating that they have the ultimate power. Lost in condemnatory headlines was that protesters took Target goods and redistributed them amongst each other, setting a revolutionary precedent for organized looting.
What’s communicated in celebrities’ pleas for peace, and expressed in their silence is their self-interest. Black celebrities’ capital is their proximity to whiteness. It’s what allows them to fashion themselves “the Black Bill Gates,” fight for Forbes spots, and be well-paid figureheads for liberal politicians and corporations seeking to attract Black support. It’s what also makes them resources for record labels, movie studios, and media conglomerates that invest in private prisons and other vessels of systemic inequality. How many are brave enough to go against that mighty conglomerate? If uprisings continue, and the capitalist infrastructure is jolted, their interests will eventually be affected. So while Black people’s anti-police protests are an act of self-preservation, many stars are performing the same act by staying silent or begging us to stop. Their stance shows the limits of their social agency. Even if a better world is on the other side of rebellion, life is already good enough for them here. Leave them here.
It’s time for the people to abstain from stars’ feigned solidarity and abolish their hold over American consciousness. Don’t deify their ability to harness our pain and filter it into their creative ventures — not when proceeds are going to the corporations that exploit our reported $1.2 trillion purchasing power. The next time they gripe about the racial inequality of the entertainment industry, remind them that they ignored our plight and allowed property to take precedence over the people.
But on the flip side, the stars with the courage to risk corporate partnerships and upset non-Black fans by supporting radical ideas should be appreciated. The corporate-owned mainstream media is in alignment with the ruling class, ensuring that the official narrative around unrest vilifies the people. They’re apt to have the naive believe that rioting and lighting fire to the establishment is unpatriotic, but it’s important that some have the courage to express that destruction in the name of rebellion is the truest American ideal.
Andre Gee is a New York-based freelance writer with work at Uproxx Music, Impose Magazine, and Cypher League. Feel free to follow his obvious Twitter musings that seemed brilliant at the moment @andrejgee.