Why ask Why?: Entertainers won’t save us
Azealia Banks told the truth about misogynoir and appropriation in Hip-Hop but she’s also a homophobe who mocks head wraps and African oils for retweets. Kanye West wants Black America to support his infiltration into European fashion houses as a rite of Black solidarity, but does he expect the support of “the bitch” that “his bitch” makes “look like precious”? Lupe Fiasco claims to be for Black consciousness but starts off twitter rants to the Black community with “bitch I don’t give two shits about you”. Maybe none of them do.
One would surmise the continued disappointment we receive from our “faves” would make us realize the Hollywood fishbowl in which we search for heroes is more like a cesspool, unfit to find the voices needed for salvation or even baseline solidarity. White Supremacy has deluded us into believing their entertainment industry is a babysitter, political platform and economic salvation all at once. White America has an entire political system prioritizing their issues, while we just want someone with an album out to mention Tamir Rice.
Our needs as a people are so suppressed that whenever a Black celebrity appears conscious enough, ride or die fans throw them on their shoulders like a game winning Quarterback, our new savior. Then the celebrity says something counterproductive and two things happen: many incredulously throw them down while others ignore the statement and continue to cheer lead, projecting their own ignorance. Many Black youth seemingly amend their convictions whenever convenient, creating a fragmented, hypocritical conception of modern consciousness. The cognitive dissonance in wanting to abolish the current white patriarchal establishment while supporting the misogynist, homophobic artists that very system projects is troubling, and threatens to hold back our capability to enact true change.
To be clear, if you believe it’s “just music” and don’t invest your interest in stars beyond their art, this isn’t about you. But very often, when an artist makes a racially polarizing statement such as Kendrick Lamar’s “who will respect us if we don’t respect ourselves?” social media becomes a universal circus, filled with hoots, hollers and a million “whys?”, while people count on one hand the celebrities left who haven’t fallen below their pseudo-conscious standards.
Conversely, when Azealia Banks makes statements like “and even if I am a homophobe…so wat”, the collective outrage is notably less. It’s as if in the same manner a celebrity resolves their financial status supersedes their social responsibility, many fans resolve that their all encompassing fandom for an artist supersedes their ability to contextualize them. We expect from the wrong people, we ignore the wrong things. Simply put, many of us are going about this search for galvanizing voices all wrong.
The ever occurring “exalted then executed” narrative exposes the naive expectations many have for today’s corporate Pop stars to be lightning rods for political/social change. Even if artists harbor revolutionary ideas, their corporate interests keep them submerged in a sea of silence. Additionally, the selective outrage of fans reflect the flaws of celebrity obsession and piecemeal consciousness. Until misogyny, homophobia and ableism mean as much as racism, artists will continue to pull the wool over some eyes. Our division as a community will continuously be exhibited by what gets swept under the rug.
During Hip-Hop’s adolescence, artists like Public Enemy, Brand Nubian (that’s who Lord Jamar is kids), Queen Latifah, X-Clan, Tupac and many more were unabashedly conscious, discussing the evils of a white establishment and instilling Black pride in millions of youth across the country. Hip-Hop was then the platform for the unheard, even on a mainstream level. Those men and women could be entrusted as voices for our people because they had freedom to say what they wanted and the agency to back it up. Chuck D is an activist to this day. Tupac shot at cops for harassing a pedestrian and spoke often of creating a political party. The turn up was real.
Once large corporations fully sank their claws into Hip-Hop, the genre appeared to become more of a business than a venue for anti-establishment art. The Game created a song for his 2005 debut album The Documentary called “We Will Survive” about fighting systemic oppression, with pro-Black lines like “don’t ever forget we were African rulers before NBA players and furniture movers.” Interscope didn’t let him place the song on the album, and continuously remove the leaked song from Youtube.
His successor as West Coast King Kendrick Lamar recently released “Blacker the Berry”, with similar pro-Black sentiment but an ultimately flawed conclusion that parallels the Gang violence of disillusioned Blacks to homicidal hate crimes. It was widely lauded. Kendrick Lamar is signed to Interscope, which is a subsidiary of Universal Music Group, which is owned by General Electric, an investor in the billion dollar private prison industry and primary progenitor of criminalizing the image of Black and Brown citizens.
The Corrections Corporation of America stipulates in contracts with prisons they buy that the institution maintain a 90% inmate occupancy. Kendrick Lamar has exhibited a certain level of consciousness; but expecting him, currently one of the most famous members of the General Electric conglomerate, to condemn a police system and school to prison pipeline his bosses profit from is foolish. The modern music industry favors income over integrity, and capitalism is wholly uninterested in revolution. Tupac was the exception that proves the rule.
Those who continuously ask “why?” may be better served to truly study the roots of racism, how the establishments created and controlled by White Supremacy (the political system, the entertainment industry) are policed so as none of it’s members ever publicly declare that the establishment itself should be abolished. Those that do are bought off, blackballed or worse.
There may be moments of mainstream artists calling out the white patriarchal, misogynist institution’s flaws and calling for reform within it, but moments of anyone challenging the institution’s very existence are extremely rare. Kanye West spent an entire album cycle lamenting being marginalized by white supremacy in 2013, but never once discussed marginalizing or eliminating the system of white supremacy. He railed against the racism of the European designers, yet recently co-signed a white designer’s “Niggas in Paris” clothing line. He reflects most all mainstream artists, only conveniently conscious.
Crossing one artist off the list then searching for the next to be “here for” is an exercise in perpetual disappointment. None of them are truly “here” for us. They can surely be enjoyed for their artistic ability, but their commodified integrity proves them unreliable agents of revolution. Furthermore, their occasional pangs of consciousness should perhaps be taken with a grain of salt. Do they really care about change as much as getting the people who believe in them to spend change?
While they may be charismatic, instill pride, and have some merit at times, their positions in a multi-pronged agenda of oppression mean that they ultimately have to choose between their position and the people on literal life or death issues. They continuously choose the trappings of fame and perceived financial security. We should choose to look elsewhere.
The young leaders of grassroots organizations are who the truly conscious must support. I went to an American Policing talk in Harlem on February 18th. I soon realized the following voices had more true consciousness than just about anyone who’s released a mainstream Hip-Hop album in the past 10-15 years. The energy spent being confounded by this system is better expended fighting it as a member of one of their Organizations:
@Awkward_Duck @PhilofDreams @DanteBarry @BrownBlaze @zellieimani