Dear Celebrities: Shut Up
Everyone has their favorite celebrities, the famous people they look up to, lust over, or just enjoy their work. While there’s something to be said about the way we place these people on pedestals and how that may or may not be fair to them or to us, it is true that they have a lot more influence on the general public than most. It is for this reason that I implore my faves (and yours) to do the right thing and shut up.
When I say this, I don’t mean all celebrities. I don’t even mean celebrities who don’t share the same thoughts and views as me. However, when there are celebrities who say things that make invisible, offend, and/or marginalize groups of people, I would prefer if they said nothing.
Of course, a part of this is selfish. I have no qualms about not liking a random person who has harmful beliefs, or even a celebrity I don’t really care about. But if, say, Idris Elba came out saying something ridiculously misogynistic, or if Viola Davis turned out to be a raging homophobe, it would break my heart.
The other part of it isn’t selfish at all. It’s extremely harmful when people with as much power (unearned or not) spout beliefs laced with racism, sexism, homophobia, or other types of oppressive language. Of course there are people who may share those beliefs, but celebrities shouldn’t validate bigots, they should be working to make the world a more inclusive and tolerant place as much as their visibility allows. Or, they should do their work and keep quiet.
We’ve seen this most recently with the celebrity reactions to #OscarsSoWhite and other calls for diversity specifically in Hollywood. Of course, any actor getting interviewed right now will be asked about the hashtag started by April Reign, but there are some very easy ways to come out of the other side without problems. Rather than doing like the Coen Brothers, who compared black and Chinese people to Martians, or like Julie Delpy who lamented how much harder it was to be a woman than to be black (because black women apparently don’t exist), they can do like countless others and either not respond or talk about why diversity in film and television is extremely important. Of course, even being silent can be a problem as it is often a sign of privilege for some, in that they aren’t being threatened so do not feel the need to step up for others, and a source of oppression for those who don’t feel as if they can speak up for fear of being blacklisted. Still, for those who don’t have this problem, those who have the privilege to speak up for others but choose to double down on their own ignorance and bigotry, you could also just not. Not only does it pain those who are longtime fans to let you go, but it also does incredible harm to those you are disparaging or else demonstrating to be someone without value.
There are always the celebrities who get things right, and we love them for it. Keep doing you. But of course, there are the ones who get it irreparably wrong. While I think there is definitely space for growth, especially for young celebs, we have to pay attention to the ones that continue to get it wrong without regret. Learning about and working through your own privilege is an important thing and is a process, but straight up ignoring it is not.
I pray the day never comes when I have to renounce Michael B. Jordan, Idris Elba, Alfred Enoch, Kerry Washington, Viola Davis, Kit Harrington, and countless others. Of course, most of the time I try not to hold my breath or get my hopes up when it comes to most (especially white) celebs because there is such a high possibility that they are a problem. Sometimes, though you get attached. As much as it doesn’t really surprise me that Meryl Streep made those ridiculous comments recently, it still hurts. As much as I was generally indifferent to Anthony Mackie before learning he was trash, it’s still difficult to not want the Falcon to win and to keep being dope in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And as much as I’ve totally renounced Raven-Symoné, the little girl in me always winces when I think about all that That’s So Raven did for me growing up.
As Uncle Ben Parker said, “with great power comes great responsibility.” These celebrities should take that to heart.