Commentary: Should Celebrities Assume Social Responsibility?
In the heat of NYC protesters responding to the acquittal of Eric Garner’s killer, a familiar face emerged. A photo of what appeared to be J Cole walking among the protesters, wild-fired across Instagram and Twitter — a comforting sign that those who make music about and for us indeed considers themselves to be among us.
Celebrities, particularly those from humble beginnings, are not only in a unique position to help those facing the exact challenges they were once confronted with, but are also privy to a platform to tell their narrative to the world. Instead of simply giving life to a struggle, celebrities can use their influence and capital to combat it.
Alicia Keys said it best, “Our critics may not like it, but musicians have the ability to challenge the horrors of the world. And we should.” Keys is among the most active celebrities in global and domestic issues affecting Blacks. From speaking up for women to condemning mass incarceration and working to combat HIV/AIDs, she is a prime example of spinning her influence into positive change. And she is not alone.
In 2006, Usher founded the New Look Foundation to help inner-city youth work towards their dreams. Both Rihanna and Will Smith have partnered with UNICEF to advocate for clean water across the globe as part of the UNICEF Tap Project. Jennifer Hudson is working with Weight Watchers’ “Lose for Good” campaign to combat world hunger and Kerry Washington joined forces with the Uptown Girls Benefit to help disadvantaged young women in the Bronx.
There is no doubt that the influence celebrities hold can often make a critical difference in public sentiment or aid a particular cause. From Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" dance to Rihanna’s revival of the combat boot in 2012 and Diddy’s Vote or Die movement, celebrity influence can sometimes seem like power that can be harnessed to vanquish social injustice. Still, it is important to remember, even if celebrities had the bandwidth to use their influence to impact large scale positive change, they are only human — many are bad, lazy activists just like a lot of us. With that said, social responsibility escapes no one. While celebrities should not be pinned on the social media cross for not actively advocating the causes we may see fit, they owe it to themselves and the society they act upon to contribute.
While many celebrities do their part through vocal activism, charity or both, other celebrities have often been scrutinized for being minimally engaged in the well-being of the world around them. Some like Kim Kardashian, in the past, have even participated in charities…for profit (inserts perplexed face). Still, we cannot expect people in the limelight to use their money and influence how we see fit or emerge as outspoken activists. The most we can ask is the same we ask of ourselves — to assume responsibility for our actions and to contribute to our communities in any meaningful way we can. I would argue that this minimum is a necessity.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photo: Jeff Fusco/Getty Images)