Activism | October 13th, 2020

Activism is not a Route to Fame

By: Akilah Winters
Activism is not a Route to Fame

This past summer has not been an idyllic hiatus whilst in the middle of a pandemic and front line fighting for Black lives encompassing the three months. Black men and women are brutalized constantly by those in law enforcement because our power is perceived as a threat. Over the summer, our nation reached a pivotal reflection point to parse our duty to activism. Thousands across the country and the world united to protest the recent killings and shootings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and so many countless lives lost to the pervasive bigotry in America’s law enforcement and justice system.

Many of the protests that occurred began peacefully but soon escalated to violence due to police officers targeting Black protestors and instigating violence within the crowds of people. During this time many initiatives were started to help donate to the Black Lives Matter organization itself and other smaller initiatives that helped support the Black community with inequalities brought by systemic racism in our country. Many celebrities and influencers also began to pay attention to the movement, submit calls to action and participate in trying to amplify the Black voice.

However, not all celebrities and influencers used their platform to support Black people who were affected by the injustices in the world today. Some influencers used their platforms to selfishly gain attention and earn more money. Many were seen posing in front of protests or looted stores to show their support to Black lives — an act that many supporters of the movement interpreted as offensive and cruel. 

Kris Schatzel, a Youtuber that has amassed over 54,000 subscribers, appeared at a protest for George Floyd in Downtown LA with a whiteboard that had “Black Lives Matter” inscribed across it and a camera crew to pose for a photo op amid the action. Fans rightfully accused Schatzel of staging the picture and not taking part in the action.

Schatzel, just like many other social media personalities, wielded her privilege as a white woman and used the protest as an opportunity to gain attention on social media. In a later released statement on Instagram, the Youtuber responded to the backlash stating that her “intent was to spread the message without hurting anyone and show the world the peaceful protest that was happening in L.A.” 

Influencers need to educate themselves on the appropriate way to navigate their allyship for the Black community in delicate times like this. For hundreds of years, our community has been subjected to pain and reducing our anguish to a picture of yourself at a protest is not a route to tangible support for us.

Breonna Taylor, a symbol of the Black Lives Matter movement due to her tragic death, was disrespected when a convention was held in her name. The convention, titled BreonnaCon, was held in Louisville this past August by a social justice group based in New York called Until Freedom. 

The event was meant to bring people together to talk about her life and bring the community together, but many saw this event as a way for Until Freedom to bring more light to their name. 

Although some of Breonna Taylor’s family members attended the event and the Until Freedom organization attended marches for Breonna Taylor, it does not make it a valid reason to profit off her life. This decision should have been the family’s to make, not a social justice organization wanting to gain clout from her name and her death. 

Since the BreonnaCon, Tamika D. Mallory, one of the four co-founders of Until Freedom, has been featured on CNN, USA Today and more. Although Mallory has already received recognition for other projects with Until Freedom, after BreonnaCon many media outlets saw Mallory’s activism as even more prevalent and important in this time in Black history. Mallory and the other three co-founders of the organization have used their platform as a way to rise in the activism pyramid.

In a Washington Post opinion article, the writer explains how Breonna Taylor deserved more than a Barbeque, memes and a flyer to promote BreonnaCon with her photo faded in the background. Black women are truly the most disrespected being in America and deserve better especially through all of the hard work they do.

Breonna Taylor was one of us, an EMT working two jobs at a hospital with dreams of buying a house and starting a family. As a Black woman who worked hard in her city and gave back to her community, she deserved so much more. We have failed her and our justice system has failed her, that is nothing to celebrate.

Shaun King, a controversial activist, has also scaled up the pyramid of activism. The controversy surrounding his race and the way he reports specific ideas and concepts of certain topics in the Black Lives Matter movement as facts shows how he is using his activism as a way to rise in the world of fame. 

King has also recently been accused of using Chadwick Boseman’s death as a way to promote his new book “Make Change.” King is very prevalent on twitter and uses his social media to try and gauge his followers to be aware of social injustices and issues occurring around the world.  

King’s information in his tweets often appears as based on his own opinions. King’s reputation can appear sketchy especially after being accused of misappropriating funds from fundraisers for those killed at the hands of police officers and more. It honestly appears that King is using all of these false accusations and tweets as a way to get more followers through his social media and not as an activist who wants to help the Black community grow.

Companies have also capitalized off of supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. 

In a BBC article, huge corporations were exposed for profiting from the movement. The article mentions “brand activism,” a term used to show how corporations use their brands to try and promote awareness to certain social issues to create some type of social reform.

In reality, corporations should be using this opportunity to hire Black people who are qualified into higher positions to run companies instead of releasing statements and printing Black Lives Matter on some of their products. This would help the advancement of Black people so that they get a fair advantage in today’s society when it comes to employment in higher-level positions.

Our Black lives are not toys to be played with to gain fame. Our Black lives are not something to be used as another piece in the capitalistic game we call America. Our ancestors played a huge role in building this country for free and endured so much pain and suffering. Their lives and the lives of those recently taken away by the hands of the police should not be taken for granted or used.