Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Black Celebrities Can Learn a lot from Lada Gaga

Lady Gaga leads while celebs of color sit on sidelines

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, Syracuse UniversityScholarship in Action 


When we use the word “intellect,” we don’t typically apply it to Lady Gaga.  I’m not sure what to make out of her, primarily because I don’t think about her very much.  But now, when I hear the name Lady Gaga, I’ll think of the terms “leader” and “role model.”

Since her brilliant and impressive stand on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Lady Gaga is officially an important and historical figure in America.  In fact, she’s an icon.  She is becoming a symbol of her generation, one who transcends petty fashion trends and dance moves.  She has chosen to stand up for something she believes in, and as a result, has a whole legion of fans that she didn’t have before.  She’s getting respect from the likes of Wolf Blitzer, who acknowledged her on his show and even sang some of her lyrics.  She is using her power to change the world.

If a wealthy white woman can become passionate and committed enough to impact the world in which she lives, why can’t black entertainers do the same?  Black celebrities have an easier job than Lady Gaga when it comes to finding a whole host of issues worth fighting for: Poverty, homicide, mass incarceration, unemployment, HIV, etc.  In fact, for many black entertainers, these issues affect their own families.  The proximity of these problems to their own lives should make it quite easy to become passionate enough to stand up.

To my personal dismay, I have yet to see any significant black athlete or entertainer take a stand on damn near anything.  Other than polite public service announcements and charitable work that’s been sanctioned by their corporate overseers, you hardly see African American public figures take aggressive dispositions on anything that doesn’t involve drug possession. In fact, Lady Gaga has more in common with Martin Luther King than nearly every black celebrity in America. 

Black celebrities have been drinking the kool-aid when it comes to believing that everything should be all about them.  They are told that their own personal success is what matters, and that making the green stuff should be their sole priority.  As a result, they sit on powerful platforms and do nothing with them, having access to the world, only to watch their communities die.  Rather than hearing about black celebs giving millions to meaningful charities or Historically black colleges, we get to see another uneducated rapper on MTV Cribs buying a bigger gold chain than he had the year before.   Of course I can’t put every black celebrity in one box, but you know exactly what I’m talking about.

It wasn’t always like this.  Black athletes and entertainers fought during the Civil Rights movement to create the opportunities that we have today.  They stood up for what they believed in, and Muhammad Ali even gave up the peak of his career to make a stand for poor people around the world.  There will never be another Muhammad Ali, as black celebs are more comfortable at Martha’s Vineyard than they are at a justice rally. Rather than lining up to make songs with Lady Gaga, perhaps many of our black entertainers can learn a thing or two from Gaga about finding a purpose.   Any person who has not found a cause bigger than himself to fight for has led a virtually unproductive existence. 

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