I so rarely build one post off of another, but today I’m treating you (and myself) to some ideas that have been weighing on me recently. I’ve never been one for celebrity activism as it has never quite seemed genuine to me. I didn’t grow up engaging with a lot of media in my early years so I didn’t form these early bonds and emotional attachments. I love Rihanna’s work for example but if someone wanted to cuss out Rihanna ‘til next Tuesday in front of me, I would remain completely unbothered and emotionally unaffected. So when I see celebrities who are detached from working class and middle class communities claiming to have all the answers, I feel rubbed the wrong way in particular.
In the Caribbean, going abroad for a year or two can tarnish you enough that any ideas you have for social equity are immediately branded as detached and “foreign ideas”. Yet celebrities who may have spent decades hoarding more wealth than most people will ever have in their entire lives feel completely qualified to pick random communities of people and tell them exactly what they should do.
The concept of a “Black community” in the United States strikes me as a little odd because from my experiences, Black communities in California and New York differ from Black communities in Atlanta or Washington D.C. There isn’t a monolithic solution for every Black community and while racial unity and unity of goals can be powerful — for example the “Black Lives Matter” movement — there’s a reason why that particular group of activists is diffused in terms of leadership and specific goals within different cities.
Grassroots activists recognize that there isn’t a one size fits all solution for the “Black community” in America. Celebrity activists on the other hand talk down to communities and preach at them. This has been happening since Bill Cosby preached to Black men about how sagging their pants was a direct cause of racism and it’s happening now with Jay-Z’s comments about “moving past kneeling”. Rather than expend my limited energy writing why these celebrities are wrong, let’s have a little think about what we can do instead to better our communities:
1) Spread awareness about local activist groups
In Saint Lucia, few people are aware of some of the most effective activist groups in our country. United & Strong, an organization for LGBT rights, and Raise Your Voice Saint Lucia, are two groups that many average people have not heard of even if they do great work directed at the appropriate level. These are examples from my environment, but every city and country has their own groups like this one. Take some time to research and then spread awareness by sharing posts, fundraisers, talking to your friends and family members about how different groups are helping your community.
2) Talk to people in need within your life/your community
Often times, we project what other people need based off of our own assumptions and beliefs. If we meet someone who can’t pay their rent, we assume they need a financial literacy app when in reality, they may tell us what they need: a job that pays better. Rather than making assumptions, we can have non-judgmental conversations with people we meet and discover what they feel their needs are.
3) Read news bulletins by community organizations to educate yourself on their needs
Community organizations often put out news bulletins discussing their ongoing projects, their future projects, and their financial needs for the future. You can also find out what organizations need from volunteers or donors. If you read news bulletins, tweets or public posts, you can come across valuable information about what different organizations actually need. Do they need coats for the homeless? Do they need period related hygiene products? Do they need volunteer hours? Doing this also builds the habit of not making assumptions that we know better than those we are trying to help. Privilege does not actually mean you are superior.
4) Study successful activists and community leaders of the past
Studying successful activists and community leaders from our present and past can also inspire ideas for how we can help our communities. I enjoy reading about the Black Panther Party’s free breakfast programs in the United States as well as reading biographies of various activists and community leaders. Rather than giving our attention to celebrities, we can direct our attention to folks who dedicated their lives and time to improving our communities. This doesn’t mean to never listen to music or watch movies, but when it comes to politics, let’s focus on those who made a real difference every day!
5) Create your own solutions to problems in your community
This point relates to my previous one. When you learn from the past, you shouldn’t just be content to memorize facts. Think about how you can apply these lessons to your lives. I know many Christian activists for example who participate in food drives and clothing drives for the homeless and impoverished in society. Every community can use some help and every person is capable of offering something according to their own needs and capabilities. Coming up with solutions to problems in your community and even in your household can be beneficial. For example, if you are producing a lot of food waste, you could start a compost heap. Ideas can be THAT simple. You don’t have to start a revolution to make a difference in your life or the lives of those around you.
6) Donate money or time to organizations that help people in your community
When in doubt for what to do, you can always donate your money or your time to organizations in your community. In Saint Lucia, the National Trust always needs help with beach clean ups. Typically grassroots organizations need money and they determine how best to put it to use. Every little bit that you do will count for something!
One of the troubling things about celebrity “activism” is that we hold two false beliefs. First, we assume that celebrities are superior to regular working class people and they’re blessed with some kind of special insight that we don’t have. Second, we believe that doing ‘more’ is about how much money someone gives specifically. Neither of these beliefs are true. Celebrities are not specially gifted with knowledge of communities where they don’t live. More money isn’t necessarily better if that money isn’t put to effective use. These ideas are designed to strip us of the realization of our individual power and give credence to the notion that more capital creates superior individuals. You can have so much more power in your community than you realize and make a real difference if you direct your energy in the right way. We may not have the power of wealth, but we have power in numbers, and that means a hell of a lot.