Just a few weeks ago, singer and dancer Todrick Hall was at the center of controversy after appearing in the Taylor Swift video for her song, “Look What You Made Me Do”. Many QTPOC felt that Todrick betrayed the QTPOC community by appearing in the video, calling him a “sell out” after learning that not only was he a dancer in the video, but a close friend of Taylor. Todrick would go on later to defend his actions by saying that everything he does is centered in love for all people and that the only thing he is most concerned with is equality. Hall cautioned that centering his actions on race and racism was not only problematic, but also divisive.
Todrick, like several other creatives, is not the first QTPOC celebrity to openly face backlash for this same situation. In 2016 both Rupaul and Lee Daniels went on record stating that the only reason why they believe they are successful in entertainment is because they don’t embrace concepts or ideals of racism. Both believe that by ignoring racism, it keeps them from coming across as the stereotypical angry Black man. But yet, QTPOC continue to question whether this rhetoric is a way for QTPOC people to survive in an industry that is inherently racist, specifically in queer white spaces.
This debate brings up a very interesting question regarding advocacy and using one’s platform to address inequity in the LGBTQ community: Do artists like Hall, Rupaul & Lee have a responsibility to speak up about racial disparities that queer Black/Brown people face?
As a both a scholar and media enthusiast, I always find it interesting when I see conversations around race and racial injustice surface in pop culture. Often, the conversation centers more on what a celebrity is not saying, more than what they are actually doing. I would actually go out on a limb and say that for any Black/Brown queer artist who is making it in the entertainment industry, that in itself is a form of resistance that many of us don’t give much credit for. One has to consider the way they navigate the industry, the different ways they might be making a difference for Black/Brown QTPOC people without it being vocalized and how choosing to be vocal about social injustice can affect their livelihood. Though not a part of the QTPOC community, Colin Kaepernick and Muhammad Ali are great examples of what happens when someone chooses to make the personal political. Both athletes experienced great backlash in their career for speaking out publically about anti-blackness and police violence, specifically in sports and entertainment.
In conceptualizing the responsibility that certain QTPOC celebrities have, we have to understand that everyone is at a different level of “wokeness”. Some are highly aware of the injustice that QTPOC people face and are working tirelessly to eradicate it. Others are very comfortable with the levels of white supremacy in the industry and are doing just enough to make sure that their bills are paid. Knowing that I personally believe that it is every QTPOC’s person’s responsibility to help eradicate systemic oppression in this world, I have to be mindful that this is not something that every other QTPOC person believes. Sometimes it is easier to be comfortable with surviving and for many QTPOC people that’s all we know how to do. I often think about times where there have been celebrities who have opted to speak up about racial and social injustice and said the wrong thing, only furthering the issue within the community.
We have to understand that when we start challenging artists to use their platform to speak to bigger issues, what we are really asking them to do is to speak for thousands of intersectional experiences. Experiences that many of these artist will never know or fully understand, mostly because of privilege and capitalism.
As someone who may eats/sleeps social justice, you have to remind yourself that sometimes the things you may want others to speak up about may be things others don’t fully understand. To have access to the knowledge to fully understand something is a privilege in itself. When we challenge a celebrity to speak up, end relationships or ties to racist or oppressive institutions, we are making the assumption that said person gets the struggle.
We must be cautious about challenging LGBTQ celebrities to be a voice for the community. We need those who have not only done their own work, but those who truly want to be a voice for those who are often left marginalized. In order for anyone to be able to advocate fully on someone’s behalf, it requires time, dedication and heart, something that many artist may not have time to commit to.
Or choose not to commit to.
While Audre Lorde tells us that silence will not protect us, some celebrities do more for us just by staying silent on the issues they have not immersed themselves in. In a perfect world, Todrick, Rupaul and Lee would all stand up and speak out about the injustices that happen to QTPOC in entertainment, but that would require them having a firm understanding of the struggles we face as Black/Brown queer individuals. This would require them to go beyond conversations of love and equality and standing for equity, something that QTPOC rarely get in the LGBTQ community.
Keep in mind that not all skinfolk are kinfolk and in this case, not all those who are woke are truly awake.