What we can learn about white celebrity activism from Lea Michele

Debate over labeling Michele a racist is detracting from vital conversation

Now is the time to be promoting Black voices, not praising white ones.

The death of George Floyd has forced even the most privileged people to confront the realities and persistence of anti-Black racism.

The mainstream focus on #BlackLivesMatter (BLM) has pressured everyone from political leaders to social media influencers to publicly state their support for the movement. Celebrities have proven no exception

Lea Michele, former Glee star, chose to speak up about Floyd’s death on Twitter in a brief and boilerplate statement at the end of May. Soon after, she was accused by former Glee co-star Samantha Marie Ware of subjecting her Black peers to “traumatic microaggressions.” 

This impacted the news cycle dramatically: for a few days, rather than pouring limited resources into BLM coverage, outlets from BBC to Global News were investigating numerous claims of Lea Michele clashing with co-workers. 

Throughout June, everyone was asking if Lea Michele was racist.  

That’s not a question worth asking about anyone, celebrity or not. Everyone is influenced by racism, and we all have a responsibility to continually unlearn it.

Still, there’s an idea that celebrities like Michele are victims when they’re called out for their racism or the shortcomings of their ‘activism.’ 

That’s ridiculous.

No one is forcing Michele to tweet for a movement she’ll likely never put any real work into. She has privilege that has allowed her to be racist without consequence, and she’ll likely continue to find work in her industry regardless. 

She shouldn’t be praised for her original statement on Twitter or subsequent lackluster apology, in which she refused to acknowledge that she was ever racist. 

Anyone who remains silent about BLM, or who only supports the movement superficially, shouldn’t be shielded from being called compliant in the many social factors that went into facilitating the deaths of George Floyd, Chantel Moore, Regis Korchinski-Paquet, and countless others.  

Their compliance should be taken as fact.

Powerful people should be called out and held accountable when they perpetuate discrimination, but in the midst of an unprecedented wave of the civil rights movement, we can’t afford to argue over whether white celebrities are racist, or track how not-racist they are and subsequently celebrate them for it.  

As with the rest of the BLM movement, we need to put that energy into uplifting and listening to Black voices. 

That doesn’t necessarily mean we should discount celebrity activism altogether. There are plenty of Black celebrities who have always been vocal about BLM and are risking their lives and careers by continuing to support the movement. 

We need to appreciate the way they’re using their platform, and we need to protect them from the criticism that they’re being and have been bombarded with long before this past week, as a result of advocating for their own communities. 

Forget about Ariana Grande and Harry Styles.

Let’s listen to John Boyega’s calls to “take care of our black women.” 

Let’s commend and support the other Black celebrities who are brave enough to march in protests–Tessa Thompson, Michael B. Jordan, Nick Cannon, J. Cole, Kendrick Sampson, and many more. 

Let’s make sure they’re not punished for speaking out while their white peers are worshipped for doing the bare minimum. 

To all white people watching history unfold, and to all non-Black POC, let’s shut up. Let’s listen. Let’s make sure we’re using our privilege for good—not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because we simply cannot do otherwise without being on the wrong side of history.

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