First Fridays: Are Celebrities Required to be Activists?

Happy Friday, friends!

As much as I love to spotlight my fellow “Millennials on a Mission”, I’ve decided to take a little break this week from the feature. But don’t you fret! “First Fridays” is a little call-and-response diddy in which I’ll post a hot topic of the week, and want to hear what YOU think.

For today’s installment, I want to briefly touch upon the most recent discussion of “beef” between legendary entertainer Mr. Harry Belafonte and media mogul Jay Z. Now, if you’ve missed out on what’s been happening, here are a few facts to catch you up:

  • Last year, Mr. Belafonte was asked during an interview if he was content with the image of minorities in Hollywood today. He responded saying no, and that certain celebrities like Jay Z and Beyoncé have turned their back on social responsibility.
  • Jay Z then responded to Mr. Belafonte’s comment by shading him in the first few lines of his song, “Nickels and Dimes” on his new album Magna Carta, Holy Grail.
  • To take it a little further, Jay Z most recently interviewed with Elliott Wilson, stating that he was “offended” by Mr. Belafonte’s comments and then so eloquently stating the phrase, “my presence is charity.”
  • Mr. Belafonte recently responded, stating that he was open to meeting with Jay Z and Beyoncé to discuss certain topics further.

All caught up? Great. Now,  I won’t take the time to dissect each article that has been written over the last few weeks (you can check out John Kennedy’s “Cross Examination” piece on to see both sides of the coin.) But I will say that both Mr. Belafonte and Jay Z are polarizing figures in our popular society that I respect greatly and whose voices carry a LOT of weight in the black community. It could be deemed simply an argument of Old School versus New School, but it is much deeper than that. Despite what many may think, there are so many similarities between these two men: from breaking racial barriers in the music industry, to supporting major political figures, (Belafonte was a strong supporter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, while Jay Z backed President Barack Obama in this last election) to both showing support in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

It’s important for you (the reader) to look at all of the facts, do a little bit of research and come to your own conclusions about this debate. Does Mr. Belafonte  makes a good point about celebrities today not being as socially responsible as they should be? Sure. He is a celebrity AND political activist that has made strides in his career while making a difference in his community. And that’s not saying Jay Z isn’t doing that by any means (See: Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation.) Does Jay Z make a good argument in saying that the game has changed significantly in terms of black celebrity? Most definitely — celebrities today (especially with the advancement of technology) have the ability to build clout and access to their audiences in ways that weren’t even though of years ago. Even though celebrities/entertainers do have power, money and the ability to garner the support of millions, we shouldn’t expect them to always release a statement, send a tweet or even post a YouTube video about every thing that happens. However, I do think it is commendable when celebrities do show that they are aware of what happens in the world around them, and (just like us) stand for issues they believe in.  Having the right to freely speak (and be respected for that opinion) is what makes our country great–even when the opinion is overstated or extreme.

I personally believe that if they joined forces, both Mr. Belafonte and Jay Z as influential figures can really bridge that generational gap and shake the table on some conversations that are long overdue. This debate should be a lesson to us all: if we really want to incite change, we must be open and willing to collaborate with those that may not always share our same ideologies, respect viewpoints, and then encourage others to make moves.

What do you all think? Can this debate really squash the intergenerational beef once and for all? State your comments below or hit me up on Twitter.

Have a great weekend!


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