On March 16, American rapper Chika shared with Twitter that there is such a thing as Black Lives Matter celebrity group chat, where she was a member until her exit caused by the lack of disapproval from its members of the Compton rapper YG using the vigil for late Breonna Taylor for his “FTP” music video. Chika openly criticized the rapper back in June 2020.
Chika’s tweet came in response to the statement from Samaria Rice, mother of Tamir Rice, and Lisa Simpson, mother of Richard Risher. The women call out the Black Lives Matter organization and its prominent activists, including Tamika Mallory and Shaun King, for being “clout chasers” and capitalizing on the suffering and struggle of families who have lost their loved ones to police brutality. Rice and Simpson claim that they have received next to no financial support from the organization, which continues using their sons’ names and images in its campaigns.
Rice and Simpson’s reaction comes days after the 2021 Grammy Awards, where Mallory joined Lil Baby’s musical performance to recite a poem. Both the performance and the poem aimed to raise awareness of systemic racism and call for justice and solutions.
Shaun King has since dedicated a blog post to Rice where he continuously emphasized his apparent understanding of Rice’s discontent while defending Mallory and urging his readers to “gracefully and patiently help her [Rice] find her way out” of her anger. According to King, Rice simply misdirected her anger at him, Mallory, and others, for which she should be empathized with, but her criticism should not be taken seriously. It is worth noting that Rice and Simpson are not the first to bring up King’s name when it comes to financial accountability issues. In the past, King has been accused of mismanaging funds he collected for his multiple projects and showing a lack of transparency in his activism.
Topped with Chika’s disclosure of the existence of BLM celebrity group chat, all of that has added a newfound spark to an already existing conversation about neoliberal celebrity activism and the cooptation and commodification of a movement, many members of which position themselves as anti-capitalist and abolitionist.
Many seem to condemn the apparent lack of awareness of class identity’s importance when understanding systemic racism and the fight against it.
Celebrities and civil activists have a long history of a complicated and potentially fruitful relationship, starting from the dawn of the civil rights movement. Today, social media has transformed this relationship into something else entirely as the performative part of activism has become more valuable than ever before. The extent of this could have been observed during the Blackout Tuesday that happened on June 2 last year. Naturally, this raises concerns from many activists and proponents of social justice who worry about resources and the spotlight being taken away from structural changes and who believe in the need for a less hierarchical movement.
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