As celebrity culture begins to grow out of control, there’s now an influx of “celebrity activists” or “corporate activists”. These corporate activists hijack movements and words from community organizers and profit from it. They’re praised by the mainstream media, hang out with A-list celebrities, and sign deals with corporations.
I’d say that Shaun King is the most well known corporate activist. This man has profited from the trauma of Black people, using it for clicks on his social media pages. He’s been accused of mishandling funds and starting unauthorized fundraisers. His practices as an “activist” have been unethical, and he has yet to be deplatformed. Shaun has gained the support of celebrities and the mainstream media. He uses his power to dox Black women and Black queer people who aren’t afraid to call him out. There are tons of articles about his problematic ways, but his career remains unaffected. King is still the go-to for coverage of Black trauma.
Next is DeRay McKesson. He became known as the leader of the movement in Ferguson after Mike Brown was killed. Ferguson’s organizers have let it be known that DeRay is not the face of their movement, and only seized an opportunity. Many of the Ferguson protesters were killed and one is still in prison. Meanwhile, DeRay and his blue vest have now written books, been invited to the White House, and made it onto Fortune’s, “World’s Greatest Leaders,” list. His latest stint was devising an eight-point plan to lower the rate of police killings. It was panned by community organizers for its tone-deafness. Many of those points were already in place and didn’t prevent police brutality. Community organizers had moved from the idea of police reform to abolition. He would know that if he spent more time around the people who he supposedly represents instead of explaining cultural appropriation to Katy Perry.
Before I start on these activists, I just want to say that I respect the movement that they launched. It’s the reason why I became involved in community organizing. But, the recent news about all three of the Black Lives Matter founders signing corporate deals has raised eyebrows for me. It seems like they’ve transitioned themselves from activists to entertainers? Patrisse Cullors signed a deal with Warner Bros. Television Group to create more Black programming. Opal Tometi signed to WME entertainment company and Alicia Garza signed to ICM partners.
There’s a huge disconnect between corporate activists and the organizers who are on the ground. While corporate activists receive honors and hangout with A-list celebrities, community organizers have to start bail funds. Community organizers are beaten by the police for peacefully protesting. They struggle to pay rent and face the risk of losing their job based on their politics.
Community organizers lead the movements and do the hard work, while the opportunists get credit for it. Organizing isn’t about getting rich and having a seat at the table. How does the community benefit from that? Beware of opportunists who look at our vulnerabilities and see profit.
The entertainment business is an industry. The goal is to make money first and foremost. They see the profit in sanitized activism that makes white people comfortable. There is no intention of changing the world, but only selling a product to their buyers. Corporations and activism do not mix.
We all have to make a living. But why do we sell out to the institutions responsible for our oppression? The institutions that uphold racism, misogyny, and classism? Can we truly reform these institutions or do we only become a part of what we were once against?