Ray Rice lost Nike; Adrian Peterson lost Radisson; Michael Vick lost Air Tran; Tiger Woods lost Gatorade; Kobe Bryant lost McDonald’s; Donald Trump lost Macy’s; Paula Dean lost Target: I could fill this page with celebrities who have lost endorsements (multiple endorsements) when companies didn’t agree with their behavior. Protesting is nothing new. Boycotting is nothing new. Having expectations of behavior from our celebrities is nothing new.
We, Black folks, don’t own or run Fortune 500 companies however. We don’t fund campaigns and commercials. All we have is us. Accordingly, we can’t afford for one, two, three of us to break the picket line when we are trying to make a change.
Understand that Chrisette Michelle’s decision to perform at the inauguration is significant because she is selling out the one leverage point she has–that we have. As Black people, all we have ever had to leverage is ourselves and our talent. While white people may be able to exercise influence by pulling commercials, or having their companies refuse to do business with a certain person or entity — Black folks have not been in similar positions of power (due to the fact that while White people were building wealth, we were enslaved in helping them build it for free).
All we have ever had is ourselves. It was individual acts of leveraging ourselves — by not getting on the bus — that effected change during the bus boycotts. It was individual acts of leveraging our athletic talents that led to the Tommie Smith black glove protests, Muhammad Ali’s Vietnam protest, and more recently Colin Kapernick’s stance. These individual acts took courage. If more of our athletes would band together — it could effect change almost immediately. How quickly do you think there would be change on a particular issue if all Black NFL players boycotted by not playing for a week (70% of NFL players are Black) — what about the NBA (75% Black? College football and basketball are basically the same.
Withholding our talents — athletic, musical , artistic — is often the biggest strength and leverage point that we have. So it is upsetting to see someone sell themselves out for a bit of fame and a few nickels. What may benefit them personally (in the short term) can hurt us as collectively as a people, for years to come.
Jerry Rice is a perfect example. His “taste mask” commercial for Popeyes is insulting and reduces him to a Sambo minstrel. He is a Hall of Famer — and arguably the best football player ever at any position. But he has been rendered a chicken eating caricature by Popeyes. Do you really think they would have asked his former teammates Joe Montana or Steve Young to do the same? Do you think Joe or Steve would have done it? Jerry Rice’s sellout diminishes us all — in the eyes of the majority with ripples to our schools, our workplaces and our communities.
Steve Harvey recently sold out as well. By taking meetings with Donald Trump on Housing & Urban Development issues he elevated his own interested over marginalizing us all. What part of being a high school educated, comedian and game show host qualifies him to weigh in on HUD issues? There are hundreds and thousands of people who have advanced degrees in urban development, who have worked extensively in the field, who were passed over by Trump for Steve. This deprives the country of benefitting from true expertise, in favor of the Family Feud host who wanted the fame and/or money. Harvey knew that he was unqualified to speak on Housing & Urban Development issues, but he didn’t care. He knew he was being used as a pawn to pacify Black people (as clearly the President and his advisors think that Black people are so ignorant, we will trust a talk show host to advise us on major government policies and issues). Job requirements: Black, someone Black people listen to, and someone who can shuck and jive. Subject knowledge level- none required. Enter–Steve Harvey.
Individual decisions matter in our community. And Jerry Rice, Chrisette Michelle, Steve Harvey have let us down.