Credit: Shonda Rhimes on instagram: "...and we took a knee in solidarity of racial justice. #takeaknee #greysanatomy #300th"

#TakeAKnee & Other Celebrity Activism: The Good, The Bad & Our Ruined Childhoods

 

Colin Kaepernick started taking a knee during the National Anthem long before 45 made disrespectful comments about him and any players who supported his choice. But as soon as the Cheeto-in-Chief opened his mouth, plenty of people who might have otherwise ignored what Kaepernick was doing started to talk. The #TakeAKnee hashtag started blowing up on twitter, and even some celebrities got in on the discussion.

But what does celebrity activism mean in this case? And how do we feel about celebrity activism in general? Our staff sat down to share our views on the subject and have an open, honest discussion about taking a knee, celebrity voices, and more.

First of all, what is your take on taking a knee? Do you think it will help the cause any, or do you think Colin Kaepernick’s original intent — protesting racial injustice and police brutality — has been obscured somewhat?

Erin: Taking a knee is a form of peaceful protest, so I am 100% for it. Kaepernick first sat through the national anthem, but then met with veterans to discuss how to best protest while still honoring men and women who fight for our country. Kneeling has never been an offensive gesture. It’s actually a sign of respect in most cases. Tim Tebow knelt to express his faith on the field, and Christians praised him for it. But now, a Black man is kneeling to protest our country’s systemic racism, and those same people aren’t cheering.

Gee, I wonder why.

They try to twist the narrative, calling out those who take a knee “unpatriotic.” They close their eyes and cover their ears to the reasons for the protests, yet rant and rave that a piece of cloth and a (kind of racist) song are being disrespected. Even when veterans and active military officers say they are not offended and that they fight for all American’s right to protest.

So, yes, the message has become obscured because now we are talking about our First Amendment rights, which we should all know that we have already and have had for a really long time. People speaking out against taking a knee (our frickin’ president included) are making those who are for it waste time and energy talking about something besides what it was all about in the first place: racial injustice and police brutality.

I think that every #TakeAKnee post, tweet, and conversation should also include #BlackLivesMatter because that’s what it’s for; they are synonymous. That’s why Kaepernick did it in the first place — before Trump was president. Let’s try to stay on track and not let racists and POTUS make it about them or about disrespecting a flag or an anthem. It is paramount to keep the original message. People of color are being killed at an alarming rate, and nothing is being done about it. And that will continue unless we talk about it and try to change it.

Shana: It’s funny: I don’t even care about football, but the second I heard about what Colin Kaepernick was doing, I was behind him, 100%. I remember when he first started taking a knee, there was this big uproar, and I was like: “But why? People are getting shot down by cops for existing while Black, and your outrage is directed at a guy who kneels during a song? What’s wrong with you people?”

…but then Trump got elected, and I was like, “oh, right. That’s what’s wrong. All y’all are either racists or too worried about your own, selfish shit to care.”

Then, I found out that, as a general rule, players didn’t even come out of the locker room for the anthem until 2009; and I wanted to flip a table. Nobody was pressed about what sportsballers did or didn’t do during that song until 2009 when they became visible, but a Black man takes a knee to protest injustice and everyone’s upset?

Repeat after me: Racists.

Fast forward to our “president’ opening his big, racist mouth. He called neo-nazis “very fine people,” but now football players who take a knee are sons of bitches who should be fired. So much for the Constitutional right to peaceful protest.

The problem, however, is that a lot of people have now made this entire discussion about First Amendment rights and what exactly “respecting the military” or “respecting the flag” means. There’s a time and a place for those discussions, but that’s not what taking a knee is supposed to be about. Nor is it about sticking it to Donald Drumpf. So, yeah, the meaning’s been obscured. It’s almost as if a lot of supposed “supporters” didn’t care until it affected them somehow.

Do I think the protests are at all helpful? Well, anything that gets the conversation started is a step in the right direction. I just wish the conversation had stayed on topic.

Anam: I fully support what Colin was trying to accomplish by taking a knee during the anthem. The flag represents basic rights and freedoms for all people in this country, but the country hasn’t been giving people of color — Black people specifically — the justice they deserve. White cops have gotten away with paid vacations and a slap on the wrist — at most — for unlawfully murdering Black people. If everyone was as outraged at that as they are about some knees hitting the ground, we wouldn’t be here.

As Erin said, kneeling has never been offensive. People pray on their knees. Watch any TV show with a king or queen and the people coming up to them kneel before them. The idea that kneeling is suddenly offensive is a racist rhetoric. This is white people getting pissed off that Black people are not doing what they’re told.

I’m sorry, but you know what? If I was Black, I wouldn’t want to celebrate America’s history either. They were stolen from their lands, enslaved for hundreds of years, not given their rights for hundreds more. And treated as less than by racist assholes who think their lack of melanin makes them better than others.

As far as the question about the message getting obscured goes: Yes, it is. Everyone is making this about the flag. This isn’t about the flag. And even if it was, this country is here because people didn’t like how things were being done and rebelled. Do you honestly think the Boston Tea Party happened because they didn’t like the tea? No. It was what the tea stood for. Just like this isn’t about the flag. This is about the flag saying one thing and the people in power doing something else. This protest is about racial injustice and police brutality; the media needs to stop leaving this out of their coverage. Nothing is going to change if people don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing.

Jasmine: I believe that, despite its controversy, Kaepernick’s act is definitely spot on and making a difference. A lot of protesting is bringing awareness to the issue, and being front and center at one of America’s greatest pastimes is about as open as you can get. I mean, when Martin Luther King Jr. marched and Rosa Park sat, they didn’t do it carrying a list of arguing points to shove and yell into people’s faces about their problems. What they did, though, was make themselves present and noticeable in a way that was not about the march or seat itself but about the picture it represented: A Black man standing strong and speaking out, a woman sitting high with dignity in front, and Kaepernick a young Black professional kneeling lower than his peers to demonstrate that many of them are seen higher than him in the eyes of the police for nothing more than skin color.

Do I feel the point has been obscured somewhat by the attention brought on by Trump and the media? Yes, but that’s because many people are stopping prematurely at the hate Trump is showing because so many, in fact, just hate him that we think hating him and making it known is enough. It’s a start maybe, but hating the enemy alone never won the hero anything. It just takes focus off the harm to others and makes it about your personal vendetta, however righteous it may be.

Right now, we see our hate for Trump’s actions; but its doesn’t solve our police brutality problem that is causing many to still be slaughtered today. I mean, that’s the reason people were kneeling in the first place. We’re distracted by tweets while bullets are flying.

So, instead of stopping at Trump’s tweets and rallies, we need to address the problem that started it; and hopefully, we can check this bullet point off his hit list and he can yell at another issue. We can’t let him distract us from the people dying behind the scenes. People are asking that we respect our troops who died and fought for us, and truly, we are only just asking for the same thing. To respect the people dying and fighting for their lives in our everyday streets.

Lizzie: I’m taking a knee right now, as I answer this roundtable. No. I’m kidding, but honestly, I think people need background on this. Kaepernick originally sat for the anthem, then had a few conversations about what he was trying to accomplish and had it pointed out to him that sitting down might be disrespectful. So, he decided to kneel, with his hand on his heart, SO AS TO HONOR THE TROOPS AND PROTEST AT THE SAME TIME.

Shocking, I know.

How’s that for the uber-patriotic take that Kaepernick, and everyone who kneels, is just disrespectful?

Does it help? Probably not as much as a magic wand would, but in this day and age, what can you do but be loud about what you believe, hope enough people will pay attention, and continue to stand up for what’s right? Kaepernick started a conversation — a movement — and I think, if only just for that reason, he’s helped a lot more than most people.

Of course, in the last few weeks the meaning HAS been obscured. Now, it’s all about Trump because he just has this way of making everything about him. But he also has a way of magnifying stuff, and I think this is now too big to be erased. Which can only be a good thing.

Celebrities tend to be very politically outspoken. What are some surprising responses to this issue that you’ve seen, either pleasantly or…not?

Erin: The celebrities that I follow on social media are in support of the Take A Knee movement, including my faves, Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny. They knelt and linked arms dressed as Mulder and Scully, and it was beautiful. The cast of Star Trek: Discovery shared their show of solidarity. Alyssa Milano posted a photo of her son kneeling, saying “Thank you, @realDonaldTrump for giving me opportunities to teach my children the difference between right and wrong.”

I must be following the right people because I didn’t see any celebrity endorsement against Take A Knee from the people I admire and respect.

Shana: I think the most surprising thing for me — and it was so subtle, yet so on point(e) — was what Nigel Lythgoe had to say on the So You Think You Can Dance finale. I came for the awesome dancing, but that wasn’t all the awesome on the series’ season-ender.

And I truly believe that, you know, dance has the ability of making you laugh, making you cry. It also has the ability of educating…In a situation that we’re in at the moment, where diversity appears to be separating the country, we believe that diversity actually brings it together and makes us stronger.

There’s a slight possibility that what Nigel had to say wasn’t exactly about the protests, but given the timing (Monday evening, September 25) and given the words, I’d bet my money that that’s what sparked his commentary — even if the group piece that he was introducing with those thoughtful words had already aired earlier in the season.

I was just sitting in front of my tv and going “WOW. He went there. Nigel did THAT.” I’m pretty sure I even tweeted something along those lines.

I’m also going to have to echo the sentiments of pretty much everyone who’s praised the stars of The X-Files and (not remotely surprising to anyone who knows me, I’m sure) even double down on support for Gillian Anderson. She gives so few fucks about what people think of her and stands by her beliefs so much that, even after a bunch of bogus backlash, she followed up her #TakeAKnee pic with David Duchovny with this just 24 hours later. And this a few days after that.

On the flip side, there’s the video that David Boreanaz shared on instagram. Some dude, all star-spangled ranting about…whatever it is that out-of-touch “patriots” who deck themselves out in the flag to prove how “patriotic” they are rant about. I’d like to say I was surprised by this…but I wasn’t. Dude’s been ruining my childhood with his out-of-touch opinions for a bit too long now.

And pro-tip, Mr. Boreanaz? If any of this was really about respecting the flag, as opposed to, you know, racism, then nobody would be sharing that lunatic’s video. It’s disrespectful to wear the flag on a tshirt like that, after all.

…and did I really see a picture of a flag draped over a dog somewhere in that trash fire of self-promotion, too? Yeah. “Respect,” though.

Whatever.

Anam: The celebrities whom I actually follow have been nothing but supportive of taking a knee. This wasn’t a surprise by any means. They’ve all been very outspoken about issues since the presidential campaign, some even before then. So, this wasn’t a surprising reaction.

David Boreanaz’s little instagram rant though…Honey, just because you’re on a little military procedural doesn’t mean you need to act like that. ‘Merica this and ‘Merica that. Dude, shut up. This had absolutely nothing to do with the flag or anthem, and you know it. Your little cry to appease the racists that voted for the idiot-in-chief that is ruining this country isn’t doing anything good for you.

Jasmine: Like the others, most of the celebrities I’ve seen speak about the issue have been in support of the protest, which (thankfully) means I’m following the right people, as well. I especially take note of beloved Chris Evans who should just wear the Captain America suit in and out of his Marvel movies with his such vocal and righteous opinions.

I will say, though, to take note of those who are silent. Some may be timid about the right way to say things, yes, but it’s at these times I think of an interview I saw back just after the election that gave me an interesting revelation. While you may not say you hate me with your words, your silence doesn’t say you care about me either.

Lizzie: There’s Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny being their awesome selves and more than half my football team kneeling last week — which is just what I want and expect from the people I look up to — and then there’s David Boreanaz being a douche and confusing the need to promote a military show with ranting about respect for the flag.

Guess who I’m not following anymore.

I’ll take Angelus any day of the week.

Does any of this do any good? Are the protests going to effect any real change, or do we just have people taking knees and screaming about it on social media, either for or against?

Erin: All of the celebrity displays of unity and awareness can do a lot of good if, and only if, it is done for the right reasons. If it takes away from the cause of BLM or is done solely as a big “fuck you” to Trump, then it is furthering the public’s avoidance of the issue. Believe me, there are PLENTY of issues to get your “fuck yous” to Trump out, but this one isn’t about him, although he tried really hard to make it so.

Shana: I want to believe that having these people use their voices is going to get something done. It’s one of those things, though. There’s no way anything is ever going to change without speaking up, but speaking up alone isn’t going to be a magic solution. The other side has to actually listen and learn. So far, that’s not happening.

Maybe — just maybe — though, now that we’re seeing more and more celebrities use their power to shed more light on the issue, we’ll get there. Slowly but surely.

Anam: Protests and noise have always been the driving force behind change. Sitting quietly and compliantly isn’t going to do shit. The noise is getting noticed. People are talking. Granted, half of them who haven’t been paying attention are thinking this is about a flag — it’s not, this is about racial injustice and police brutality against people of color. Social media is being loud about the real reason behind this. Every day people are making it a point to make sure the rest of the public knows that this isn’t about a flag.

Now, the mainstream media needs to get their act together and say what these protests are truly about EVERY TIME they bring it up. Last Sunday did not go well for the media. They didn’t mention why Colin started taking a knee. They talked about unity — which is great — but if you’re going to leave out the true meaning behind this protest you’re taking away from the cause. A cause that needs the attention. This isn’t the time and place to argue about the First Amendment.  

Jasmine: This country was built on the tenacity and hope of the underdog, so I would always say a resounding yes. Many hoped that, by this time, we wouldn’t be fighting the same fights. But even if you trace it all the way back to the negro spirituals age, we’ve always fought and sang and prayed towards a better tomorrow with the stubbornness to see it through. So Kaepernick’s spirit is the same.

I would say, though, that our fight techniques, while rooted in the same things, have gotten vastly different. Before, protests took a while to rally and you were left with just the opinions of those immediately around you to hopefully sync together in the same way to push towards change. It made the bonds next to you so strong, but without much exposure to different walks of life, it also made change move quite slowly. Nowadays, though, bonds are made much differently though TV, social media, and the internet. Such exposure to support and opinions from around the world helps us grow more well-rounded and well-spoken, and unite us quicker.

To put it simply, we’ve come a long way from the America that just took what the president said as gospel, and I’d like to think that while it makes us harder to control, it also gives us an edge in the fight. And God-Dang it we’re definitely Fighting.

Lizzie: I legit think this is one of those cases of, “well, what else can we do but be loud?” And I do think it makes a difference. Maybe it won’t fix all the problems, and it will certainly not make a difference tomorrow, which is what we would all like. But if it helps at least one person open their eyes, if it makes one person that has never thought about this subject actually think, then the protests have already done a good thing.

A lot of social media users seem to fire back at celebrities, telling them they don’t get a say in these matters. What’s your response to that?

Erin: I will never understand the upset over celebrities talking about politics and social issues. We ALL should be talking about these things, no matter what you do for a living. Why does your profession even play into it? Are you an American? Great, then express your opinion freely. It’s still legal to do that here (much to Trump’s chagrin, I’m sure).

Are you a citizen of Earth, where what happens in the United States greatly influences issues around the world? Cool, then speak your mind. Even if I don’t agree with certain opinions, I respect people’s right to voice them. For example, I don’t agree with any of James Woods’ comments, but I would never use the argument that he’s an actor in response. Why would I? Being an actor has nothing to do with him being a pedophile, bigot, racist, misogynist, or straight up crazy person.

Shana: People with the “you’re a celebrity, so shut up” mentality are about as stupid as it gets. So, what? They’re just supposed to be our trained monkeys, here to entertain us, and have zero voice whatsoever? Hard pass. And the (primarily Black) professional athletes, who abuse their bodies for your entertainment, aren’t allowed to speak out — or silently take a knee, in this case — against the cold-blooded murder of unarmed Black people…at the hands of the officers who pledged to “protect and serve” them?

I think the fuck not.

Look: We all may worship our favorite celebrities; but at the end of the day, they’re just people with really cool jobs. That’s it. They’re still human beings with the same rights as anybody else. And if you put celebrities on a pedestal? That means you see them as better than you, so they’d better at least have the same rights. Not less.

And when the United States of America has a president who grew up essentially shitting on a golden toilet, I really don’t want to hear about actors — many of whom struggled a lot before becoming rich and famous — I don’t want to hear about celebrities being too “elitist” or “out of touch” to have opinions, either.

And, again, this is especially applicable in the case of celebrities and sportsballers of color protesting injustice against their own damned race. I’m pretty sure the only out-of-touch people in that argument are, you know, the white folks who think racism died because we had Obama as president.

Anam: That’s utter bullshit. They have every right to talk about politics, make their voices heard, and use their platform for issues that are near and dear to them. These celebrities pay taxes, vote, and live in this country. They are affected by decisions from this country just as much as the rest of us, and they get every right to voice their concerns. Just because their line of work requires them to be in the public eye doesn’t mean they are forfeiting their right to say anything political.

What baffles me even more is that the same people saying this shit to celebrities are the ones that fucking voted for one. Unlike 45, most of the celebrities talking come from humble beginnings and had to work their asses off to get to where they are now. They are invested because they’ve been there. They know what it’s like, and they want to use the platform they’ve been given to help others out.

Jasmine: I, personally, think it’s pretty rich coming from the same people who elected a reality tv show host. I mean, weren’t a good bit of their arguments in support of him that he originally wasn’t a politician? To me, it screams hypocrisy.

But then again, what else is new.

These exact same people crucified Clinton during her campaign because she had used a private email server; and yet, recently we’ve just found out that six people in Trump’s immediate administration do the exact same thing. In fact, a good few people Trump has appointed directly haven’t been qualified for their jobs. Case in point: Betsy DeVos. With an astounding lack of experience in any kind of educational field, DeVos is still our Secretary of Education.

However, of course, we must remember it’s not celebrities these people have a problem with — it’s with anyone with the gall to not roll over and fetch.

Lizzie: I’m pretty sure they are people, and there’s this thing called the First Amendment? I might be wrong, but I thought everyone got an opinion?

Are there other issues that you wish more celebrities would use their platform to bring awareness to? Is anyone doing either a particularly good or particularly terrible job of it?

Erin: A lot of my favorites use their platforms to support great causes. In fact, it’s part of why they’re my favorites. Like I said earlier, I don’t really follow anyone whose values radically differ from my own. I do enjoy it when celebrities call out other famous people’s bad behavior. Armie Hammer and Amber Tamblyn proving James Woods’ hypocrisy is a recent example. Also, if a celebrity that I’m not too familiar with is vocal about issues that I find important, and recognizes and uses their power and privilege for good, I am more inclined to become a fan.

Shana: I feel like I’ve gotten to the point where most of the celebrities that I follow are already doing a great job and focusing on so many important issues that it would almost be unfair of me to start asking them to do more. With that being said, Puerto Rico is in crisis. These are American citizens, and we’re doing basically nothing.

And just like with taking a knee, people are more focused on dragging 45 — which, admittedly, I love to see — than putting the spotlight where it belongs.

There’s also far too little focus being put on the situation in Venezuela…But hey! The “president” added them to his latest travel ban, so maybe people will start talking now.

As far a celebrities doing a particularly good job of speaking out goes, the obvious two for me are Gillian Anderson and George Clooney. George has done a lot of humanitarian work and continues to be outspoken. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised by Chris Meloni’s outright savagery against Trumpism, as well as that of a few celebrities that I didn’t even follow before I found out about their outspokenness.

Anam: The people I follow have all talked about and supported excellent causes, I’ve even found organizations that support causes that are near and dear to me through certain celebrities — Lisa Edelstein’s work with Save the Children, for example. Generally speaking, I follow people whose political views line up with mine. It wasn’t an active decision, but it wasn’t really hard, considering most of Hollywood is liberal. But everyone that I admire has used their platform for good, be it animal causes through IFAW, environmental issues through ATP, or domestic violence support through Face Forward LA, so I don’t think there is any issue that I really wish they would speak out about that isn’t already being talked about.

Jasmine: I follow a lot of celebrities who aren’t afraid to stand up for something they believe in, which I definitely admire. I would, however, like more of a spotlight to be shown on intersectionality in feminism. As a WOC (woman of color), I feel so often we have to take literal and figurative seats and only live half our truth because so few wish to support us while we support them. We suffer the dual burden of being not just a POC (person of color), but also a female; and way too often, we’re told to stand for one or the other because both is to much to address at any given moment.

Recently, Chloe Bennet came under fire for changing a part of her name years ago to appeal more to Hollywood, even though she is proudly Asian-American. I admire her boldness in standing up for herself and addressing the racism behind the scenes in Hollywood, as well.

I also want to give a shout out to Luke Cage (the Netflix series) for having some of the strongest, and yet most complex differences, of Black female characters I’ve seen in one show in a long time. They had a literal superhuman freight train of a man — more than once — take a back seat to multiple WOC in the room as they took charge of a scene. And I believe it’s a testament to Mike Colter as an actor, as well. Both he and Luke Cage are confident Black men who are not fragile in their masculinity when a woman is in charge in a room, and their respect for women’s authority is definitely apparent. The success of Luke Cage is, in part, a testament to the stance that WOC deserve more respect in and out of Hollywood as being the outstanding people that they are.

Lizzie: When a celebrity pulls a David Boreanaz (yeah, that’s what I’m calling it), I dump that celebrity. Of course, I understand they’re people. They’re not perfect, and they can make mistakes. But there are some lines you can’t cross; and there are awesome people doing amazing stuff with their platforms out there that I could be following instead of douchebags who think that because they played a couple of characters who were military now they’re suddenly the authority of how people should act.

Finally, do we think those celebrities speaking up with the #TakeAKnee hashtag and/or promoting other causes are doing it for publicity? Or do they really care?

Erin: I guess all I can really do is hope that their intentions are to bring awareness and start the conversation on racial injustice and police brutality. What I do have control over is how I react to their posts, what message I send out on social media, and making sure I do what I can in support of BLM.

Shana: I mean, look: I’m a skeptic. So, I’m going to say there are absolutely people out there who are jumping onto a hashtag to get attention. There are outlets looking for attention, rather than trying to start a conversation. But — but — there are people who actually care, too. There absolutely are, and I’m proud to be a fan of those kinds of people.

Anam: I hope they’re doing it for the right reasons. It would be naïve to say they all are doing it for the right reasons; I’m sure there are some doing it solely for publicity. However, the people that I follow have supported this movement for a long time. They’ve voiced it before the last weekend’s big movement, so I have no doubt that they are doing this for the right reasons.

Lizzie: IT. DOESN’T. MATTER. It really doesn’t. If the message they’re sending is positive, I don’t care why they’re doing it. All I care about is the change they can effect by saying the right things.

Jasmine: I am not naïve enough to not know that, when trends gain traction, many people jump on just for the lift to the next wave of social propriety. So, of course, some celebrities are not as sincere as we would like them to be; and we can’t check into their private life to keep track, either. However, a part of it may not matter as long as when people look in the distance, they see the vastness of a forest and not hidden, weaker trees.

I mean, who knows? We may strengthen them along the way by accident; but either way. I at least hope that, on some deeper level, they recognize the righteousness of our cause. I do wish some had spoken up sooner and had not needed Trump’s rally to incite them to human decency at all. But alas, this is not a perfect world.

Though, at least they’re fighting for something. It shows that our Spirit, though tired, is not broken.

 

 

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