On Rihanna, Palestine and Celebrities Having the Range While Using Their Platforms

Rihanna at the 51st NAACP Image Awards on February 22, 2020; Palestinians gather to pray around the bodies of 13 Hamas militants, killed in Israeli air strikes, during their funeral on May 13, 2021.
Rihanna at the 51st NAACP Image Awards on February 22, 2020; Palestinians gather to pray around the bodies of 13 Hamas militants, killed in Israeli air strikes, during their funeral on May 13, 2021.
Photo: Robin L Marshall/Getty Images for BET (Getty Images), Mahmud Hams/AFP (Getty Images)

As a celebrity in modern times, having a very large platform doesn’t always end with sponsored social media posts or cute outfit displays—especially if you’re known for using said platform to speak out on societal issues.

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Enter Rihanna—Hi, Rihanna. On Wednesday, Rihanna took to Instagram to speak on the global tragedy resulting from historic and ongoing tensions between Palestinians and Israeli settlers that have once again resulted in heightened mass-scale violence. Things recently escalated further when news broke out about Sheikh Jarrah (a small neighborhood in East Jerusalem), where residents were forcibly evicted from their homes in order to make way for Jewish settlers who have claimed the land—an action which has been heavily protested by Palestinians. As BBC reported earlier this week, “the standoff has seen violent clashes around the walled Old City and on Monday led to rocket fire by Gaza militants, drawing Israeli airstrikes on Gaza that health officials there said killed nine Palestinians.”

“My heart is breaking with the violence I’m seeing displayed between Israel and Palestine!” Rihanna said in her online statement. “I can’t bear to see it! Innocent Israeli and Palestinian children are hiding in bomb shelters, over 40 lives lost in Gaza alone, at least 13 of whom were also innocent children!”

Along with her statement, Rih added a caption noting that she “stand[s] with humanity.”

Illustration for article titled On Rihanna, Palestine and Celebrities Having the Range While Using Their Platforms
Screenshot: @badgalriri/Instagram

“There needs to be some kind of resolve!” she continued. “We are sadly watching innocent people fall victim to notions perpetrated by government and extremists, and this cycle needs to be broken!”

Rihanna’s post definitely raised eyebrows, with some accusing the artist and beauty-fashion mogul as taking an “All Lives Matter” stance as well as pointing out that she previously supported the #FreePalestine movement in 2014 (citing a now-deleted tweet).

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Similarly, Rihanna was taken to task earlier this year for a controversial Hindu-inspired fashion choice as well as her “interference” in Indian politics in connection with the farmer-protested new agricultural laws in New Delhi.

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I touched on this issue in May of last year in relation to the Black Lives Matter uprisings stateside, but celebrities are often juggling a few options in response to world events—all of which are open for critique in what has been often referred to as a “damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t” conundrum. When it comes to important matters, one can remain silent, take a direct stand, choose neutrality or amplify those who are educated on the matter or intimately familiar with it.

Beyond the scope of entertainment, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been at the center of an ongoing discussion amongst prominent figures in politics such as Marc Lamont Hill and Rep. Ilhan Omar. Then, of course, there’s the added layer of direct U.S. involvement and interference in this matter.

Black Support For Palestine / The Root

In a response to Rih’s post, @jennieak tweeted, “Hey @rihanna Palestinians don’t have bomb shelters—we don’t have any protection. There is no shelter. Palestinians in Gaza have nowhere to hide and nowhere to go. Palestinians have no military, no nuclear weapons, we’re not bankrolled by billions of US dollars. Happy to discuss.”

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Other notable celebrities such as Viola Davis have chosen the route of sharing infographics in an effort to make the information palatable to their fans/followers (ideally as a guide to do further research), while Yara Shahidi used her social media space to display ways we can show support for the victims of this massacre, which has been described as genocide or ethnic cleansing. As of Wednesday’s reporting by NBC News, over 70 people have been killed as a result of the airstrikes and rocket fire.

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The Root has reached out to Rihanna’s representatives for comment on the critiques of her Instagram post.

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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