During the 2004 presidential campaign, Diddy launched the Vote or Die initiative. At the time I was a student at Howard University, and through our newspaper, The Hilltop, I wrote about the problems with giving celebrities too much sway in mobilizing groups—notably young people—to the polls. After all, famous folks may be well-meaning, but for every Jesse Williams and John Legend, there’s a Stacey Dash and Donald Trump.
Indeed, last fall Diddy himself dismissed Vote or Die as a “scam” and went on to say during a Q&A at the Revolt Music Conference: “At the end of the day, I’m not telling you not to vote. But I’m saying be a realist and know that they motherf—king kicking some bulls—t up there."
Yeah, that’s great and all, but wouldn’t it be better to tell people to learn how to lobby? Or write bills? Or run for office? Or vote in midterm elections? And vote in local elections? And, well, everything beyond just voting for a presidential election and assuming the sky will open and treasures from heaven will fall directly into everyone’s lap?
Diddy has many talents, but political mobilization is not in the top 79.
So, in homage to the late TV psychic Miss Cleo, I’d like to tell y’all to “Call me now!” so I can flex my psychic powers,” cause I told y’all so about these famous folks.
The two most recent examples are Bow Wow and Nick Cannon. Mariah Carey’s soon-to-be ex-husband claimed that he’s not voting in the presidential election because it’s a “popularity contest.” That is essentially every type of election, but OK, whatever makes folks sleep better at night (wealth and fame should be enough, though). Then there is Bow Wow, who thinks he’s some sort of magic mulatto whose mixed heritage precludes him from participating in issues like federal elections and civil rights.
All of the aforementioned statements spurred headaches among blacks who try to think critically more than once a decade.
I feel everyone’s pain, but at the same time, ask yourself: Why do I care about Bow Wow’s political opinions? Did you even remember that Bow Wow was still alive? I mean, I kind of knew that he was because of the Shade Room, but outside of that, I haven’t bounced with that young man in quite some time. The same applies to Cannon.
This is right on par with me advising folks not to put much into the thought process of A$AP Rocky, he who literally just wants to rap about fashion and having sex. And do you recall Nicki Minaj even joking about supporting Mitt Romney once upon an election? If you’re into masochism, I respect your kink, but if you’re not into pain as pleasure, stop asking these nitwit celebrities about their opinions.
Of course, there are some whose opinions are thoughtful and, in numerous cases, helpful. However, you need to apply a certain test before even bothering to engage.
Question 1: Does X celebrity come across as someone who has read an entire book since eighth grade?
Question 2: Does X celebrity have an active rap/acting/faux-modeling career?
Question 3: Do you think X celebrity could name at least one Supreme Court justice?
Question 4: Do you think this celebrity could name any senator breathing? On this one, I’ll even let the celeb pick a senator outside of his or her state.
Question 5: Would this celebrity use “Black Lives Matter”?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, do yourself a favor and look away.
Now, I don’t think all celebrities who dabble in politics are wrong. I agree with writers like Syreeta McFadden, who just this week wrote for The Guardian: “Black musicians and artists are key partners in dramatizing equality and justice for black citizens. The cynical among us may presume that artists who call for action against systemic, racialized police violence are simply jumping on a cause célèbre—or that their earned privilege no longer affords them the right to be outraged. But that is a selective and ahistorical reading.”
McFadden is a literary 100 emoji, but having said that, I maintain that a lot of famous people are nothing more than simplistic thinkers of the stereotypical Internet-commentator variety, only they have a publicist and high follower counts across social media. That doesn’t make them equipped to speak on issues that require depth, especially if depth is not in their personal arsenal.
So, beloveds, if you’re going to pay any mind to a celebrity talking politics and race, keep away from the misguided, make-believe mixed ones and stick to the smart celebrity blacks you’re used to.
Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him on Twitter.