Silence, Armchair Activism, and Award Shows: Why More Men Should Speak Out

There’s a certain amount of arrogance in choosing to remain silent. There’s also resolve. You could throw in some privilege, a hint of the spoiled, disgruntled and the rock solid certainty that what has gone before absolutely does not definite what is or what will be.

I’m talking about myself here. But I’m also talking about a lot of other people. People who have platforms and power and money, but refuse to engage publicly, or will only engage up to a point.

Kevin Hart, for example, is resisting being forced to apologize repeatedly for near 10-year-old homophobic tweets. I don’t blame him. He also shouldn’t be forced by public opinion to pick up the mantle of LGBTQ ally, a role he has explicitly said he does not want. His behavior showed that he is an advocate, even if only incidently, when he admitted he was wrong to make homophobic jokes and to use social media to spread that kind of harm, and he stopped doing it.

But people like CNN’s Don Lemon wanted more. They want him to take some responsibility for changing the conditions that lead to violence and death amidst gay black teens, for instance. That would be ideal, but what if, and I’m playing devil’s advocate here with a made up scenario – I don’t know Kevin Hart, have never paid a dime for one of his movie tickets, comedy shows, even a Redbox rental – he genuinely doesn’t believe in being gay? Or, he simply does not want to get involved?

I don’t think who we love, who we allow into our beds, is anyone’s business. And I disagree unreservedly with the idea that any person should not be able to walk around the streets where they live and be safe, or that their legal rights should differ because they do not fit a traditional love pairing.

But that’s me. What if Hart, hypothetically, is not of that mind? In this make believe scenario, is his silence not the better part of valor? After all, if he says openly how he feels, and how he feels is not politically or morally correct, would that not give rise to the very conditions that people like Don Lemon want him to speak out to prevent? Your President is openly many -ists and isms, and racially motivated killing, attacks and crimes against women and immigrants have been more plentiful as a result.

If we push and push and push a specific agenda, will we change the Harts of the world? We might. Anything is possible. Can we, however, reasonably expect that someone like Kevin Hart, or someone like Bradley Cooper – in the real world – will stick their comfortable necks out in service of the greater good?

We can want. We can hope. We can pray. We can ask. We definitely need Harts and Coopers and Legends – John Legend was one of very few celebs who participated in the recent R Kelly documentary – to stand as advocates for causes that impact diverse people. But we can’t badger. People will think how they like. All you can do is present your arguments, well-reasoned, sound, full of graphic, personal examples, and even data, and show a different way of being with your behavior, your work, your life.

We’re all armchair activists for one thing or another. But it takes a special dedication to pursue that line of work full-time, with dedication and a whole, determined heart. It takes a certain kind of mettle to pick up the torch for minorities or for the disabled or who or whatever, and refuse to put it down.

It’s not easy for sure because so many people are scared of this type of change, they don’t realize doing things different wouldn’t be that hard. It would take some work, of course. But most of us want to just chime in when it’s convenient, when we have nothing to lose, when there is no accountability or responsibility. And that is why things take so long to change.

I mentioned Bradley Cooper because I read an article on the history of podium protests, discussing how many stars use awards show season and their award-winning speeches to make political statements, including Regina King’s pledge at the 2019 Golden Globes ceremony that all of her future projects will be 50 percent female. King won best supporting actress for If Beale Street Could Talk.

That’s some Wild West -ish there. She’s putting a line in the sand, in front of the world. Setting a goal, a bar, and establishing her intention to meet it. Big wigs like Tyler Perry have already expressed their support and intention to join her.

But then, it’s usually minorities who make these kinds of definitive moves. The podium protest article pointed out that these kinds of acceptance/statement speeches are often a vehicle for everyone except white men like Bradley Cooper, who won best director for A Star Is Born at this years’ Globes.

Cooper is not obligated to join King in making a political statement. No one is obligated to do anything. But people notice when you are silent.

I think about how tired I get of explaining the same shit over and over and over:

I have value. So don’t abuse me. Certainly, let’s not create and support systems that allow you to abuse or to kill me with impunity.

I am not less than capable because I am a woman. So don’t abuse me. Don’t think that you have the right to say and do what you like with me or to me because of my sex.

I am more than the tiny box you’ve constructed to unnecessarily explain my existence. So don’t abuse me. Don’t think your erroneous or limited ideas about who I am should dictate what I should have or what I’m allowed to do. I’m perfectly capable of making those decisions, thank you.

Hell, I started my own company because I have no intention of spending another minute explaining not only why my work idea is a good one, but why it’s important that you should listen to me tell you that idea. And then when you adopt it, to give me full credit.

I can’t imagine how white men feel today: scared, pissed, threatened, burdened, bitter, aggrieved, confused. It’s why so many of them do nothing. I can’t tell you how many white men have messaged me personally about this blog and said wonderful, supportive, insightful things. But why didn’t they leave those same comments so that everyone could read them?

I guess for the same reason that Marlon Brando sent Sacheen Littlefeather to express his progressive if limited beliefs in support of Native Americans when he refused the 1973 Academy Award for best actor. He sent a Native American woman to make a statement – and to be booed and have her career as an actress all but destroyed after she was blacklisted. His career rolled along unscathed.

I’d still take that role though, as a white man, I mean. I’d try it on for size. Stretch out in some pale white skin, and enjoy that luxurious, exalted position where the world was made for me, and I don’t have to share a damn thing unless I want to. Ooooo wee!

Can somebody engineer a soul swap for me? In the next life, I’d like to come back as 6’4 with jet black hair and Paul Newman blue eyes, but with this black woman’s consciousness inside my handsome, masters of the universe body.

I would take a stand, publicly. I’d show people how it’s done, that it doesn’t have to be painful, that we can save the drama and theatrics for the big and small screen. We can spare each other the useless guilt. Nobody has to be tired from beating their damn head against a brick wall or doing the diversity cha cha, one step forward, two steps back. No one has to lose their voice and damn near their sanity saying the same things over and over.

I mean, it’s not like anyone could really punish me, could they? The laws like to be lenient with my white self. And people are used to me commanding a room, so I know they’d listen. Statistically speaking, I’d probably be the boss. They wouldn’t have a choice. I could even keep the same name, Kelly, no e, Whitney. I’d have the most money, the most power, and once I opened the door, I’d have the best team.

I’d show the world how just by opening that door I can hire the best talent, and they’re diverse. And we can tell the best stories, and they’re diverse. We can attract the most loyal customers, and they’re globally diverse. We can share power and ideas, and no one has to suffer.

For some that sounds like Utopia, fiction. And right now, it kind of is. I’m a little black woman, not a tall white man, or even a short black man. This is just a blog, not real life, or Utopia. Still, all the best fiction is rooted in reality.

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