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Please Tell Beyonce that Philanthropy is not Activism

Last Thursday I did the above interview, hosted by Dr. Marc Lamont Hill on Huff Post Live , with actor Isaiah Washington and Andrea Plaid, associate editor of Racialicious.com, on the controversy caused by legendary actor/activist Harry Belafonte’s recent comments about Jay Z and Beyonce. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Mr Belafonte was quoted as saying:

And I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility. That goes for Jay-Z and Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.

Beyonce’s camp responded, ironically through the Wall Street Journal:

“An abbreviated list of the unselfish work Beyoncé has done and continues to do.” The list included co-founding The Survivor Foundation “a multi-purpose community outreach facility in downtown Houston”; donating “100K in 2008 to the Gulf Coast Ike Relief Fund to aid Texas victims of Hurricane Ike”; performing in “MTV’s Hope For Haiti Now! Benefit in addition to making a generous monetary donation,” among many other charitable activities.”

Now I sincerely applaud the charity that both Jay Z and Beyonce have given as well as others. Recently, Oprah went on twitter to answer a critic who called her out for not doing for our community by responding that she put “500 African-American men through college”. Once again that is very admirable and commendable, but I believe it’s not enough nor was it what Mr. Belafonte meant by “social responsibility”.

A great point made by Dr. Marc Lamont Hill in the Huff Post Live interview was that what Beyonce was engaged in was philanthropy and not activism and he’s 100% correct. Cutting a check for a community center, or relief fund is easy when you’re a multi-millionaire and it’s also very safe. You don’t have to advocate for a issue or take a stance that might be unpopular, hell you don’t even have to show up.

What if Oprah began to talk about the influx of drugs and illegal guns in our communities, the failing schools, unemployment and lack of resources that leads to violence? What if she used her incredible influence to highlight the rampant police brutality that has been taking place in communities of color all over this country, include the recent “suicide” of  a handcuffed Chavis Carter, the murder of unarmed Manual Diaz in Anaheim, or  Milton Hall who was shot 46 times in 5 seconds by Michigan police?

For the past month, Minister Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam has personally lead the men under his charge in the streets of Chicago. Even though he’s approaching 80 years of age, and has put numerous young people through college himself, he has taken the extra step of personally visting some of the worst hoods in Chicago to help prevent more violence. Just yesterday in Queens, Russell Simmons, another millionaire with a history of philanthropy, walked the streets of his old neighborhood with a community group called the “Peace Keepers“.

Can you imagine if Beyonce showed up on the violent streets of Houston or Jay Z lead a group of brothers through the projects of Marcy, to encourage peace in the hood? That’s activism, and we all gotta do more. Our children’s lives depend on it.


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