"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
It was 50 years ago that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke those profound words and it still rings true to this day. While my generation explores new taboo ways of activism and protest, perhaps they should actually take a moment of reflection. As we are inspired by the expression and messaging of contemporary pop culture, we have become lazy in actual cultivation.
Yes, we have had instances of unison by wearing a million hoodies for Trayvon Martin and using social media to send a message to the world, but that has become very seldom. Over the past few weeks, we have yet again divulged into embracing a reversal of the very problems we have tried to combat. And the only people we can blame this time are ourselves for our lack of mobilization and understanding.
As thousands of us go to Kanye West's spectacle of a Yeezus tour and adorn his "reclaiming" of the Southern Confederate flag now available for purchase as graphic T-shirts...what in the hell are we actually doing? Let me guess, wearing this makes you feel like you are sticking it to the man and proving that glamorizing a symbol that killed generations of people is powerful? Yes, perhaps it may be for you given that you have the comfort to afford those pricey concert tickets while some of your fellow peers in the South are just now attending an integrated prom in 2013.
The Kanye Complex teaches my generation that by embracing and showcasing the hatred of the past, we are somehow progressive and making a statement about it today. However, it ignores the fact that the past is concurrent of the present and by not actually doing a damn thing to combat those issues...we are only propelling them into the future. It is myopic in thought to think that wearing a historically racist flag while racism still runs rampant means anything more than just mocking your personal privilege while ignoring the current persecution of others.
This mode of thinking can also be seen in how my generation tries to reshape and showcase those taboos as a mode of backwards awareness. And this is the Lily Allen Privilege. Her recent music video "Hard Out Here" presents itself as a bold attempt at trying to criticize the entertainment industry's sexist viewpoints. But by trying to dispel certain stereotypes, she actually continues to invoke several of them. Her very provocative usage of the black female body as sexual props and subtle jabs at hip-hop consumerism furthers the notion that feminist solidarity is only for her Caucasian fans.
And sadly, these ideologies have collectively been the way my generation has responded to the social ills that still plague the world.
Either we're taught that through personal consumption of negative symbols we're somehow in control of taking back the past or by embracing certain stereotypes while combating others is progressive. But this is a fool's logic when considering that one's personal decisions have implications on others.
Racism and sexism are very sensitive matters that include a history and heritage that neither should be forgotten or reclaimed. By trying to reshape these problems, you are in essence selfishly attempting to liberate yourself by disgracing the very people who actually experience it.
My late grandparents knew what it was like to live in the Jim Crow South and be separated from public services due to the color of their skin. But they didn't wear Confederate flags to act as if this couldn't stop their dignity. Instead, they made actual statements by doing sit-ins and protests. And yes, they were harassed and saw people get injured...but they kept reshaping law through actual actions, not by mocking symbols of hatred.
What we can all learn from those actual acts of rebellion in the past is that we are now fortunate of having the privilege not to see such darker days pervade the land. However, what we should also learn from those times is that the residue of that hatred still exists and by changing the way in which we combat those issues will only make them persistent. If sexism is really desired to end, everyone should be invited to the table. Racial empowerment cannot just be for the heterosexual male and female equality only for the white woman.
The burden is not so much on just asking pop culture to fix the way we go about navigating better modes of activism, but in the way our generation needs to reshape how we vicariously live our experiences through it. At the end of the day, Kanye West is a musician that profits from the pseudo artistic expression of taboo issues. He is not your friend, teacher, or civil rights activist. Lily Allen, for better or worse, is the exact same. Although some of their lyrics and actions resonate with the general public, let's not act as if their privilege as a wealthy celebrity doesn't create a barrier of actual relevance to our issues. Because as we now live in a world where some celebrities feel as though their mere presence is "charity," we ought to reclaim what real service and activism is.
I bet that is something that our ancestors would actually be proud of.