With great power comes great responsibility?

By Channing McNeal

Recently, some of my friends and I were watching the MTV VMAs. The climax of the award show was a performance by Beyoncé. She was receiving a tribute, the name of which I forget. Because she was receiving this tribute, she performed for nearly 20 minutes. I’m not complaining about the performance. It was actually one of the best I’ve ever seen. Definitely top 3 all time at award shows. What was more interesting was a comment my friend made. I don’t want to misquote him, but what he said was something along the lines of, “Beyoncé can do a performance and everyone is talking about it, and imagine if she used her power to talk about something like what’s going on in Ferguson”. Now I’m sure anyone who is reading this has access to the internet and knows exactly what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri. This piece isn’t about what I think about the situation. I feel like that’s been talked about and written about more than enough. My opinion can basically be summed up in this monologue by John Stewart http://theroottv.theroot.com/video/Jon-Stewart-Goes-After-Fox-in-P .  What this piece is about, is the responsibility someone like Beyoncé has to speak up about things like what is going on in Missouri. This debate that followed centered on the question of whether celebrities have a responsibility to speak up about social issues and how much credibility they have when they do. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just give my opinion on the question.

I personally do not think anyone has a responsibility or duty to say anything ever. And I especially don’t think that being good at basketball, being able to sing well or being beautiful somehow increases that responsibility. I think that in a perfect world, yes the people who have influence would use that influence for good, but that’s not the world we live in. Now I do not follow every word Beyoncé says like some people I know so I’m sorry if she has said something and I missed it. And I’m not singling her out either, she’s just who we were talking about at the time. But if Beyoncé chooses to not speak up then that’s her right as an adult. She may not feel comfortable about the topic or she may not be knowledgeable to speak about it. She shouldn’t be forced to speak just because she’s popular. Also I think what people really want is for her to speak in a way that agrees with what they think. Which is why I think some celebrities choose not to speak up about things. The above quote assumes that you have the responsibility to do “the right thing”. And in every case that isn’t clear. Now in a case like what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri I think that 90% of the country would agree with what is the right thing to do, but there are other issues that aren’t as clear. I’m sure there are celebrities who do not speak against things like marriage equality because they know how that would be received. And I think that we should respect that everyone does not agree and force them to declare their stance on every issue. At a certain point, everyone is due some degree of privacy. I do understand that when you are in a position of influence you should try to use that influence in a positive manner. But if you chose to not speak up, I think that everyone should respect that. There are people in the world who are speaking up who are more knowledgeable and feel far more comfortable speaking on such issues. I know that if I was famous I could not and would not speak on all political issues because there are certain things that I simply do not know enough about and wouldn’t want to offend anyone by saying something because I was uninformed. Maybe one day we will get to the magical place where all of our celebrities can be well informed activists, but in 2014 I think some should just stick to what they do and keep getting them checks.

Channing M - Youth Empowerment Intern    Channing McNeal is a senior studying Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University.