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Thank You for Wearing the Shirt, But…


Here you can find some of my brief thoughts and earlier blog posts. Most of my writing is now available under the "Published Pieces" tab.

Thank You for Wearing the Shirt, But…

Anna Nti-Asare

I first want to say: thank you. Thank you to the famous athletes and other celebrities who wore shirts with the words “I Can’t Breath” written across them. It is always comforting to witness people of such visibility getting involved in a movement that is larger than themselves, showing solidarity with all who are angered by recent cases of legal injustice. However, I do not think that such celebrities or their fans should think that wearing a shirt or putting ones hands up are enough to support a movement. We should not be that impressed with these gestures as they should be viewed as no more than initial steps. With the amount of visibility and money celebrities have, there are more influential things they can do that might get people to not only take note but also make a difference.

One way is through giving money to the movement, while it’s possible that some celebrities have done this without the media picking up on it, more of them should be willing to donate to the cause. Protesters who have been arrested, families of the victims, and programs against police brutality need funding to survive. And who better to give to such causes than people, especially of color, who have “made it?” The ones who are guaranteed millions even if they never step foot on a playing field or court again, for example.

Another step that would impact the movement would be for more celebrities to support, and protest alongside students and poor people around the country. A few celebrities have helped to donate food for hungry protesters (i.e. John Legend and Chrissy Teigen) and this is what I want to see much more of. Celebrities, especially artists, can also support the movement by giving us more anthems and inspiration – making their songs about something meaningful like J Cole does, giving people resilience and hope. We need the voices of our time to carry the torch that artists before them lit when times were hard and hopeless. These are the actions that should inspire awe and admiration, but instead, I’ve heard so much more about shirts being worn or hands being put up in the air while players ran on to the field. Again, these acts of “defiance” do make a difference, but in my opinion they don’t make enough of one. They’re perhaps a small annoyance for the oppressor but definitely not catalysts for change.

Finally, here is more a fantasy of my own - I would like to see celebrities striking and using their positions of influence strategically. More artists should cancel tours until laws are rectified, for instance, but even more influential would be athletes who stop playing until laws around police brutality are changed. In my fantasy, I first imagine athletes of color refusing to play and perform until legislators actually do something to give victims’ families justice. If Black lives don’t appear to matter in the US, then why should they be used for revenue and entertainment? It disheartens me that this is only a fantasy however, and people think I’m rather ridiculous to suggest it. But if students can risk their educations to get on a bus and ride south, chain themselves to police departments, shut down highways and risk their lives… if workers who make below the minimum wage can strike and starve until even a small dose of justice is delivered, why can’t millionaires give up a month or so of work? They have much less to lose than the other historical examples I have mentioned.

Can you imagine how many more people would be involved in change if Kobe not only wore a shirt but also said - I will sit on this bench until we do something meaningful? If fans of all races couldn’t watch Beyonce or Lebron perform? Can you imagine how much these million-dollar industries would be forced to pay attention? So why is this so ridiculous to imagine and urge for? The movement against racial injustice entails the rich and the poor, the old and young, blacks and whites; it calls on all of humanity and since we look up to celebrities as epitomes of success and human possibility, why do we not challenge them to do more than put writing on a t-shirt? I believe they are capable of so much more than that.