The danger of white celebrity voices during times of racial tensions

Now, first and foremost, I need y’all to know that I LOVE P!nk.  Like…I loooooooovvvveeee her.  I have been listening to her for over 15 years.  She developed the soundtrack to my heartbroken teenage years, my confident not-gonna-take-shit persona, the pains of my divorce; it always seemed that everything that was going on in my life was perfectly reflected in whatever album she released.  I recently found out that she has another album coming out on October 13th and was OVER THE MOON!  She released her first single “What About Us” last week and it just got me even more hype for this album to be released.  Today the official video for “What About Us” came out and my heart sank.  I can’t believe I am about to do this, but I am about to break down all of the problematic racial disparities in P!nk’s new video.

When I first heard the song, I thought it was one about a relationship.  So I was surprised by the very beginning of the video being an overlapping collage of speeches that included phrases like “we made the tough choices to preserve our way of life,” “we are going to reject racism,” “the government exists to protect our rights and preserve our self-interests,” a repeated chant of “shut it down,” and “God bless you and God bless America.”  Some of it is inaudible but clearly shit started off political hella quick.  I was taken aback, already a little nervous, but held my breath and stuck with it.

The beginning images of the video already started making my stomach a little queasy.  You see a man who has his hand entirely around P!nk’s neck, as if he is mildly choking her, while she is on her knees and having her head shaved.  You see an Asian woman sitting in her car crying, and she literally does nothing else in the entire video besides sit in her car and cry.  There are other people looking distraught as well as unmanned cop cars surround her group of dancers.  Ok……let’s see where this goes.

The choreography begins and already I see P!nk front and center of all of this, surrounded by seemingly mostly white/light-skinned performers.  Then there are some jarring images/scenes of a helicopter light brightly shining on them (alluding to perhaps more police surveillance), a black man, who is alone, falling to his knees under the helicopter light, and a choreographed dance with two very light-skinned performers.  Don’t get me wrong, the choreography is SOOOO DOPE, but I thought the casting was not representative of whatever message around racial equity she was trying to convey.

Then we pan over to the same black man who was on his knees now lying on the concrete floor motionless; not dead or injured, just laying there frozen.  This split second of an image made my stomach churn.  It felt so reminiscent and reflective of all the black men who have died at the hands of law enforcement and I was genuinely shocked to see this image now used so casually in a music video.

There then is a group dance routine in an abandoned diner/restaurant.  Here you can sort of see the racial diversity of the dancers a bit more, but not by very much, and P!nk is still the center point of the dance routine.  It shifts into her driving solo with the helicopter light still following and shining down over her; is she running from the law?

And it’s not until the very end, when all of the dancers stand together, that you can see a bit more racial diversity.  However, not enough.  There are 15 dancers, 5 of them noticeably black, 5 apparently white, and the other 5 are a bit more racially ambiguous but still very fair-skinned.

No P!nk. Sooooo many no’s!  It’s this type of platform that celebrities have that really scares the shit out of me sometimes, particularly when it’s white celebrities.  In a time when so much racial tension is running rampant in our country, it is too easy to use the images of black faces and bodies to use as a tool to sell music.  But also, if you are a white celebrity who is genuinely trying to use your presence and power to show your allyship with causes surrounding people of color, putting yourself front and center while randomly showing images of struggling people of color is part of the problem, not part of the solution.  You are absolving yourself from how much you actually contribute or benefit from the problem while simultaneously saying “I’m not racist! I have a black friend.  I’m YOUR friend!”  You are reinforcing to other white people that they are ok as long as they like brown folks and aren’t mean to them.  You are ignoring the fact that racism is not a set of actions but rather a system in which white folks reap so many benefits from at the expense of hatred towards people of color.

P!nk had an amazing opportunity here.  This woman is a total activist.  She has stood up time and time again for lgbtq, animal and civil rights.  She has been a speaker at several organizations promoting equity for all and has donated significant amounts of money to causes she believes in.  But this video could have been an incredible effort to continue the dialogue around racism in our country and how our current president promotes the mistreatment of anyone who is not white.

The part that was most concerning to me was she made was being at the center of her video.  I know, it’s HER song, she should be front and center, right?  But I think she could have taken a different approach.  She has taken a step back in her videos before to allow another character to tell the story.  Take the video Fuckin’ Perfect for example.  P!nk was barely in the video and instead a woman suffering with depression is featured and is shown attempting suicide; the video was incredibly dark and explicit in its message.  This video still gives me goosebumps and served as such a powerful reminder that depression is a severe disease that people struggle with alone, in their own bodies, and sometimes leads to self-harm or death.  We didn’t need her to send that message, the main character did it for us.  The same should apply for this video.  If you are going to have your music shine a light on racial disparities in our country, then feature the people who are actually being most directly impacted by it, tell stories, be clear on the issue and who it is impacting.  Everyone already knows who P!nk is; let’s meet some folks that she is trying to amplify the voices of.

Then there’s the casting.  Again, if you are going to talk about racial injustice, you have to be able to acknowledge that you work in an industry that does not include black and brown bodies at the same frequency as white or light-skinned folks.  You have 15 DANCERS.  An increased number of folks who have darker skin tones should be included.  I’m not saying not have white people, but again, let’s give a platform to those who wouldn’t normally have one.  We don’t need the white savior complex shining bright in our music videos.  White people are allies, not heroes.

The most jarring components though were the use of people of color as a props for whatever vague message about equality this video sent.  Why is the Asian woman in the car crying?  And why is she pretty much one of the only (if not THE only) Asian people in the video?  Why is the black woman grabbing her head in distress?  And why, oooohhhh WHYYYYYY do you have a black man laying down motionless on the concrete.  WHY. WHY. WHY.  I honestly don’t know what else to say beyond WHY.  This is such a tacky use of a serious and dangerous issue in our country.  To so passively insert this man in a video that doesn’t even have a crystal clear message of what it’s about or who it is singing to is irresponsible and so deeply insensitive.  Solidarity doesn’t look like forcing images that we already see on a regular basis in our faces; solidarity is examining why those images exist in the first place and bringing light to that.

There were just so many things in this video that I felt went so wrong.  As a celebrity, as an activist, as someone who is loud as fuck and makes sure others hear her, P!nk dropped the ball on this one.  I have seen this time and time again with the likes of Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, and all the white women performers who use black culture to sell music.  This video is definitely nowhere nearly as absurd as what some of those women come up with, but without a stronger message it can very easily fall into the “All Lives Matter” stream rather than specifically highlighting the state of racial issues in our country.  The video doesn’t have to be political, but if it is going to be, please do it right. I so so sooooo hope that this video can redeem itself.  There are a bunch of other songs on the album which likely means more videos coming to us.  Let’s hope and pray (and please to all the goddesses in the world, hear my prayer) that P!nk will acknowledge how this video did not serve her original intention and that a different approach can be taken for her future work that involves more politics.

Check out the video below and let me know your thoughts!

 

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