The star of Grey’s Anatomy has been an outspoken advocate for social justice and racial equality. He has been an unflinching supporter of the protests surrounding the Michael Brown and Eric Garner cases. In one of many interviews Williams has given on these topics, he passionately told CNN:
“I think we have to talk about the narrative and make sure we’re starting at the beginning. You will find that people doing the oppressing often want to start the narrative at a convenient point. This started with a kid getting shot and killed and left in the street for four hours. I’ve never seen a white body left in the heat for four hours in the sweltering heat.”
The Scandal powerhouse has been an outspoken advocate against domestic violence and showed her political awareness when she strongly supported Barack Obama during his election bid. She was also named to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Washington told Glamour magazine:
“Just because I’m an actress doesn’t mean I have to give up my political voice. It’s a reality that in this country, we still don’t pay women what we pay men, and we don’t pay people of color what we pay white people. It’s important for people to think about that.”
Turning her personal tragedy into a crusade for others, Union has been an inspiration to us all for years. While we salute her advocacy efforts, what truly spoke volumes was her willingness to share her own story of rape and enable thousands of young women to see that they were not alone in struggles. This is what she said about Ferguson:
“There’s a bit of a gap between what I really want to say and what I know is responsible to say. The general lack of compassion for your fellow man is really frustrating. I think what the protesters are saying, or at least some of them, is it’s not just about police brutality. It’s about a widespread systematic crippling of some people in this country by birthright, and no one’s acknowledging it. There may be a power shakeup if you’re really going to do something about it. A lot of people aren’t interested in that. They say, ‘It’s not that bad. We have Barack Obama. We’re good.’ Or, ‘You’re not getting lynched.’ They’re not acknowledging the institutional racism that impacts daily lives.”
The film director has never been one to hold his tongue, whether the subject is gun control to the treatment of Black people during Hurricane Katrina to Trayvon Martin. These comments he made about gentrification resounded through social media:
“You can’t discover this! We been here,” Lee said at Pratt Institute when he was asked about “the other side” of the gentrification debate, an issue that had been raised in recent articles in the New York Times and New York magazine. “You just can’t come and bogart. There were brothers playing motherf***** African drums in Mount Morris Park for 40 years and now they can’t do it anymore because the new inhabitants said the drums are loud. My father’s a great jazz musician. He bought a house in 19 motherf***** 68, and the motherf***** people moved in last year and called the cops on my father. He’s not — he doesn’t even play electric bass! It’s acoustic! We bought the motherf***** house in nineteen-sixty-motherf***in’-eight and now you call the cops? In 2013? Get … outta here!”
He isn’t afraid to court controversy and he’s always one to speak his mind, even when it ruffles feathers. But what is unique about his voice is his ability to mix humor with incredible cutting social commentary.
“To say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first Black person that is qualified to be president,” the comedian/actor told columnist Frank Rich. “That’s not Black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been Black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, ‘Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.’ It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite Black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.”
He’s always been one of the smartest, most perceptive artists of our generation, so it was no surprise that he would emerge as a powerful voice during this time of racial unrest. This is part of his statement issued a few months ago regarding the protest movement, Ferguson and Eric Garner:
“Where are we? We’re at critical time. We’re at watershed moment for humanity. I imagine we’ve been here before and I imagine we’ve probably been here longer than we realize. I think many of us are becoming even more aware of where we are. And the urgency to change this miserable condition on this earth, as Malcolm X said, is occurring to many of us and reaffirming itself. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It’s an opportunity for necessary change. Positive change. And it’s not necessarily convenient or comfortable. As I’m sure is with any period of growth. I read somewhere that in order for an arrow to fly the bow has to be drawn back. There’s some pressure involved and I think we’re all feeling that pressure. Some of us are more aware of it than others. Some of us are trying to drown it out. But we all feel it one way or another in indelible ways in these times and days.”
As a rapper and now as an actor, Common — Lonnie Shelton — has always been an activist and a strong advocate for his people. This is what he said when he and John Legend won a Golden Globe for Best Original Song for “Glory”:
The first day I stepped on the set of ‘Selma,’ I began to think this was bigger than a movie. As I got to know people of the civil rights movement, I realized: I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote; I am the caring white supporter, killed on the front lines of freedom; I am the unarmed black kid who maybe needed a hand but was instead given a bullet; I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. ‘Selma’ has awakened my humanity.
The Mississippi-born rapper/actor has shown off his considerable intellect by speaking out on a wide range of issues, sometimes sporting controversy along the way. This is what he said on a CNN panel after he was attacked for a tweet in which he wrote “Black kids kill Black kids for the same reason cops do. They see no value.”
“It was definitely taken out of context. And first of all on Sundays I always dialogue with my fans. I always push my fans to think. And at the time that had nothing to do with what was going on in Ferguson. But it still applies. What I was saying is that white cops do not see value in young, Black men. And the reason why a lot of young, Black men — not all Black men — kill each other is because they don’t see any value either. So many people have bought into this Americanized system and America historically has always tortured, killed, and enslaved Black people. And I have not forgot that. So, in me saying that there’s a reason why we don’t see value. But it’s different because cops are paid to protect us.”