Problematic Allies

No one is perfect. In fact, it seems that to be imperfect is part of what makes us human. Despite what mainstream media likes to tell us, our favorite celebrities aren’t perfect either. Many of them are actually extremely problematic, to the point of harm. Intent doesn’t solve everything, nor does them being a celebrity. It does not shield them from criticism of their actions or cultural critique either. With the recent awarding of Macklemore’s Same Love and his subsequent speech, there needs to be a discussion about problematic celebrities, their place in the queer rights movement, and people’s ability to enjoy them as they are.

No one is without flaws. Not even the beloved Tegan and Sara Quin (with their constant focus on marriage equality and working with the HRC) are perfect. However, this does not mean we cannot enjoy the things these people create.  The problem lies with whether or not we can accept and acknowledge how these people are problematic and not defend their problems. By allowing ourselves to realize that not everyone is perfect, that people are flawed, and not defending these detrimental flaws, we can allow others to enjoy in things we may disagree with.

For example, I love Lady Gaga’s music. I find it catchy, fun, I can sing along to it, I can shake my booty to it. However, Lady Gaga is one of the most problematic ‘allies’ for the queer rights movement. While she is bisexual, she has basically taken the movement as her own personal issue and used it as a marketing ploy.  She also has a tendency to appropriate cultures, like the recent leak of Burqa, where she sexualizes the burqa, a religious symbol for Muslims.  However, I understand that this is extremely incorrect and problematic. I refuse to defend Gaga’s actions. I accept that others may refuse to listen to her music due to these extremely valid reasons. She is not free from critique because she presents herself as an ally.

Macklemore’s problems stem from more than just his appropriation of the queer struggle in Same Love. Macklemore, due to being in Hip-Hop, also has to deal with the intersectionality of race as well and his straight privilege. This has allowed him to reach a higher platform and let people turn a blind eye to the fact that Homo Hop is a genre, and that hip-hop has other queer icons and allies. Same Love is problematic for also painting the people of color in hip-hop as homophobic, placing himself on a higher pedestal. Does this mean you cannot be a fan and enjoy Same Love? Of course not, however, once you start defending the problematic issues surrounding the artist and the song that is where things become sticky.

By defending something that is problematic, such as racism, cultural/struggle appropriation, or something else, you are justifying their actions. You are saying that it is ok for these people to do these things, even if they did not intend them to mean such a thing. Intent is not magic and it does not erase the harm that their words or actions cause or support. Defending these actions paints them in a light that they are free from criticism or free from wrong-doing, which is untrue. Celebrities are people too and have their imperfections. These imperfections, like everyone else, can be criticized and brought out into the light if they bring controversy or issue. By defending the actions of these people, even if they do not realize the harm their actions are causing, you are also showing that these actions are null problems; that those who raise issue with them should be silenced for causing issue where you perceive none to be.

The issue isn’t as much as liking something problematic, as it is how one reacts to the problematic person and issue in question. By defending or denying, you are justifying and enabling the problematic behavior to continue not only in the celebrity, but in others as well. By ignoring and refusing to acknowledge that your favorite celebrity has issues, you are silencing thousands of oppressed minorities who are trying to change the world for the better. You are doing what Macklemore did to Mary Lambert at the VMAs, speaking for others who are perfectly capable of speaking for themselves on issues that affect their very lives and sometimes, their very freedoms.

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