Have you heard? A pop star that makes vacuous, vapid music – actually, other people write it and she just sings it – made a very, very, important statement about Rachel Dolezal today. In the latest issue of Vanity Fair, Rihanna called the delusional transracial woman a “hero, because she kind of flipped on society a little bit. Is it such a horrible thing that she pretended to be black? Black is a great thing, and I think she legit changed people’s perspective a bit and woke people up.”
I legit think that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard a pop star say.
But I’m not mad. I’ve never looked to someone like Rihanna for commentary on race politics. We have activists for that, not millionaires.
Why do people value the opinions of celebrities so highly? It’s a truly American thing for us to vault musicians or actors or athletes into these prized spaces of intelligence simply because they’re famous or exceptional in one field. Would you want to hear Obama’s take on rap music, or Al Sharpton’s opinion on TV shows, or Deray’s view on pizza? No. So why the fuck do we care what Rihanna thinks about Rachel Dolezal?
It probably has to do with the fact that women idolize her for being a pimp with attitude in a misogynistic, patriarchal society. She hopped, skipped and jumped over Drake’s soul, dispensed of Leonardo DiCaprio, and knocked Matt Kemp out of the park. Now she’s apparently involved with Travis Scott. What any of that has to do with her political views, I don’t know. But hey, she poses half-naked and smokes weed on Instagram, so she’s cool enough to get my attention.
I suspect the truth is that we as Americans, who love our media sensationalized and zesty, fall head over heels for celebrities. Fame is something we as a society aspire to, and if we see someone’s likeness on our TV or iPhone screen enough times, we assume they must have an extraordinary talent of getting themselves there. All the while we ignore our own patterns of consumption. Convenience is king. It’s the type of backwards thinking that crowns the Kardashians as “America’s First Family” on the cover of a magazine.
Rihanna is a hugely successful star with a potent, penetrating voice. That much is evident. She’s not, however, a political scientist, and she doesn’t position herself as such. The Dolezal quote is essentially an aside, yet that’s what people are running with today. It’s not her fault. It’s ours.
The same thing happens whenever Kanye West makes some foolish comment about racism. “Racism is a dated concept,” he said in March of this year, less than three months after a cop was cleared of choking and killing Eric Garner on camera. “It’s not an actual thing that even means anything.” His disconnect couldn’t have been more pronounced. The only reason anyone cared about his careless comments is because we’ve been conditioned to give weight to the opinion of celebrities. He’s still a genius musician, just not a great public speaker.
The fascination with Rihanna seems, to this white male writer, more like a fascination with Rihanna’s lifestyle than with her music. “They say that certain politicians win by dint of how badly you want to have a beer with them,” says Mary H.K. Choi in The Fader. “No one doesn’t want to hang out with Rihanna.” The connection between those two observations is conspicuously lacking.
So days like today are what we get for making celebrities heroes. Rihanna and Kanye West are talented musicians, but we can avoid their broad statements on race in America. Our lazy asses probably won’t, though.