In March 2021, news broke that one of the co-founders of Black Lives Matter, Patrisse Cullors, bought a $1.4 million home in Los Angeles. The self-declared “Trained Marxist” came under fire, and people questioned where the money came from, if it was donations made to the movement and why the families of the victims of state violence hadn’t seen any of the money that was raised using the death of their loved ones.
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, another well-known activist, Tamika Mallory, gave the “speech of a generation”. Then, in spring 2021, she was featured in a Cadillac commercial where Black power symbolism was capitalised and monetised (using ashe from the Yoruba àṣẹ spelt with a dollar sign: A$he).
Most recently, Assa Traoré (whose brother Adama Traoré died in police custody in 2016) partnered with Louboutin for their #walkamileinmyshoes campaign. The aim is to support and raise funds for organisations that fight against racism, discrimination and justice.
Celebrity culture is pervasive and addictive. It is infiltrating what are supposed to be righteous causes and turning activists into career activists or actorvists. When activism becomes your primary or sole source of income, you’re bound to sell out to sustain your life. Netflix, book deals and commercials see the struggle go mainstream but also severely diluted.
Why are activists willing to make money off of Black people’s death and partner with brands? I can see why Cadillac and Louboutin would want to associate themselves with Mallory and Traoré. Wokeness is a currency that can significantly benefit a company, but only if it’s not too radical or too controversial. We didn’t see Assata Shakur, Kemi Seba, or Malcolm X work with fashion brands. Speaking of Malcolm, Betty Shabazz shared that her late husband was offered the equivalent of $52 million to slow down, not stop, the Black liberation movement. X refused not once, not twice but three times. Any corporation willing to associate itself with any liberation movement is certainly co-opting it and dictating the terms and conditions behind closed doors. As Thomas Sankara said: “He who feeds you, controls you”. There is no free money coming from corporations, they all have strings attached, and ultimately the people will pay the greatest price.
The only money and resources that we can rely on are that of the community. We need to reinstate the community and village mentality amongst ourselves and understand that the quest for liberation from each oppressive system for every oppressed people is in the interest of us all. It is our duty to contribute in any way we can to the struggle. We must create a community system so trustworthy, sound, global and organised that those on the frontline know they have several safety nets, especially if, or when, they lose their 9 to 5.
Whatever meaningful contribution activists make will be forgotten if they are willing to sell the movement out. Righteousness, integrity, and uprightness last longer than million-dollar homes, fancy cars and bloody shoes.