We’re into Week Two of the “Everyone versus The NFL And Everyone Else” kneeling controversy, and we are truly living in a golden age of stupid attempts to willfully misunderstand a situation in order to have angry takes.
It is a record-breakingly stupid time in America right now, and I wouldn’t dare presume I could actually change the opinion of anyone within the Colin Kaepernick Facebook comment cesspools that’ve globbed together over the past week. Plus, if you can’t tell from my doofy little avatar pic up there, I don’t exactly consider myself America’s preeminent spokesperson on racial issues. (I might not even be in the top five.) However, I do have a lot of experience with people on the internet saying dumb shit, and there’s one specific ultra-stupid criticism that keeps popping up again and again that I want to focus on: The idea that any wealthy celebrity who speaks out is automatically some out-of-touch, ungrateful elitist.
Last week, during Obamacare Repeal 5: Operation Miami Beach, Jimmy Kimmel spoke out against the Graham-Cassidy Healthcare Bill, and got blasted for being a “Hollywood elite” — a catch-all distinction that apparently disqualifies his Ivory Tower delusions of wanting poor children to be kept alive. Days later on Fox, Newt Gingrich attacked Colin Kaepernick and any other protesting athletes, calling them “arrogant young millionaires” who need “therapy” if they think they’re oppressed. Joe Walsh, the former congressman turned guy who’s constantly hate-retweeted into your Twitter feed, also called Stevie Wonder “another ungrateful black multi-millionaire” for protest-kneeling. It’s a similar critique as the Kimmel-bashing, with some hideous racist undertones to boot. Or not “undertones” so much as, y’know, “tones.” Loud, clear tones. It’s basically that jarring noise when everyone’s phones blare an amber alert all at the same time, but racist.
This specific critique — “celebrities and athletes are such spoiled rich ‘elites’ that any opinion they have is automatically nullified” — is so thunderously, nakedly stupid that we need to preemptively delete it from these conversations before the stupid people making these stupid arguments can proceed to their subsequent also-stupid-but-for-different-reasons arguments.
First off, Americans — and conservatives like Gingrich and Walsh in particular — clearly don’t believe that “rich elites” are incapable of exercising judgment. Jimmy Kimmel’s salary is estimated to be in the 12-15 million dollar range. Colin Kaepernick has made $43 million in his six-year career. They’re definitely financially “elite,” there’s no question. But Rex Tillerson, our secretary of State, was an ExxonMobil CEO who received a $180 million severance package. Betsy DeVos, our Education secretary, has a father-in-law worth $5.4 billion, and who is the 88th-richest person in the entire country. These people are orders of magnitude more “elite” than professional athletes and talk show hosts, and we’ve appointed them to positions of far greater influence. Should we all pile on these two anytime they open their mouths to offer any opinion other than “I am so gracious for being wealthy”?
Here’s the real reason this argument is unlockable-level stupid. Of COURSE there are out-of-touch celebrities whose wealth has insulated them from everyday life. We just wrote about five of them here. Celebrities like Robert De Niro and Jim Carrey have championed the “vaccines cause autism” horseshittery. Kylie Jenner tweeted about the dangers of chemtrails. Gwyneth Paltrow has built an entire brand around giving working moms advice and peddling expensive and un-self-consciously vague “wellness” products. That’s out-of-touch millionaire bullshit.
But when celebrities use their platforms to champion a cause for underrepresented people who don’t share their wealth or social standing, to no personal gain (and in Kaepernick’s case, considerable personal loss), that is, by definition, the opposite of elitism. Kimmel has repeatedly emphasized how his wealth and excellent health insurance have spared him the life of crippling debt that his child’s ordeal would have caused a poorer, uninsured family (if they received care at all). Blasting his “elitism” is the opposite of the point. He’s specifically advocating for the non-elite, even if it means he’ll end up contributing a disproportionately high amount of money and diluting his own access to healthcare services to some degree. Classic Hollywood bigwig behavior. Have another PRIME RIB at the BROWN DERBY during a MEETING, ya freakin’ Hollywood Man.
Kaepernick’s outspokenness unquestionably cost him a shot at a backup QB job this offseason. He’s lost out on millions of potential dollars, and his career could be over prematurely at age 29. And all for the selfish, spoiled privilege of being the most death-threatened and racially-slurred human on the face of the Racial Slur Death Threat Factory (aka the internet). A less selfish athlete would’ve just kept quietly earning millions of dollars instead of greedily forfeiting his job to crawl through a shit-pipe of backlash for a cause he believed in.
Again, Kaepernick’s message — raising awareness about police violence toward black people in America — has nothing to do with his own financial standing. He’s not coming out and saying “I believe deeply in two things: justice and not being grateful for having lots of money. Those are my two causes.” There’s not some imaginary financial line after which someone loses their ability to notice and point out things. And there are legions of non-millionaires making the same case for racial justice, and many of them are — shockingly — maligned by the same people who hate Kaepernick. It’s clear on every level that his finances are ideologically irrelevant to the people complaining about them; it’s just a quick and easy way to complain about something else and end the conversation.
Furthermore, that old refrain “You’re rich, what are YOU complaining about” has been hurled at every successful black celebrity who’s ever spoken out about anything, from Louis Armstrong to Jackie Robinson. The same press that championed Robinson’s “gracious” rise said the exact same shit when he started advocating for race-related causes. It’s such broken logic — “You can’t complain because you’re rich.” “What about the people who aren’t rich, who I’m specifically advocating for?” “We ignore them too. But unrelatedly.”
Can we just immediately dispense with this irrelevant “elitist spoiled millionaire” rhetoric whenever a celebrity acts in a demonstrably non-elitist way? It’s so completely beside the point, and even the people using the argument know this. There’s a friggin’ Marvel vs. Capcom select screen’s worth of other dumb, shitty arguments out there. Pick another one.
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