The better angels of humankind
In the media overfocus on irrelevant aspects of the lives of celebrities, it has been refreshing to see coverage of meaningful actions on the part of those in the spotlight. Recent reports on Rihanna fit that bill.
Many may have missed the news of two major protests taking place on the far side of the globe this past weekend. In India there was a push by the three-month campaign by hundreds of thousands of farmers fighting for their survival. In the world’s largest democracy, protesters are facing internet shutdowns. The other protest occurred in Myanmar, where the democratically elected government was recently overthrown by its military, imprisoning leaders.
Rihanna demonstrated her concern when she used her social-media platform, alerting 100 million followers about the two crises. Her act of solidarity and call for justice for those who represent some of the world’s poorest does have an impact. So much so that the elites have launched a social-media “counter-attack” against Rihanna and other supporters, using misogynistic, racist and fake-news approaches.
I must admit, being old-school, I’m not really familiar with Rihanna’s artistry. However, I have been aware of her story: a Barbadian being discovered as a teen, who rose over a decade to become a musical icon. However, it is obvious that her rise in that lucrative industry has not compromised her personhood.
Last year, Rihanna refused — at significant personal sacrifice —- an invitation to be the featured artist at the 2020 Super Bowl – because of the National Football League’s lack of a reasonable response to Colin Kaepernick’s campaign. Her sense of responsibility is complemented by commitment to her craft, which has resulted in the songstress gaining nine Grammys and 250 million record sales by 2018. The artist is also known for her innovative and diverse business acumen.
Rihanna exemplifies a decades-long legacy of trailblazing artists, such as Harry Belafonte and Stevie Wonder. Belafonte had been a popular singer in hotels and clubs during the early 1950s before deciding to refuse to perform in any segregated venues. He used that sacrifice to reinvent himself, restoring the tradition of folk music to Black and White audiences with hits such as The Banana Boat Song.
Harry’s artistic revival went viral and he parlayed commercial success by serving a key role in sustaining the civil rights movement as one of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s closest confidantes. He also, subsequently, collaborated in expanding in the international anti-apartheid Movement.
Stevie Wonder added to the momentum established by the likes of Belafonte. This innovative artist campaigned tirelessly and is credited with the establishment of MLK’s birthdate, becoming a national holiday in the United States. Stevie also played a key role in the anti-apartheid movement.
Rihanna has a track record of supporting campaigns to end police brutality and for advancing women’s rights in the US over the past decade. However, with the leverage of social media, she has extended her hand across the globe — supporting a Nigerian campaign regarding police brutality a year ago. Her efforts this past weekend highlighting the marginalised millions in India and Myanmar demonstrate that she considers the whole human family as her neighbour.
As a result of Rihanna’s tweet, many can become aware of:
• How 50 per cent of India’s population are farmers who have increasingly faced unfair and predatory competition from multinational corporations in recent decades. Monsanto craftily commodified their seeds, resulting in hundreds farmers’ deaths by suicides in recent years
•The Modi-led Government playing the religion card in promoting conflict, à la Trump, and the undermining of democracy, and promotion of authoritarianism in selectively blocking the internet and the work of Amnesty International India
• Myanmar’s military, which last week seized power in a coup against the democratically elected government and imprisoned leaders. This has returned the dictatorship, which for decades was one of the most repressive regimes
It is indeed encouraging that Rihanna, who is one of the trendsetters for this generation and the next, is exemplifying the better angels of humankind.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda