There’s two types of people in the world. First, there’s people. Every day, ordinary, semi-noteworthy, B-level celebrity, done some great things with their lives but have yet to drastically impact the world kind of people. They’re cool and could very well have achieved some extraordinary things in their lifetime, but in the larger scheme of things, they’re people. Then there are legends, the type of people whose receipts and reputation precede them, long before their physical presence has entered the room. We dream of changing the world and they have done it. They author playbooks, shatter ceilings and if we’re ever so lucky to be in their presence, give us that warm tingly feeling we ordinary folks tend to get when we know we’re in the presence of greatness. Here, at this table is where Gladys Knight comfortably resides.
“Empress of Soul,” seven-time Grammy award-winner, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Motown icon and so much more, it goes without second guessing that Gladys Knight is an undisputed legend. But in today’s social media driven culture, even legends aren’t immune from trolling and critiques.
Earlier this month Knight made headlines when it was announced that she would sing the National Anthem during this Sunday’s Super Bowl in Atlanta. Black folks specifically weren’t happy with the decision considering the NFL is currently one of the latest protest symbols of the Black Lives Matter movement. In 2016, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick filed a grievance against the league accusing the NFL of colluding to keep him off the field after he took a knee during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality. In support of Kaepernick and the movement, entertainers such as Jay-Z, Rihanna, P!nk, and others have declined to participate in any of the Super Bowl festivities.
Knight, who is from Atlanta, where the game will be played, said she wanted to “give the anthem back its voice”, and to include Americans struggling for racial justice. Knight added:
“I have fought long and hard for all my life, from walking back hallways, from marching with our social leaders, from using my voice for good…I have been in the forefront of this battle longer than most of those voicing their opinions to win the right to sing our country’s anthem on a stage as large as the Super Bowl.”
I see no lies here. Long before many of us were even a thought, it was Knight and other black entertainers of the ‘50s and ‘60s who risked their lives touring the South all in the name of equality. Being paid far less than their worth, dining out back and using broom closets as makeshift dressing rooms in the hopes that their music would not only unite a generation, but bring the country one step closer to healing its racial woes — and it did. To question Knight’s commitment to the cause or accuse her of “buck dancing and cooning for white people” is beyond absurd. *Alexa, school these kids one time on Gladys Knight’s long-standing commitment to social justice* United Negro College Fund (UNCF), the Children’s Diabetes Foundation, AIDS research, marched alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, and so much more. I’m sure her receipts in the fight for social justice long outweigh any of her critics.
A graduate of the school of Berry Gordy, Knight is of the Motown era, a league of black artists and performers who were strategically positioned to use their music to bridge racial divides. It’s no surprise that she would seize, what she views, as an opportunity to perform on one of our nation’s largest pop culture platforms, to try to bring some good to the world. I highly doubt the decision to perform was driven by fortune or fame, but rather a commitment to the long-standing approaches to seeking racial justice that fueled much of her career.
Of course, our elders of the Movement and beloved black entertainers aren’t above reproach or criticism, but this is far from a Chrisette Michele or Kanye West level situation. In today’s social media fueled culture, who and what is the standard when it comes to assessing one’s “wokeness”? If it’s tweets, hashtags and social memes, cool, put my photo on grandma’s wall right in between MLK and JFK. I’m sure it’s not voting because Colin Kaepernick has yet to cast his 2016 ballot and here he remains at the top of the black pride spectrum. It also can’t be taking a knee, as I have yet to see even half the black athletes in the NFL, NBA and MLB take a knee and/or a raise a fist, and yet we still buy their jerseys, shoes and endorsement deals have remained intact. Yes, the National Anthem is rooted in racism and discrimination but so if N-word and we as a culture have allegedly managed to invert that meaning. What makes this different? The same killings and police brutality were well into effect when Whitney, Jennifer Hudson, Marvin Gaye and countless other black entertainers performed the song. And if memory serves me correct, the Movement and culture, and even their blackness, remained intact following their performances. See my problem here?
The trolls found an easy target on an easy platform, with a seemingly easy case as to why the culture should cancel a living legend. With a career spanning more than 50 years and timeless hits that your favorite artists today could never come close to, Aunt Gladys has earned the right to support the movement however she sees fit and I wish a ni**a would say otherwise.