Should White Celebrities Be African?

March 30, 2011  |  

Alicia Keys is known for the pushing the envelope when it comes to raising awareness and support for her AIDS nonprofit, Keep a Child Alive. But according to some folks, she may have pushed the envelope a little bit too far with her latest ad campaign that features Hollywood stars in “traditional” African tribal dress with the tagline, “I Am African.” Off hand, the ad doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. African-American stars like Janet Jackson, Iman, Tyson Beckford and Alicia Keys herself are photographed in tribal face paint and traditional “African” headdresses. But several white actors like Richard Gere, Sarah Jessica Parker, Liv Tyler and Gwyneth Paltrow are also included.

Here’s where the uproar comes in. Are these ads disrespectful of African culture?

To Keys’ credit, I’m sure she had no intension of offending anyone. As explained on the Keep a Child Alive website, “each and every one of us contains DNA that can be traced back to our African ancestors. These amazing people traveled far and wide. Now they need our help.”

Ok. We get it. But what are these images of “privileged celebrities”—as AOL Black Voices describes them—really conveying? That in order to get people involved in the fight against an epidemic that plagues all of humanity we need celebrities to play dress up and declare that they are African? Is it too farfetched to be yourself to fight AIDS? AIDS is a global epidemic, so regardless of one’s race or ethnicity, the message should be conveyed that this is a human—not solely African—issue and any and everyone should get involved to save lives.

Just as Keys’ campaign last year featured celebrities dead in their coffin and declaring that they will stay off of social media until fans donate $1 million did not resonate for many, it appears that this campaign is suffering the same fate. In any case, Keys got people talking, but was it in the most effective way? Will it strike enough cords to make people take action against AIDS?


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