by Sydney Redd
An icon has the ability to transform over generations, to keep up with shifts in popular culture, and to represent an audience through their image as well as their body of work. While “stars entertain us, icons do much more. They embody us. They tell us something about who we are and who we want to be,” (Toure, I Would Die 4 U, 2013). Today, there are strong black women who are speaking up for those who resemble and relate to them through their work, their images, and their activism. Beyonce, Zendaya, Yara Shahidi, Rashida Jones, Zoe Kravitz, Ava Duvernay, Oprah, the list goes on and on. Each of these women make a conscious effort to empower other young black women by showing them that they are represented in the media, they are supported by their idols, and they themselves are powerful. Actress Stacey Dash whose background consists of Bajan Creole, African-American, and Mexican ancestry has done the opposite of these other pop-stars of this generation. As we celebrate the achievements of black icons as well as our heritage through Black History Month, it is important to identify those that are detrimental to the advancement of black people. As a contributor to the conservative news show Fox and Friends and a constant critic of Hollywood and its liberal views, Dash has alienated her audience of color. She disempowers young black women by telling them that sticking up for yourself is not justified, that learning and teaching your history is not acceptable. Black people such as Dash are using their platforms against their own communities by being consistent in making statements that are detrimental to the empowerment of people of color.
America has deep and unfortunately still present racist roots. In 2017, we have seen a resurgence in white supremacy due to the election of a president that has been working on passing more legislation to promote and further systemic racism. On political activist and comedian Chelsea Handler’s talk show, she presented a segment in which she categorized the current waves of racism and highlighted “black-white supremacists” such as Ben Carson and Stacey Dash. In a segment on Fox and Friends, Stacey Dash discussed the 2016 Oscars “So White” campaign. She called out the stars who urged the public and other celebrities to boybott the show for it’s failure to nominate any people of color. When critiquing the reasoning for the boycott, she claimed there should be a cancellation of BET, the Image Awards, and Black History Month. Her argument being that there is a “double standard” and that once there are white award shows (where you only win if you’re white) and a “White History Month”, then we can support “segregation”. Her statements are incorrect and promote color-blind racism; the NAACP awards have nominated and awarded multiple non-black celebrities such as Sofia Vergara and Sandra Bullock. Black History Month exists due to the fact that the government has written black history, among others, out of what is taught in schools. Black people are celebrating and passing their history on to younger generations through the celebration of the month. Today, an icon and their audience’s relationship is “‘one of the most intimate and far-reaching forms of socialibility”; the celebrity, in this respect, is ‘an intimate doorway for connecting people” (Fleetwood, 56). Dash does the opposite of and encourages people to separate until a “double standard” has been lifted. Her statements feed into a white audience that is attempting to look for reasons to separate themselves from people who do not look like them.
Dash has made numerous other statements in which she put down her community and made negative comments about them empowering themselves. Such as after Congresswoman Maxine Waters won the “Black Girls Rock” award on the BET network. She called her a “buffoon”, claiming that her acceptance speech was given for attention due to the fact that it was geared toward critiquing conservative right-wing politicians who are disrespecting her and her community and calling for the impeachment of Trump. Waters’ speech reached out to young black woman and told them to ignore the stereotypes and criticism toward them because she, like them, is a strong black woman. Stacey Dash makes a point to attack those promoting inclusion and the empowerment of black people. She does this again after Jesse Williams accepts the BET Humanitarian award. His speech also calls out specific systemic racism including police brutality against black people and lack of adequate history taught in schools before going on to encouraging the audience to speak up for what they believe in and resist the system. Dash responded to his speech by continuing to preach that BET is promoting segregation and an attacks on white people before tweeting: “You’ve just seen the perfect example of a HOLLYWOOD plantation slave! Sorry, Mr Williams. But the fact that you were standing on that stage at THOSE awards tells people you really don’t know what your talking about. Just spewing hate and anger”. In Richard Dyer’s Stars as Images, he comments on icons being able to construct images in which they reflect an “ideological contradiction, both in terms of how they are grounded in such contradictions and how they ‘manage’ or ‘subvert’ them” (153). Dash is consistently used by the conservative right to “include” a perspective of a person of color. She is used to represent a community that she does not stick up for or give support, but criticises on behalf of the conservatives oppressing them. Dash herself is a walking contradiction due to her approval and support of a government and legislation that is working against her heritage and community.
Today, artists and pop-stars consistently battle with how to use their platform to influence their fanbase. Stacey Dash has made a commitment to becoming political and being vocal about her beliefs. However, her comments and the work she has tied herself to are detrimental to the black community due to their encouragement of silence, color-blindness, and ignorance. She encourages her community to not complain about the current state of America and to not criticise the government or their oppressors. Her statements are counter-productive and prove her contradictions with iconicity. An icon is inclusive, appeals to the masses, empowers their fanbase, and is able to stay up to date on culture and society. Dash has proven through her statements, body of work, and criticism of black icons, that she does uses her platform to disempower her community.
- Dyer, Richard. Stars. Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
- Fleetwood, Nicole R. “Giving Face: Diana Ross and the Black as Icon.” On Racial Icons: Blackness and the Public Imagination, Rutgers University Press, 2015.
- “SMH: Stacey Dash Calls Jesse Williams a 'Plantation Slave' and Other Crazy Insults.” BET.com, 30 June 2016, www.bet.com/celebrities/news/2016/06/30/stacey-dash-jesse-williams-comments.html.
- “Girl, Bye! Stacey Dash Calls Rep. Maxine Waters A 'Buffoon'.” BET.com, 24 Aug. 2017, www.bet.com/celebrities/news/2017/08/24/stacey-dash-rep--maxine-water.html.
originally written for CINE 541 at SFSU