Celebrities Using Their Platform for Change is Good, But Are They the Most Qualified to Do So?
For roughly 7 months, Kim Kardashian advocated for Alice Marie Johnson’s clemency. Johnson, a woman who was serving a lifelong sentence for a first time non-violent drug offense, was commuted by President Donald Trump in June 2018 after having served 21 years of her life sentence. This came a week after the unlikely pairing of a Kim Kardashian and President Donald Trump meeting at the Oval Office. Kim Kardashian advocated for Johnson’s clemency when meeting with the President, putting aside her own disapproval of several of the Trump administration’s policies. When asked in an interview by CNN’s Van Jones whether she had felt like a pawn of the Trump administration or that she had added legitimacy to the Trump presidency, Kardashian demurred, saying that, despite her personal beliefs, she had the opportunity to change someone’s life by meeting with President Trump and she had seized it without question.
Although I support celebrities like Kim Kardashian employing their platform, wealth, and network for good, I question whether celebrities are the most qualified in the promulgation of awareness of topics such as criminal justice reform. In her interview with Van Jones, Kardashian mentions that she worked for 7 months to attain a meeting with the President. She follows this by saying that she wants to give credit where credit is due. She cites the grueling long years Johnson’s legal team, advocates, and family worked and plundered through to try to achieve clemency. A coincidental retweet of a video telling Johnson’s story on Kardashian’s Twitter feed is what led her to discover the unjust life term Johnson was forced to serve. According to Kardashian, her first act after seeing this tweet was to call Ivanka Trump herself. Kardashian then proceeded to work closely with Ivanka Trump’s husband, Jared Kushner, who is also the Senior Adviser to the President. The fact that these events seem to have occurred with such facility, that Kardashian was simply able to call the President’s daughter, demonstrates the power and reach of her celebrity platform. Years of advocacy and preparation by Johnson’s legal team and family would have, arguably, never been able to reach Ivanka Trump with such ease. Above all, they most likely would not have catapulted Johnson’s case to the forefront of national news, social media, and, most importantly, President Trump’s desk.
I consider that Kardashian’s desire to help Johnson and her victory in allowing Johnson to once again breathe the rejuvenating air of freedom so long denied to her is an objectively good, virtuous act. More celebrities should call Ivanka Trump to advocate for people suffering under the injustices of the American government if they can. However, it is imperative to not forget that there are lawyers, researchers, families, friends, professionals, and other civilians who dedicate their entire lives to not only achieving clemency for individuals serving unjust sentences, but also for the advancement of reforms within broader social justice issues.
From reproduction rights to gun rights to immigration reform, celebrities all around the world have used their platform to enliven dialogue and catalyze action. From the annual Women’s March to, most recently, the March For Our Lives in 2018, celebrities can be spotted in cities all across the USA supporting the causes these marches advocate for. Many celebrities have been victims of or affected by the issues they are advocating for—demonstrating courage and resilience when they choose to fight back. It is also imperative for these celebrities to be there for heightened media coverage, an increase in awareness, and the amassing of support.
Yet, it is important to have conversations with the professionals and victims; with the people who have college degrees, research experience, or personal life experiences that relate to the social justice issues broadcasted by celebrities. One cannot learn from a simple meme, gif, tweet, or Instagram post all the deep complexities of a society and legal system that oppresses through various channels and on various demographics. Read for yourself. Speak to the actual victims of our criminal justice system or gun violence. Hear their stories. Don’t just retweet a tweet—get informed. Appreciate those who provided the information and the grassroots movements that brought those issues to your social media and news feeds. Kim Kardashian would have never known about Alice Marie Johnson if it weren’t for the years of work professionals, family members, and Johnson herself put into the curating of the case for her clemency.
Respect the celebrities who use their platform for good. But do not forget they are nothing without the common, hard working people that surround you every day.