News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Feb. 15, 2019: For years, top awards like the Oscars and the GRAMMYS, were viewed as platforms seized by celebrities to speak up and speak out about injustices, human rights violations and social issues of the day.
Sunday night GRAMMYS’ offered a perfect opportunity for the music industry to get behind a major rights issue of the day in these United States – immigration and Donald Trump’s continued scapegoating and victimization of immigrants.
After all, only a week before, one of their own, rapper 21 Savage, born Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, was arrested and was in US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, (ICE) custody in one of the most notorious detention centers in the country.
But the GRAMMYS went on as if 21 Savage did not exist. In fact, his mother was reportedly also denied his ticket to attend the event in his place, since the rapper was also a Grammy nominee.
With the exception of a shout out from Childish Gambino’s producer, Sweden born Ludwig Gorranson, not a single other artist mentioned 21 Savage or his plight. This despite reports that his management had reportedly asked several artists to show support for the rapper on stage.
Host Alicia Keyes stayed away from any tough issues, instead focusing on all things “light and beautiful,” which resulted in a yawn of an event. And even Post Malone avoided the subject of 21 Savage’s arrest and detainment during his Grammys performance, even though the 21 was part of his own hit song “Rockstar.”
Post, during his performance, did not address Savage’s situation at all, and even appeared to avoid the rapper’s verse altogether, though he was wearing a 21 Savage t-shirt.
But it was just business as well with the attitude it seems – not my business not my problem because ‘all is well in my world.’ The only real care seemed to be expressed by fans who have formed the #Free21Savage coalition and marched outside the Staples Center with signs in support of the Atlanta-based rapper.
Is it surprising? Hardly!
Especially when you consider that 21 Savage himself has all but ignored his own plight and the plight of millions like him for decades. Before his arrest, few knew he was an immigrant, much less a Dominica-roots immigrant born in the UK and living in the US without undocumented in the US since age 7.
Ironically, only days before his arrest, 21 Savage decide to weigh in on the issue of immigration – rapping in a brief moment on an appearance on the Late Show about the Spring 2018 arrest and caging of children snatched from their parents at the US border.
Days later he was arrested for simply overstaying his visa and living in the US “illegally,” in a heartbreaking case of art imitating life. Now he is experiencing what tens of thousands of immigrants experience daily. Locked down, treated like a mass murderer, little contact with the outside world and abandoned without any real representation.
Sadly, the voices for immigrants and immigration has largely been the Latino community, including many of its prominent actors, musicians and celebrities, who are not afraid to protest, speak out and push for larger voter participation and immigration reform.
The African-American music community by contrast has mostly adopted a stance of them versus us, so it’s really not “our” problem. Despite all the power within this bloc, there has hardly been any focus on using that power to empower and be a change maker.
Outside of one-off voices like immigrants themselves – Rihanna and Nicki Minaj, the African-American music community has largely stayed away from the hot button issue.
And now it seems the entire music industry, with the exception of Rapper and music mogul, Jay Z, who is reportedly so flabbergasted, that he has hired a top attorney to help the young “A Lot” singer fight deportation; Cardi B and Minaj, who have both called out Fox News contributor, Tomi Lahren, for her tweet mocking 21 Savage, and Offset, who has taken on Chris Brown and others mocking 21’s arrest, are the lone voices who even care.
This as data shows US immigration officials ordered 287,741 new deportations in fiscal year 2018, the highest number of new removals since the Obama administration.
What happened to 21 Savage is draconian but so is what is happening to tens of millions of immigrants across this country.
It is unfortunate that a community with power and wealth – such as the music community, and specifically the black music community, fails to understand the power they can wield to make a difference in society and our country by simply lending their voice to issues like immigration and voter participation in these United States. Let’s hope 21 uses his release on Wednesday to speak up for undocumented immigrants in this country.