We all have a line that clearly marks the end of our integrity.
Most learn, at some point or another, that crossing that line can lead right into the first steps of a dance with the devil; a hypnotic Cha-Cha that can take us so far off course of our moral compass that we forget where home is altogether.
It’s only then, dizzy with regret and fully submerged in the sauce that we begin reflecting on our mistakes and praying for a second chance or new beginning. Sadly, this moment of helplessness is often the only way to fully understand that once certain borders have been crossed, there is no returning to the other side.
The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States has redefined that line for many Americans, including celebrities like Kanye West, Steve Harvey and Chrissette Michele. The latter has spent the better part of this week getting roasted on social media for accepting an invitation to perform at Trump’s inaugural ball.
Michelle’s acceptance of the gig broke a firm wall of resistance raised by legions of entertainers, politicians and citizens who are refusing to honor the new president because of the clear threat his administration poses to vulnerable communities, international peace and the human race as a whole.
So what leads some of us to stand so firmly on our side of the line while others are so easily tempted to wander to the edge of what they know to be right and wrong?
At this point in her career, Chrissette Michele didn’t have much to lose by siding with the president-elect. In fact, with her last album peaking at #73 on the Billboard charts, it’s fair to say that the throwback soul singer would have lost more money turning down Trump than letting down her fans. But it’s hard to watch her get dragged up and down everyone’s timelines without wondering how much her soul was worth to her.
Kanye risked 15-years worth of cultural cache to stand besides Trump. And he did it in spite of the fact that his most iconic moments (“George Bush doesn’t care about Black people,” “Beyoncé had one of the best videos of ALL TIME!”) and greatest songs were defined by his refusal to bow to America’s sacred code of White Supremacy. But we can see clearly now that Kanye isn’t an revolutionary so much as a habitual line-stepper. And that his support of Trump is as much a cry for attention as a desperate attempt to appear counter-culture and ahead of the mainstream curve.
Steve Harvey has also proven that he will say or do pretty much anything to keep his name in the conversation and his royalty checks in the mail. So his meeting with Trump was less surprising, but just as disappointing. But we can’t completely knock ‘Ye, Chrissette or Steve’s hustles in these trying times. We all have to eat. What we can and must do, though, is learn from their examples; To watch closely and never forget the true cost of a deal with the devil.
You don’t have to be a political genius to know the difference between right and wrong. Or to understand that it is very possible to be silent and present at the same time.
Despite her curiously titled open letter, “We Can’t Be Present If We’re Silent,” Michele doesn’t appear to understand either of those truths. In the letter, Michele tries but fails to justify her compromise of character with vague prose and a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that only makes her decision sound less honorable.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about what matters.” – Dr. Martin Luther King
Chrissette isn’t breaking any silences by performing for Trump. Everyone has been very vocal about their disapproval of The Donald since his before his campaign officially began. But the silence that foiled the resistance didn’t come from the minority citizens and liberal leaders who made it clear that Trump is not their president from day one. The only silence to blame for his rise is that of the citizens who ignored America’s collective conscious because of what they thought they could gain. Or, even worse, because they believed they knew better than everyone else.
The White citizens who voted to elect Trump, in spite of his racist, misogynistic and willfully ignorant campaign and political allies didn’t need much pushing to make it over the line and back into the mentality of America’s great White past. All it took was some financial instability, a swaggy Black president and the fear of a rapidly browning America to snap them back into peak Jim Crow form. But their silence and indifference isn’t as surprising or hurtful as the outright support Trump has received from beloved entertainers like Michele, West and Harvey.
Everyone has to define their own line for themselves. But once it’s drawn, we all must remember that crossing just once, whether for the slightest cause or greatest sum, can have an irreversible effect on both our individual psyches and our society as a whole.
However much Chrissette got paid to perform for The Donald and his incoming regime, the cash won’t last past 2020. And she won’t miss the money as much as the respect and dignity she traded for the quick check.
Many have died foolishly to protect their pride. And it’s true that nine times out of ten, honor alone won’t put food on anyone’s table. But on that tenth time, we all have to recognize when starving is the only option. Because no feast, gig or famous friend is worth the cost of a lifetime of integrity.
“Know the ledge.” Rakim