October 11th, 2018

Yesterday, I was listening to Keep It, a podcast hosted by Ira Madison III, Kara Brown and Louis Virtel. It’s “a show about pop culture, politics and what happens when they smack into each other at alarming speed,” (like when Donald Trump becomes president, or Taylor Swift announces she’s a Democrat).

About Swift’s first foray into public politics, Kara Brown, a writer who covers pop culture, race, and television, had this to say: “I think that’s what you’re seeing with a lot of mostly white people now where they did not feel the urgency two years ago. They didn’t feel like the world was about to fucking end, which is how I felt when Donald Trump was elected. And they weren’t terrified. And they weren’t worried about what he was going to do. And now that they see what he’s been doing, now they’re scared. And now they’re reacting…(Swift) wasn’t transgender and realizing that all of her fucking rights were going to be taken away. She wasn’t an immigrant and realizing that, holy shit, this president hates me. She wasn’t a Black male who’s like, wow, are they going to keep making it really easy to gun us down in the street? And for me it’s a little sad that you have to see things get really bad in order for that empathy chip to kick in. You sort of hope that it’s just functioning properly by living as a human in the world and interacting with others.”

My friend _____ (who for context is not white) told me something interesting about empathy once. He told me that he doesn’t believe empathy is the answer to addressing racism and other prejudices, because one cannot experience empathy unless they themselves have experienced the suffering. Instead, we have to have a clear and consistent ethical code that doesn’t require empathy, a set of principles we live by that kicks into gear when we witness discrimination. An example of one of these principles would be to use your public platform to lift up those who face more barriers than you do.

Swift had no such code. She knowingly courted white supremacist support of her music, which I can only assume she did because she wanted those dollar bills. This week, she made her first public statement about transphobia, homophobia and racism: “I believe in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and that any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender is WRONG. I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.” I hope she continues to use her platform to encourage her fans to vote against bigotry. We’ll see.

Kara Brown goes on to say it’s a bit too little too late; if Swift had done this two years ago before the presidential election, we wouldn’t be where we are now.