Celebrity Status

Three weeks ago, Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the movement #BlackLivesMatter, spoke at All-School Meeting about social media and political activism. This past week, however, another one of Cullors’ hashtags has been blowing up on Twitter: #Free21Savage.

The hashtag refers to rapper 21 Savage, who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (I.C.E.) for over a week on the charge of illegally residing in the United States. Although he was released on Wednesday, he still faces the threat of deportation, according to CNN.

The immigration debate is currently a major point of political controversy in the United States, but because of its magnitude and complexity, it can be hard to grasp or relate to. Given the personal information celebrities share in their art and the thoughts that they post online, many fans feel personally connected to their idols. As a result, celebrities can often help to contextualize issues that might otherwise feel intangible or far-removed. In this case, #Free21Savage has helped to galvanize new groups of young people to feel more invested in immigration policies.
Although 21 Savage’s arrest has brought much-needed attention to the immigration debate, we must also remember that thousands of other people that face deportation in the United States every year. Most people do not have the voice and platform that 21 Savage does.

This incident has also highlighted the underrepresentation of black immigrants in public discourse about immigration. Current rhetoric criticizing I.C.E. focuses largely on the abuse faced by undocumented people from Central America and South America, despite the fact that undocumented black immigrants are disproportionately likely to be deported, according to an article from the Atlantic. This issue deserves to be discussed outside of the context of 21 Savage.

And although widespread media coverage of 21 Savage’s deportation can make it feel as though he represents the detained American population, in reality, only a small number of the people who face the threat of deportation have supportive financial and social resources. Even fewer have the same kind of public support that 21 Savage does.
21 Savage has put a familiar face to a complicated concept we might not ever understand. But regardless of our political affiliations or famous role models, it’s important to remember that for every #Free21Savage, there are thousands of unspoken hashtags– thousands of anonymous immigrants detained in America that don’t have access to the power of a celebrity’s platform.