Let's admit it: We look to celebrities and pop culture for our cues. It's just a fact. We wear what they wear, we watch what they're in, we listen to what they record.
And sometimes, we also listen to what they have to say about larger issues.
As discussions surrounding race in America continue to be a major part of the national discourse in schools, communities, workplaces and on social media, so, too, are some of our favorite stars contributing to these conversations.
Below are 15 examples of people and cultural moments from 2015 that have helped to advance our conversations about these pressing issues.
Macklemore Checks His Privilege
Addressing his privilege head-on, the Seattle rapper spoke thoughtfully about how his skin color has contributed to his success, what that means, and how he can move within that reality responsibly (OK -- the interview aired on Dec. 29, but was an important piece of the conversation to star the year).
"Why can I cuss on a record, have a parental advisory sticker on the cover of my album, yet parents are still like, ‘You’re the only rap I let my kids listen to’?" he asked. "Why can I wear a hoodie and not be labelled a thug? Why can I sag my pants and not be a gangbanger? Why am I on Ellen’s couch? Why am I on Good Morning America?... To me, the privilege that exists in the music industry is just a greater symptom of the privilege that exists in America.”
Amandla Stenberg Takes Music's Biggest Stars To Task
The actress known for playing Rue in "The Hunger Games" made a video where she called out Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, and Katy Perry for adopting hip-hop aesthetics and not understanding their privilege. In the process, she gave an important history lesson.
Michael B. Jordan Defends His Superhero Family
“I’m pretty sure there’s white people here with [brothers and sisters of] other ethnicities,” the actor said when asked about the fact that Kate Mara, who played his sister in the upcoming "Fantastic Four," is white. “It’s the world that we live in. It’s self-explanatory. It's one of the things -- I don’t like drawing attention to the ignorance sometimes.”
Kendrick Lamar Sparks Debate With "The Blacker the Berry"
With his fiery To Pimp a Butterfly track, K. Dot fueled an ongoing conversation about responsibility within the black community on a more individual basis, and larger oppressive systems working to create circumstances that lead to certain conditions and incidents -- and how these two ideas both work together and are opposed.
Spider-Man Gets An Update
This month, Marvel announced plans for a new series, called "Spider-Man," which will feature Miles Morales as the suit-wearing hero. Morales is half-black and half-Latino, and the change is a step towards something that many fans hope will be a continued trend -- leading to a non-white actor starring as the comic book character in a movie in the near future.
President Obama Gets Candid About Race
“The legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination in almost every institution of our lives, you know, that casts a long shadow, and that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. We are not cured of it," the POTUS said on Marc Maron’s "WTF Podcast" recently. "And it’s not just a matter of it not being polite to say n—-r in public. That’s not the measure of whether racism still exists or not. It’s not just a matter of overt discrimination. Societies don’t, overnight, completely erase everything that happened 200 to 300 years prior.”
Common And John Legend Bring "Glory" To The Grammys
Com raps moving lyrics on the "Selma" soundtrack standout: “Justice for all just ain’t specific enough/ One son died, his spirit is revisitin’ us/ True and livin’ livin’ in us, resistance is us/ That’s why Rosa sat on the bus/ That’s why we walk through Ferguson with our hands up."
“Now is our time,” he said as the performance came to a close.
Jesse Williams Tweets About The Way We Talk About Rioting
The actor reframed discussions around the protests in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray to shed light both on their history and how they're viewed differently depending on who is participating. "You've watched hulking bullies w/ badges, robes & money brutalize, kill & cage human beings every yr of your entire lives & said nothing," he wrote. "Police & policies have been rioting on our bodies; destroying people & property every single day of your lives. But here you come..."
Maya Rudolph Hilariously Channels Rachel Dolezal
Dolezal, whose parents are white, has said she identifies as black. The news spread like wildfire and had people arguing over concepts like "transracial" and the idea and power of race in general. And Maya helped us laugh about it.
Zendaya Gives Us All A Lesson About Hair-Shaming
“There is a fine line between what is funny and disrespectful,” she wrote on Instagram after Giuliana Rancic commented on her locks. “Someone said something about my hair at the Oscars that left me in awe. Not because I was relishing in rave outfit reviews, but because I was hit with ignorant slurs and pure disrespect.”
Run the Jewels and Zack De La Rocha Tackle Police Brutality
The duo gave their take on police brutality in their powerful video to "Close Your Eyes and Count to F--k".
"Dope" Subverts Our Assumptions About Young People Of Color In Inner Cities
Unlike so many young black characters that are presented in mainstream art and media, the movie's protagonist, Malcolm (played by Shameik Moore) isn't in a gang or caught in a vicious cycle of violence -- he's on his way to Harvard. There are some obstacles in the way, sure, but the film redefines what we've come to expect from settings like his in inner city L.A.
Jussie Smollett Speaks Out On Police BrutalityJussie Smollett
The actor joined the March 2 Justice, and explained the reason why to MTV News. “We have to realize that this is not one community’s issue,” he said of incidences of people color dying at the hands of police. “Yes, people of color have been getting killed, but this is not something that is entirely new. What is happening is that with social media and people talking online it’s getting these stories out. So we’re seeing it every day. And now we’ve got to have a conversation that this is not just a black issue, it’s a national emergency. We have to educate ourselves.”
Nas Pens An Open Letter To America
America has spent so much time, money & resources fighting wars abroad and completely fell asleep at the wheel of the war brewing within our cities, neighborhoods & blocks. We are supposed to stand for freedom & equal opportunity. That's supposed to mean MORE than just words but the actions of late just don't speak to what we are supposed to stand for. This is BIGGER than BLACK and WHITE. This is about America selling a false dream. Now we've obviously progressed since the inception of this nation but we took our eye off the ball and it feels as though things are moving backwards. As a black man, I find it difficult to understand that our biggest export (our American culture) comes from us. The people in the streets... The way the world dresses, talks, what they listen to, what they watch... That all comes from us. How can we be the ones responsible for America's biggest export & fear for our lives like we shouldn't belong here. I don't have all the answers nor do I believe anyone does, but we need to have conversations around how to improve as a nation. How do we show any ounce of progress that keeps hope alive. This is too big of a problem to be solved overnight but there needs to be some questions answered to get things back on the track of righteousness. Amazing people died for this country. We owe it to the past, present & future to come together and move this country in the right direction. This is my home just like it is anyone else's. RIP CRISPUS ATTUCKS. FIRST MAN TO DIE IN AMERICA's FREEDOM WAR & HE WAS BLACK! GOD BLESS EVERY OUNCE OF INNOCENT BLOOD SHED FOR THIS NATION & MY FAMILY.
"This is BIGGER than BLACK and WHITE. This is about America selling a false dream," Nas wrote on Instagram. "This is too big of a problem to be solved overnight but there needs to be some questions answered to get things back on the track of righteousness."
Lupe Fiasco Writes An Open Letter To White Supremacy
A letter. Part 1 Of 3 Dear White Supremacy, First of all you are not really that supreme. While throughout history White Supremacy it must be admitted you have achieved some very dominant positions. These positions have been gained mostly through force or some biological agent such as disease that did a lot of the dirty work for you in advance. I mean anybody can use force on an unarmed populous and anybody can have smallpox. Not judging, just wanted to point out that having a disease that native folks aren't immune to because they've never seen it doesn't make you strategically smart or tactically superior, just kind of sick. And these dominant positions don't really stand up to the test of time that long either. There is nothing about you biologically or physically that denotes an innate mode of supremacy. For that matter there is also nothing about you psychologically, philosophically, cognitively, academically, socially, architecturally, culturally or even financially that signifies a higher position above any other group. And to be diplomatic there is nothing about you that denotes innate inferiority as well. So what you really are is something in the middle. You are regular. White Regularity is congruent to all other forms of regularity i.e. Black, Brown, Etc etc. But in regularity there is room for differences and this is where White Regularity shines! Each group gets the same essential universals. Dance, food, music, etc. and it must be admitted that the White Regularity take on these universal institutions has been unbelievably impressive and a great addition to the total world culture. I mean spaghetti and meatballs, Romeo & Juliet, Coldplay, The Tuxedo, lighter that air travel are all world class additions to the collective bucket but they are no less or more impressive than every other regular groups take on the universals either. And if we really wanted to get analytical every invention is built on inspiration from a previously existing invention so the claim of "The Supreme 1st" to do something is highly debatable and except for a few exceptions, impossible! All things human aren't born from a supreme overlord solely working in isolation.
In classic Lupe fashion, the rapper weaved together a thought-provoking, informative and controversial stance in a three-part Instagram post.