Was Tamika Mallory’s Grammy Spot ‘Benefiting Off the Blood’?
This wasn’t the first time the activist has appeared to center herself in a way that hasn’t advanced the social-justice cause that she’s attached herself to.
Sunday night’s Grammy Awards took a turn for the “woke” worse during a performance from rapper Lil Baby that featured a traumatic reenactment of a Black man shot by the police, with helicopter sirens, protests, and civil unrest.
Just when it seemed as if all of this spectacle couldn’t have gotten any more uncomfortable, a familiar face emerged on the stage for a mid-song rally: none other than controversial activist Tamika Mallory. “It’s a state of emergency. It’s been a hell of a year. Hell for over 400 years. My people, it’s time we stand,” she declared from behind a podium, mid-song. “It’s time we demand the freedom that this land promises. President Biden, we demand justice, equity, policy, and everything else that freedom encompasses, and to accomplish this, we don’t need allies. We need accomplices. It’s bigger than Black and white.”
So far, so good, until she closed her short scene with an odd shout-out: “This is not a trend, this is our plight,” she yelled. “Until freedom!” And then the other staged protesters march on, yelling “until freedom” — which just happens to be the name of her social justice organization that’s already been accused of capitalizing off of dead Black people, including Breonna Taylor.
Watching Mallory plug her organization like that was cringy. For her to later post a clip of her performance on Instagram followed by the Cash App and Venmo accounts for Until Freedom, appeared to confirm what I didn’t want to believe was true: She had been grifting on national television. She appeared during music’s biggest night to use the racial uprisings of the moment to push her personal brand as an activist.
“Look at this clout chaser,” Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, wrote on social media. “Did she lose something in this fight? I don't think so. That's the problem. They take us for a joke. That’s why we never have justice, cause of shit like this.”
Tamir Rice was 12 years old and playing in a park when he was fatally shot by officer Timothy Loehmann, who then sued to get his job back after he was finally fired not for shooting down an innocent boy but for lying on his initial job application. Last December, the federal government officially declined to press any charges against Loehmann or his partner Frank Garmback.
Since then, Rice has been using her platform to call out the ways high-profile activists and organizations have exploited the movement for justice for children like hers to advance their own images while “benefitting off the blood.”
“Ultimately, what I know is that a grieving mother like Samaria Rice has every right to be skeptical and hurt and suspicious and cynical,” King wrote on Tuesday in The North Star, an online social justice publication he founded that’s been previously accused of mistreating writers of color in a long piece defending Mallory as “as serious and substantive as one person could be. She’s not in this for fame.” King continued: “She wasn’t born that way, but this evil and unrelentingly racist country forced her into that corner. It’s our job to gracefully and patiently help her find her way out.”
Like clockwork, social media found King’s words to be condescending and tone-deaf at best and at worst a way of gaslighting Rice and her legitimate critique of how Mallory and others have centered themselves in justice movements. Imagine hearing this from a man who tried to use the death of actor Chadwick Boseman to sell his god-awful book?
King’s dubious defense, aside, if this was Mallory’s first major error as an activist in the public spotlight it could have been a teachable moment. But unfortunately, this is only the latest of too many such moments.
Last summer, during the height of the height of civil unrest of Black Lives Matter protests, Mallory thought it was a great idea to call up her reality television friends to raise awareness. What came out of that inception was the infamous “BreonnaCon,” a four-day event hosted by Until Freedom that featured celebrity guests, photo booths, marches, “Taylor-Made” empowerment panels, and a “Bre-B-Q” cookout. Local Black Lives Matter organizers in Louisville, Kentucky, expressed frustration about being left out of making the event more meaningful for their concerted legislative efforts. Others found the event a mockery of Taylor’s life with the rise of memes, reality TV celebrity appearances, and over-socialization of what should have arguably been a more mature way to fight for her.
“There were no internal issues within Until Freedom about using the name,” Mallory said in an interview with The Root. “Especially not when Tamika Palmer and her family members and her family attorneys were here working with us when the concepts were developed.”
But getting the family’s approval doesn’t automatically absolve one from capitalizing off of tragedy in such a tacky way. Since then, Mallory has gone on to invoke Breonna Taylor’s tragic death in her appearances on hit reality television shows like VH1’s Love & Hip Hop. She has also graced the covers of magazines and has found herself having tabloid-worthy back-and-forths with stars like Kenya Moore from The Real Housewives of Atlanta. In other words, Mallory has gotten famous because of slain Black people and social injustice, even more so since her rocky departure from the Women’s March amid accusations of anti-Semitism.
As Eric Hoffer once said: “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”
As some point, “spreading awareness” becomes a racket, where people are building their own brands without doing much if anything to help the causes they’ve identified themselves with. For Mallory, King, and others, it’s time that we begin to deactivate, unfollow, unsubscribe or at the very least, interrogate the very questionable ways in which they are integrating themselves within these crucial social justice movements. Rice’s mother deserves better than to see a movement that was inspired by the death of children like her own be turned into a viral fundraising moment.
With organizations like Until Freedom and The North Star, we’ve gotten to the business phase of this fiasco—let’s reverse course before it becomes a racket.