Racism has been a keen subject of debate in this week's general election. Within the two main parties, accusations of racism have been rampant and reflect the current racial tension which exists in soon to be post-Brexit Britain.
The Labour Party has been embroiled in a long antisemitism row which has involved scores of resignations and an investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. While Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been slammed for his Islamophobic and racist comments in which he has compared Muslim women to ‘letterboxes’, described black people as ‘piccaninnies’ with ‘watermelon smiles’ and used the phrase ‘Nigerian interest in money’.
With both parties accusing the other of being racist, it’s clear that the politicisation of racism is becoming more and more common. Yet, set against a backdrop of superficial discussion, hate crime has doubled in the last five years across England and Wales.
Meaningful, engaged and informed conversation regarding race is long overdue in this country. When people of colour speak out against the injustice they still face, the backlash can be huge.
An example of someone who unequivocally stands up for the black community and calls out institutional racism is Stormzy. As a rapper, singer and grime artist, Stormzy has taken the underground music scene, as his name suggests, by storm.
He’s the first artist to release a grime album which has become Number 1, he’s spent 7 weeks in total at UK Number 1, had seven UK Top Tens, and in 2017, he was the recipient of the prestigious Mercury Prize.
Born Michael Omari, Stormzy holds Ghanaian origins and grew up in a council estate in Croydon, South London. Using his upbringing as inspiration for many of his lyrics, Stormzy has quickly become a champion for the Black British community.
While many celebrities shy away from getting involved in current affairs, Stormzy’s career has been unashamedly political. In 2016, he publicly supported the Labour Party and has since been a frequent admirer of Jeremy Corbyn.
In his 2018 Brit Awards performance, he shamed the then Prime Minister Theresa May for her apathy and lack of action following the aftermath of the Grenfell fire.
Last year, he launched a scholarship that covers the tuition fees and maintenance grants for two black students to study at the University of Cambridge - where minority groups are vastly underrepresented.
This summer, he historically headlined Glastonbury wearing a stab vest adorned with a black Union Jack created by famous street artist Banksy in an attempt to raise awareness of knife crime.
His performance featured part of a speech given by Tottenham MP David Lammy regarding the racially disproportionate justice system and later on, in the same set, the grime star got thousands of his young fans in the audience to chant ‘F**k the government and f**k Boris’.
Stormzy’s influence is tremendous. According to the Independent, on the day Stormzy tweeted the link to register to vote, registration spiked by 236%. Of these, 150,000 were first-time young voters. This is more than double the size of the average constituency in England.
Yet, despite Stormzy’s efforts to increase youth political engagement, the online backlash he received following his plea for fans to vote Labour has been shamefully large. He has since been lambasted on the internet for using his platform to sway the gullible youth.
Some people feel that such a celebrated artist is using his power to persuade young people who may be uninformed and easily manipulated into voting for who their favourite artist says to. One viral tweet which gathered almost 30,000 likes stated: ‘Stormzy posting his political views on social media is doing nothing but influencing impressionable young people to vote Labour’.
However, other notable British celebrities who have publicly pledged their support for the Labour Party haven’t received half as much of the hate which Stormzy has.
Household names such as Vivienne Westwood, Billie Piper, Danny DeVito and Lily Allen have all been actively supportive of Labour but haven’t taken a fraction of the vitriol sent Stormzy’s way.
One Labour-supporting musical artist with a similarly young following to Stormzy is pop star, Dua Lipa. Lipa recently announced her support for Labour to her 37 million Instagram followers - which is more than ten times the amount Stormzy has on the platform.
However, Lipa hasn’t been critiqued in the same way that Stormzy has, even though she has also used her influence to persuade her young fan base.
The clear issue, therefore, is that when a young black artist from a working-class background uses his platform to increase political engagement and highlight issues that have too often been overlooked, he’s heavily criticised. But, similar activism from white celebrities goes unpunished.
This is symbolic of the subtle racism prevalent in British society and the double standards people of colour continue to face. This higher level of hatred demonstrates the anger certain people feel when minorities use their voice to draw attention to endemic and institutional racism which sadly, still exists in Britain today.
In politically polarised times like these, we need to be listening now more than ever to the needs of increasingly vulnerable religious and ethnic minority groups.
So, in response to the people who decided to shame Stormzy for using his fame to get young people involved in politics, to quote the man himself, ‘Shut Up’.