Black celebs are causing a stir in the 2024 presidential election

Black celebrities are increasingly weighing in on the 2024 presidential race, and most of it is causing a stir in political circles. 

From urban radio personality Charlamagne Tha God to sports journalist Stephen A. Smith, wealthy and powerful Black influencers have been invited on several news programs to share their thoughts on the Nov. 5 election and what it means for Black voters.

On his YouTube show on Friday, Smith defended remarks he made during a Thursday Fox News interview, where he told host Sean Hannity that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump “was telling the truth” when he said Black people “find him relatable” because of his criminal trial underway in New York City. 

Though he claimed his comments were taken “out of context,” Smith was met with ridicule online, including from the NAACP, which called his remarks “Blasphemous” on X, formerly known as Twitter. 

Political strategist Reecie Colbert also called out Smith on her Sirius XM show, “The Reecie Colbert Show” on Saturday. Colbert told theGrio of Smith’s remarks, “To compare accountability that Trump is facing with the history of persecution and injustices that Black people have been subjected to is extraordinarily ignorant.” 

She added, “It’s actually offensive and it dangerously propagates stereotypes that Black people have some sort of criminality that we have an affinity toward.”

Charlamagne, who boasts millions of radio listeners and his very own podcast network with iHeartRadio, has also caused outrage for remarks he’s made about President Biden, whom he endorsed in the 2020 election. 

“I think President [Joe] Biden, historically, has been a – lack of a better word – a sh***y elected official,” the outspoken media personality told CNN in January. Though he has also referred to Trump as “the end of democracy as we know it,” Charlamagne received plenty of public criticism from political scientists and strategists who feel he, and others like Smith, aren’t qualified to authoritatively speak on politics and policy. 

U.S. President Joe Biden walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on April 23, 2024, en route to Joint Base Andrews. (Photo by JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

“This is about folks who are speaking with authority on something that they don’t really have the credentials … that’s what’s frustrating,” said Joel Payne, a Democratic strategist who worked on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. “It feels low stakes for someone like Stephen A. Smith or a Charlamagne to just go and offer a very naive political opinion that misses so much.”

As some Black celebrities are taking to the airwaves to wax poetic on the 2024 election and the records of Trump and Biden, Colbert said she doesn’t subscribe to the thinking that “all celebrities should shut up,” but clarified, “If you don’t have your facts right, then you should probably exercise some restraint in what you choose to speak on.”

Colbert said non-political experts are “intentionally being platformed because they will parrot perceptions that may or may not be accurate.” She added that celebrities are “just as susceptible to disinformation [and] to right-wing talking points as the average everyday person.” 

In fact, she argued, wealthy and famous celebrities stand to gain from the “disinformation network” that has “infiltrated Black spaces.”

Colbert continued, “There’s a huge profit motive in trafficking in these right-wing talking points, and right-wing narratives and perpetuating it. You’re still getting paid. You’re still getting the clicks. You’re still getting reposted.”

After days of online scorn for his comments on Trump and Black people’s supposed affinity toward the former president, Smith took to his show yet again on Monday to apologize for his remarks on Fox News. He said his statements were “misconstrued” but would “own it anyway.” However, Smith referred to several polls about Trump’s increasing support from Black voters, though he failed to mention that Black voters still overwhelmingly prefer Biden. 

Payne told theGrio that the threat of a Trump presidency is more “real” for what he described as “rank-and-file Black voters,” or everyday voters who aren’t rich and famous. 

“Generally speaking, if you’re a very well-heeled African-American voter [or] person, you’re not worried about Donald Trump sending the cops after you or … doing things that would undercut your rights because your money, your status, your fame is … your distinguishing characteristic,” he explained. “I’m not saying that you don’t feel like you don’t identify with your Blackness but I am saying that you kind of feel like the Trump thing is not as existential to you.”

Payne said celebs who are “unreliable narrators in the public space” present a challenge for Biden and Democrats because they have “outsized influence.” Therefore, their voices will more quickly “reach a lot more people” than an “influencer in Milwaukee talking about small businesses.” He added, “That’s just the math that we’re dealing with.”

Singer John Legend also recently weighed in on the election, telling MSNBC on Sunday that Trump is a racist “to his core.”

“When we protested the killing of George Floyd, he was advocating for the military to shoot us in the streets,” Legend said. “He has made it clear throughout his life that he believes Black people are inferior. Like, he believes that … in his bones.”

(Left to right) Former U.S. President Donald Trump and musician John Legend. (Photo credits: Curtis Means – pool, ASSOCIATED PRESS, JC Olivera/FilmMagic)

Cameron Trimble, who served as director of digital engagement for the Biden-Harris White House and worked on the 2020 campaign, told theGrio, like it or not, “celebrities and media personalities are now similar to traditional news and broadcast.”

“Everything any of them says has a potential to be amplified by traditional news media and across social media, and it can help create narratives true or false,” said Trimble, who is currently CEO of Hip-Politics, a platform geared toward mobilizing the political power of hip-hop culture. 

Trimble warned that Black and young audiences are “tuning out” traditional advertising and messaging, adding, “They’re taking these nuanced conversations and determining the facts from there, coupled with the headlines they keep seeing.” 

He urged the White House, the Biden-Harris reelection campaign, and Democrats more broadly to “directly engage” with influential voices, including those like Smith or Charlamagne who may be seen as “antagonists.”

He said, “It does not need to be necessarily the president or the vice president, but it could also be top-ranking officials to be able to publicly dispute some of the assertions [they] make.”

Trimble noted that Donald Trump Jr., the son of former president Trump, recently did a sit-down interview with internet personality and podcaster DJ Akademiks, who he described as not “super into politics.”

“But Republicans engaged him,” he said. “If those types of things go unchecked … people are getting one side of information without the other.”

The former Biden operative said he would like to see the Biden-Harris camp think outside the box and engage entertainment figures who are seemingly open to having political discourse. One of those entertainers is the rapper Plies. 

“He’s been one of the most vocal supporters of administrative policies on his extremely far-reaching social media handles that have continued to cause conversation online,” said Trimble. “Being able to engage him privately and publicly could showcase to so many more people who don’t feel seen through the John Legends and the people with shirts and ties or people who went to HBCUs.”

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