(Todd A. Smith)
In the hit song “Elevators (Me & You)” by Outkast, rapper Andre 3000 said, “’What kinda car you drive? I know you paid; I know y’all got beaucoup h*** from all them songs that y’all done made.’ And I replied that I’d been going through the same things that he has. True, I’ve got more fans than the average man, but not enough loot to last me to the end of the week. I live by the beat like you live check-to-check. If you don’t move your feet, then I don’t eat. So, we like neck-to-neck.”
That verse sums up the quandary that many entertainers like actor Billy Porter find themselves in during the Hollywood strike.
When one thinks of Porter, they might think of flamboyance, glamour and fame.
And no one would be wrong to label him as such.
But the Hollywood strike should also show that Porter is a regular brother working to make a living just like the rest of us as evident in the fact that the strike is forcing him to sell his home.
Sure, Porter might still have a fabulous home and fancy car.
But like many of us, many celebrities are one paycheck away from financial ruin just like many others.
The same things that impact us, impact them.
Therefore, no one should tell them to keep quiet on the social and political issues that impact all Americans.
One of the best things about my upbringing in the Inwood Forest section of Houston is the diversity that the area exposed me to.
The affluent area was predominantly White, and probably politically and religiously conservative at the time.
But that reality did not prevent Inwood from boasting of amazing diversity, racially, religiously and even socioeconomically.
While many Inwood Forest residents enjoyed a country club community, they were not out of touch because directly down the street sat Acres Homes, and unfortunately many of the residents did not have the same financial benefits that their neighbors from Inwood did.
I say all of that to say, some of my childhood friends do not look like me and do not vote like I do.
That reality exposed me, and them, to various political viewpoints.
One childhood friend once echoed what I often hear from some on the political right that celebrities should stay out of politics because they do not understand the plight of ordinary Americans.
With all due respect to my childhood friend, he said that while owning a Lexus, living in a $900,000 home and having a stay-at-home mom for a wife.
Working in corporate America has also given him access to great healthcare and a great retirement plan.
Many entertainers have none of those luxuries because they are contract workers.
Many go from gig to gig if they are lucky to even find work in Hollywood.
Rapper Kanye West had a scene in his video “Through the Wire” where he pays cash for dental work after his tragic car accident because he did not have healthcare.
Many rappers and singers go broke when a major medical complication takes all their savings because they never had benefits from their record companies.
While it is up to every adult to manage their money correctly and save for a rainy day, even doing that does not always prevent financial collapse.
More importantly, having a job in the limelight does not always equal wealth.
Many actors and musicians are just working artists who are making a decent living, while living out their dreams.
Very few reach the financial security of a Tyler Perry or Oprah Winfrey.
Very few entertainers make enough money to own a private jet.
Many do not even make enough to buy a luxury car.
When I interviewed actress Tatyana Ali, she told me straight up that she drives a Toyota Prius.
So, why can the person with the luxury car, $900,000 home, health benefits and a great 401K talk about politics, but the person working from check to check and driving a Prius cannot?
The person driving the Prius, in my opinion, knows more about the struggle of the working man or woman than the person with a corner office.
The late, great comedian John Witherspoon once told Vlad TV that when he got a good job in Hollywood early in his career, he would pay his rent six months to a year in advance so that he would have a place to stay even if the gigs dried up.
R&B singer Sisqó once said that his group Dru Hill made enough money early in their careers to not look poor on the red carpet.
However, the group was actually struggling financially.
Back in the day, dancers on “Soul Train” would sign autographs for fans and then ask the fans for bus fare because they had spent their little check on clothes for the next episode.
While the “Soul Train” gig did not pay much, alums like Fred “Rerun” Berry, Jody, Watley, Jeffrey Daniel and Rosie Perez used the exposure to catapult their careers to the next level.
The people with the hustle and financial literacy used their fame to make a good career.
However, being well known to the public does not immune a person to the struggles of the common man.
And in many cases, the political issues of the day impact celebrities even more because of the lack of job security and benefits.
Therefore, the next time an artist makes a speech about politics at an award show consider the fact that fame does not always benefit a person’s finances.
And the struggle is still real and sometimes nonstop for those known to the masses.
As Andre 3000 said, “Yes, we done come a long way like them slim a$$ cigarettes from Virginia. This ain’t gon’ stop, so we just gon’ continue.”