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Yes, wealthy black Americans experience racism and get to protest. Here's why.

We shouldn't even have to talk about this, but here we are.

Yes, wealthy black Americans experience racism and get to protest. Here's why.
Colin Kaepernick last played for the San Francisco 49ers. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images.

Colin Kaepernick, still unemployed and blacklisted by the NFL, has received a range of critiques from sports pundits, Twitter users, and the NFL audience for using his platform as a famous athlete to speak out against police brutality.

There is a problematic line of thought that continues to resurface in these conversations: Black Americans who are wealthy or noted intellects — so-called "privileged" black Americans — have no business talking about the reality of race.

It's a familiar critique. When Beyoncé used her Super Bowl 50 performance to pay homage to the Black Panthers, critics went wild. Not only did they inaccurately equate the Black Panthers to a terrorist group, they couldn’t fathom how a wealthy black woman could feel the need, much less have the desire, to comment on racist practices through art.  


Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images.

Often criticized for not speaking more directly about race, President Barack Obama also faced an insurmountable amount of racist attacks and vitriol in office. Yet, when he did speak on fraught relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve, pundits lashed out him for "dividing the nation."

Photo by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images.

The idea that a black person gaining privilege means they then relinquish First Amendment rights is a racist, dangerous fallacy. And it's about as un-American as it gets.  

Acquiring wealth, becoming educated, or reaching a higher societal class should not require black people to abdicate their right to speak about their experiences and to speak for disenfranchised communities.  

Conflating prosperity with freedom is not only false, it indicates that laws that give Americans freedom of speech — and the right to protest — only apply to certain groups. When we do that, we invoke classism, racism, and silence marginalized voices. Black people from all groups — wealthy or poor, famous or unknown, young or senior — have all been criticized at various points in history for speaking on injustice and black experiences. Perhaps it’s not the status that bothers these pundits, but rather the skin tone of those speaking out and their audacity to do so unapologetically.  

The nation’s history with attacking privileged advocates for justice is lengthy.

Booker T. Washington, a black scholar and leader, spent his life fighting racism and injustice and working to change a lynch-hungry South. He died with more than $1.5 million in his estate and used his finances to fight inequality and increase educational opportunities for black America. Madam C.J. Walker became more vocal about race and injustice as her wealth grew and she raised money for organizations like the YMCA and the NAACP’s anti-lynching campaign. Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most educated, well-known leaders of our time, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a globally known pastor, and was assassinated at 39. Oprah, one of the wealthiest women in recent history, wasn’t able to buy a handbag in Switzerland because the shop owner thought she couldn’t afford it. Despite this experience and others like it, she has worked tirelessly to amplify the work of black film directors, writers, and artists.  

Photo by Rick Diamond/Getty Images.

Upper-class black Americans experience racism and inequality regularly.

Their privilege does not eliminate that experience. In using their platforms, well-known voices have the power to do meaningful acts in struggling communities and to be role models for young activists, writers, and thinkers.  

By allowing black leaders to be human and to speak out against injustice, we make space for people who regularly experience racist practices and injustices and may not have the funds to create an organization or the access to education usually required to hold office. We give a voice to the women who were sexually assaulted or raped by a police officer and weren’t believed until years later. We give a voice and value to the professor stopped on the way home for being a black male in the "wrong" neighborhood. We give a voice and value to the countless number of black teens followed around in stores in malls because they’re immediately seen as threats or as humans that need to be disciplined because of their skin.

Black people have a right to practice their American freedoms. It's time America listens to them.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.