Madonna Should Have Honored Aretha Franklin By Taking A Seat



The world lost a bold and phenomenal woman on August 16th, 2018.

Aretha Franklin paved the way for feminist and black musicians with her music. Cancer sees no color, background, or social status, but her work and activism will long outlast her unfortunately ill body. In the wake of her death, I think it’s incredibly important that we hold space for what should have happened this week at the VMAs. It's important to show respect for all the work that the very first woman to ever to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame did in the years of her life, unlike some “Material Girl” on a high horse.

Madonna, did you forget that you are not black?

Check your white activism already. It’s dull and tired and… is trending even less than you are, regardless of your attempt to hype yourself at the expense and on the backs of individuals you claim to be grateful for. 

Aretha Franklin was a powerful woman whose activism inspired those around her. Her presence assisted in carving out civil triumphs for her community. She was raised in a single parent home by her father, Reverend C.L Franklin, was a soulful man as well who stood for civil rights and his chosen faith alongside greats of his time. His Walk of Freedom likely further compelled a young Martin Luther King Jr to dream more; the apple not only didn’t fall far from the tree, but instead rose further in her own way. 

Aretha Franklin was a woman who was brave enough to contribute to the frontlines black civil rights activists who stood high in the face of adversity and still held onto their dreams. And why wouldn’t she? Her father raised her with it. It is something that stood with her through her adulthood. Aretha made many connections to the black activist community throughout the course of her life, including Angela Davis, Martin Luther King, and former President Obama. 

Aretha Franklin was a living testament to the progress of the powerful black women who changed history. She was another shining star in the sky, leaving behind something that people of color could look to with high regards and appreciation. Aretha Franklin was a dream come true for her abbreviated time on this earth. 

Madonna, it’s great that you were one of the many who was able to rise partly because of the amazing woman that was Aretha Franklin. However, for now, the second (well third really, although some have not griefed you as much about the one before the last one) time during a tribute to the life of a legend, it’s a bit much. Your seat is waiting for you already. The world is begging you to please step back and drop the white activism crap already.

This wasn’t a time for you. It was a time that belonged to people of color.

You just spat all over that… again.

Look, we get it. Aretha died on your birthday. It was a birthday that you celebrated in Morocco wearing African attire. You have two black children. It’s understandable that you’d like to relate. It’s wonderful in its way; it’s not in another. 

Madonna, your attitude surrounding the death of this legend is something that perhaps you should sit down and “think” about “what you [tried] to do to [her]” with the “freedom” of your white privilege.

According to your Instagram you “did not intend to do a tribute to her!” But yet, you got on stage during this special time. Many were waiting and anticipating a tribute for this beloved icon whose light shines so brightly beyond the grave... and you made it about you… and did so with emblazoned entitlement.  


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But this isn’t Madonna’s first rodeo.  It was only a couple of years ago when she made this same mistake, rendering the Billboard Music Awards of 2016 a trashcan fire with her “tribute” to Prince. People may have forgotten as well that she had made a similar move at the 2009 VMAs, after Michael Jackson died, which Billboard reported in their recent coverage of the event. Madonna's response to her Prince tribute is all too familiar, proclaiming, “Anyone who wants to do a tribute to Prince is welcome to. Whatever age, gender, or skin color.” This continues to contribute to the problem of white delusion. Race is not irrelevant here.

What’s worse is that this is something people have grown to expect of Madonna. There are some that have even excused it, as did a professor who specializes in the Amazigh art that Madonna wore to the VMAs.

Madonna has performed covers of songs after the passing of powerhouse black musicians at two music award ceremonies just two years apart. “Nothing Compares to You” was right on point with its irony — being sung by a white woman artist at a music award show within an industry that has regularly disregarded people of color. “(You Make Me Feel Like a) Natural Woman” being sung by a white woman who then proceeded to humblebrag about how she benefited from the work of a person of color. It stung even more so at a time when persons of color are still denied the safety to express their voice of authenticity.

White activism needs to calm down and have a seat already.

Madonna, again, I’ll repeat — you are not black. There is a time and a place for you to show your R-E-S-P-E-C-T in a meaningful way. The best way you can show this is by recognizing when it’s time to fade to the background for others whose voices do not deserve to be white-washed and minimized. 

Madonna is notorious for her careless disregard of cultural distances and questionable behaviors. To make matters potentially worse, what was her choice of attire for this years VMAs? It was North African Moroccan Berber/Amazigh. Jaws dropped as she went on stage from viewers across the globe. Critics all over the net were all over her about it.  

Madonna then came on stage and attempted to minimize her white privilege. She said that she didn’t “blend in enough” and was rejected from dancing auditions. She talked about how she didn’t feel “enough.” She is a white woman dressed in African clothing talking about how she didn’t feel like she blended enough — in a world where white individuals are more often than not given so many opportunities that people of color have not. Madonna did this in response to the death of a woman who put her heart and soul into being the Queen that people of color truly deserved to be honored appropriately.

Why did this happen? Why was a person of color not chosen to honor Aretha Franklin?

Why wasn’t a person of color chosen to be the focal point of the Prince tribute in 2016? Why are so many people of color still so often denied the capabilities of honoring their heroes? This is dangerous and encourages racism to continue.

White activism needs to take a seat already. Madonna had no business making this tribute about anything other than the graceful and powerful woman that was the Queen of Soul for so many reasons.

For all the work and progress that you did fighting for civil rights pushing millions (even if it wasn’t acknowledged at the march)...

For the gift of your soul in ways that truly were all about heart and soul...

Thank you, Aretha. There are so many people inspired by your gifts. There “Ain’t No Way” people couldn’t be with how much you gave your heart and soul to people of color. You are an inspiration to all of them. 

To all the white women out there who think this “activism” is their time to say “look at me" — it's not. This is a time when it’s more important than ever to be an ally. Hopefully, this will be the last “tribute” Madonna does to a person of color. The first one was shame on you. The second was shame on (still you but also) the industry and the society that still endorses white people to steal the spotlight over hard-working individuals that deserve their R-E-S-P-E-C-T.


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