Gluttons for Punishment? African American Celebrities and the Dilemma of Black Leadership

Harwood K. McClerking, Ray Block

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


We demonstrate a dilemma for African American celebrities from the policing behavior of the mass publics of both Blacks and Whites. Examination of norms suggests that the Black mass public wants its leaders to fight for racial equality, and Black celebrities are traditionally included as potential leaders. Thus, the history of Black leadership suggests that the Black mass public wants Black celebrities to contribute in some way to the goal of African American advancement. This is different from the mainstream norms: Whites are not at ease with protest or with efforts to dramatically transform the status quo in America. As such, White Americans seem to prefer that celebrities remain out of the fray also. Thus, potential punishments from Whites are in store for those Black celebrities who openly advocate for Black equality. Whether Black celebrities are actively advocating or not, the Black mass public is constantly watching and evaluating celebrities’ value to the Black community itself. Using a combination of historical examples and three surveys, we find evidence to support our claims: White audiences tend to punish African American celebrities for being “too Black” politically, while these celebrities can get punished by Black audiences for not being “Black enough” politically.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)154-170
Number of pages17
JournalRace and Social Problems
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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