A few days ago, New York producer Salaam Remi released the music video for his song ‘One Time’ featuring Akon. While the location for the music video has not yet been confirmed, all signs are pointing to Africa, possibly Senegal, as Akon gave hints away with his bold ‘Do It For The Culture’ hoodie.
In the spirit of giving back to the community, on 13 January, Akon tweeted the news, “Just finalized the agreement for AKON CITY in Senegal. Looking forward to hosting you there in the future.” And just last week, reports stated that the 3D layout for this futuristic city was soon to be revealed.
This announcement forced me to look more closely at celebrity influence, and more specifically at Akon’s ‘side work’ and how many lives he has succoured. Initially singing about girls smacking it on the dance floor and being lonely—Akon is now running his own energy company, which started in 2014 and manages to provide 600 million Africans with electricity. Looking at Akon’s accomplishments, it made sense to then compare them to the ones of the self-titled messiah, Kanye West.
Staying true to his Gemini roots, Kanye West is provocative by nature, and is prone to sparking controversies. Remember in 2005 when he said deadpan on-air that “George Bush, doesn’t care about black people”? What about two years ago, when he proceeded to explain his thought process behind the statement, “400 years of slavery was a choice”? With these proclamations in mind, it should come as no shock that the black community reacted with scepticism when West broadcasted taking the ‘gospel route’ to his new music.
When the news broke out, the heavy and constant media coverage of West and his new dedication to Christianity was baffling in more ways than one. An array of questions sprouted to mind, and many wondered what good it would bring to the black community. On the one hand, West has created an album that showcases only black gospel singers, which should be appreciated. But West’s motives behind this cult-like behaviour and why we as the media continue to entertain it are two things that remain unclear. What is clear, however, is how Kanye West’s Sunday Service is eclipsing Akon’s attempt to transcend Africa’s future.
So, let the comparisons begin. Both Akon and West are in their 40s and released their debut hit singles in 2004. One is said to have brought Lady Gaga to the scene, and the other helped elevate beloved Rihanna. According to Business Insider, Kanye West is estimated to be worth $150 million, making him the highest-paid hip-hop artist. Akon’s funds are not fully known to the public but he is said to be valued at $100 million. Now the real question is, how have both artists used their profits to enable or elevate black culture?
West’s influence on the fashion industry has undoubtedly changed our perceptions of streetwear and shapewear. The brand Yeezy initially started as a collaboration, but soon turned into a for-profit endeavour. Despite not publicising his giving nature, it was reported last year that West donated $1 million to four criminal justice charities on behalf of his wife, Kim Kardashian. He has aided in elevating black creatives such as Virgil Abloh and Teyana Taylor and his introduction of Sunday Service continues to shine a light on black musicians, regardless of faith.
On the other hand, the Aries within Akon has always demonstrated leadership throughout his music career. Since founding his two record labels Konvict Muzik and KonLive Distribution in 2004, Akon has helped raise artists such as T-Pain, WizKid and P-Square. Using those profits, the project Akon Lighting Africa was born to provide a smart solar and small energy system for all. Since launching in 2014, Akon’s project has operated in 14 nations, including Guinea, Sierra Leone, Niger, Mali, Benin and Senegal.
In some form, both artists have used their power and influence to progress black history. In spite of West’s constant coverage with underlying cultural interest, he has given black gospel singers a chance to be heard, alongside a generous pay. Similarly, while Akon’s own music career has toned down, his investment in specific artists has helped them flourish, while his focus shifted to his motherland. Needless to say, both have paved a way for black empowerment and proved that sharing is caring.
In the US, racial disparities within the healthcare system continue. African American women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. In a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it identified these deaths as preventable, and yet the number has continued to increase over time. For every 100,000 births, approximately thirteen white women die compared to roughly 40 black women. Where is the outrage? Where is the justice in all of this? Giving birth should be a time of celebration, but in the black community, there is a paralysing fear surrounding this natural process. So I’m asking, who will care for us?
Screen Shot spoke to Dr Anne Schuchat, deputy director of the CDC, who noted the resources to identify and close the racial divide are there, and while not every pregnancy-related death is preventable, more could still be done. So why isn’t more being done? About 13 states have implemented change with Perinatal Quality Collaboratives (PQCs) on a local level that could quite possibly serve as a guide to help alleviate this problem on a national scale. How many more of us must die before the remaining states begin to acknowledge this growing epidemic and implement change?
Many of the deaths come from a lack of access to proper healthcare, delayed or missed diagnosis and the care staff’s failure to recognise early warning signs. Dr Elliot Main, medical director of the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, told Screen Shot that African American women have higher statistics in obesity and being overweight but “that’s not the driver,” he added in reference to high maternal mortality rates amongst black women. “It requires a level of attention but obesity and hypertension are not things one should die from,” Main said.
Celebrities such as Serena Williams and Beyonce detail their own pregnancy-related complications—proving that the system’s failures aren’t subject to just income and social status. Williams fell short of birth the day following her emergency C-Section, and with her known history of clotting, she immediately notified the nurses that she was in need of a CT scan and IV heparin. Chalking her request up to the pain meds she had been given, the staff instead performed an ultrasound. It wasn’t until after the ultrasound revealed nothing that her request to have a CT scan was met. This was only the beginning of what became a matter of life or death during Williams’ postpartum recovery.
“My body went through more than I knew it could,” shared Beyonce in the Netflix documentary Homecoming. “I was 218 pounds the day I gave birth. I had an extremely difficult pregnancy. I had high blood pressure. I developed toxemia, preeclampsia, and in the womb, one of my babies’ heartbeats paused a few times, so I needed to get an emergency C-section.” Though women like Beyonce and Williams have been blessed enough to triumph through their pregnancy-related issues, other women like 39-year-old Kyira Johnson, daughter-in-law of television’s Judge Hatchett, didn’t make it home to her family.
Immediately following the birth of her son Langston, Kyria’s blood pressure plummeted. Her heart was racing and she complained of abdominal pain. More than 10 hours had passed before she was taken back into surgery. That would be the last time her family would ever see her.
It is because of these exchanges that many women within the black community are returning to birthing centres, doulas and midwives. There is a level of care, awareness and consent that isn’t found within white institutions. Organisations like Loom were created to educate and empower the black woman circling periods to parenting. White supremacy has been alive and well for many years, and it will continue to infiltrate the various systems that are meant to protect all and not just some. Yet, until we address the ‘larger elephant’ in the room—that black bodies are not as valuable as white bodies—entities like the healthcare and criminal justice systems will continue to fail us, which, again, poses the question, who will care for us?