Taylor can’t come to the phone right now. Why? Because she’s avoiding political discourse.
Naturally, the most difficult things invoke some hesitation. Very few can stand with their toes spilling off of the high dive and jump into the swimming pool below without a second thought. The human survival instinct in all of us demands a moment’s notice; however, Taylor Swift’s political views have had plenty of fair criticism.
Swift posted a lengthy Instagram caption outlining her choice to publicly support, “the candidate that will protect and fight for human rights,” in this year’s midterm elections in Tennessee after being notoriously silent on all things politics for most of her career. Her change of heart comes in sharp contrast to her cosmic rival Kanye West who has been loudly using his platform in support of (and recently against?) President Donald Trump, and more controversially, in support of Trump’s divisive campaign to Make America Great Again. The infamous Swift versus West optics may be calling into question a more overarching dilema about political activism and support: who do we expect to speak up?
Although those of us who have enjoyed the legacy of Kanye West have been hypercritical of his current political opinions, these proclamations don’t go against Kanye’s character, who famously demanded that, “George Bush doesn’t care about Black people” after Hurricane Katrina left folks without homes or help and left the rest of America with a harsh picture of what life is like on the other side of the privilege line. Kanye West is no stranger to crossing this very line—speaking out against racial injustice in his music, in interviews, and even financially supporting his own forgotten community on Chicago’s Southside. All of these activities—like his most recent shift to red— have not come without backlash. Swift’s political proclamation comes years too late, and frankly comes from behind the shield of her own white privilege.
In these last few years surrounding the 2016 Presidential Election, countless public figures whose careers are a far cry from politics have stepped into the limelight and adopted a range of mantras from urging young people to vote this November like Rihanna, to celebs like Danny Devito taking tougher shots at our administration’s lack of empathy (and plenty else). All the same, these celebrities are following in the footsteps of folks like West who are active in their careers as people that speak up and speak out against the oppression they themselves may face or they have witnessed in their communities.
Swift falls short in her delayed statement, which undoubtedly comes out of hesitation and fear, but also a sense of privilege and exemption that she has enjoyed her entire career as a public figure. As a white woman, it is easier for Swift to stay silent. She enjoys a comfort called “staying neutral,” that in polarizing and frightening times for countless Americans is a comfortable way of saying that her personal has not been politicized. Women of color do not have this luxury. The LGBTQ+ community does not have this luxury. The Jewish community does not have this luxury. Immigrants do not have this luxury. And yet, with a heightened sense of fear instilled daily by belonging to these groups, it is exactly these oppressed people, and others in close proximity, that have risked the few luxuries they do have to speak out against their oppressors.
Taylor Swift has hid behind her predominantly white female fan base by staying silent on issues that seemingly do not affect her or her listeners. Except that is where white women’s silence is more than a personal choice, it becomes political when in Texas this midterms, 59% of the voters who elected Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate that has repeatedly aligned himself with the same anti-immigrant, anti-women’s rights, racist rhetoric trickling down from the 2016 election, were white women. This is a demographic that stays complacent in the regression we are seeing in office across the country. Taylor Swift had the power for at least 10 years now to influence this demographic and has not, until it became way less frightening (and more trendy) to do so.
Ellen Pompeo, Grey’s Anatomy star, recently spoke out during a roundtable interview for Net-A-Porter saying that in professional spaces that she is a part of she doesn’t, “see enough color.” She went on to critique her work space, challenge her environment and industry, while also herself and other white people to be the ones to say what everyone can see: there isn’t enough people of color in the entertainment world. She wished that when she walks onto set she’d like the spaces to “[look] like the world [she] walks around in every day.” Pompeo’s interview comes after Taylor Swift’s announcement, but its predecessors come years before Swift in the form of the exact underrepresented groups Pompeo is talking about. It was trans women of color who carried the message of inclusive women’s rights. It is decades of work the Black and Brown people living in America’s neighborhoods plagued by gun violence have been doing to call for tougher gun control laws. If we, as white women, wait until the path is well-paved and well-traveled to begin our journey toward justice, we must remember with whom we stuck the hard labor.
Swift’s political message comes on the backs of every group she attempts to ally. She waited until it was safe to jump in and fails to acknowledge the hundreds of affected individuals who cushion her fall. Ultimately, Taylor Swift made a political statement that urged her demographic of white women to vote “aligned with their values,” which judging by election results in 2016 and 2018, may tell us exactly why Swift has been so hesitant for years to take the plunge into politics: she knows her message may fall on deaf ears, leaving behind something personal—her career—as collateral.
Jordan Szymanski is a sophomore Writing for Film, TV, and Emerging Media major who thinks the real “Blank Space” is Taylor Swift’s political views.