As we all know, well at least Stevie Wonder’s hard core fans, that Wonder is more than a musician from his days of fighting against apartheid of South Africa to donating his own money to make sure technology is accessible to people with disabilities to being the key activist/musician to push for a Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday and even today as an UN Ambassador of people with disabilities.
So with all of the above it was shocking to see and read mainstream media frame of what Wonder said and did at the 2016 Grammy Awards. He held up the envelope with the winner in braille and said “you can’t read this” then came back with a real disability activist statement, “”We need to make every single thing accessible to every person with a disability,”… The mainstream media so far thought it was an emotional statement with slate laughter but didn’t reported it as an activist act on Wonder’s part.
Compared what Beyoncé did at the 50th Superbowl’s halftime show where local activists gave Beyoncé’s dancers Mario Woods ( a San Francisco Black young man with a history of mental health disability who was shot dead by ten plus San Francisco police officers) sign to hold up and Beyoncé’s dancer dressed up in Black Panther’s Black suits forming an X for Malcolm X. Mainstream media, cultural workers, critics, politicians, Black and woman academic scholars and bloggers all had their two cents of what Beyoncé did as activism.
So why Stevie Wonder’s act was not seen as activism knowing his record compare to the popular view of Beyoncé as a performer and only recently as a feminist was insistently called an activist? These are some of my reasons.
1. Mainstream media and the general public are not used of seeing disability activism on television.
2. Many non-disabled people saw Wonder’s act was about the individual not seeing people with disabilities as a political/ cultural group that make up one of the largest group not only the U.S. but around the world. And
3. Many in “mainstream” saw and heard his statement as a need not a right that institutions are not providing aka in violation of our legal rights.
All three reasons twist and turn Wonder’s activism aka disability activism as individual feel good stories, more of individual needs and at worst an awkwardness silence or laughter.
I see Wonder’s action at the 2016 Grammys more direct than Beyoncé actions at the Halftime show at the 2016 Superbowl. He not only put the Grammys on blast but the million who were watching with a clear cut demand. The interesting thing is Beyoncé performed at an All-Star Grammy Salute: “Songs In The Key Of Life for Stevie Wonder however I wonder if Beyoncé really knows Wonder’s disability activism, an act that goes beyond the stage and what he lives with when the cameras are on and off?
As Wonder being an elder, of Beyonce, I still think that the media, scholars, cultural activists and bloggers miss this opportunity of displaying not only disability activism but intersectionality of disability, sex, race and age especially in the music and Black community from two icons.