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A little over a week ago, 50 Cent, aka Curtis Jackson III, posted a video of himself bullying a young man at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. He kept following the man—Andrew Farrell—telling him he must be high on something, calling him a motherf#$%er and ignoring the airport employee’s disbelieving head-shaking as Farrell just tried to go about his business pushing a cleaning cart. As you probably already know, it turned out that Farrell has autism and swift and loud censure descended upon 50 Cent immediately following his release of the video, including of course a condemnation from the Ruderman Family Foundation. Fans declared breakups with him and some bars even went so far as to boycott the sale of his brand of vodka (which he just promoted in Cincinnati before bullying Farrell). 50 Cent has since unsurprisingly apologized and given $100,000 to Autism Speaks. Fans, liquor proprietors and media outlets have largely moved on from the incident—and that is the problem.
I’m not trying to say that Jackson’s apology was insincere. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt even though I was confused about what he did intend to do if he didn’t intend to insult, but the fact remains that he did issue public and private apologies and donated $90,000 more than what Farrell’s family ultimately requested from him. Jackson stated in his apology that “the incident at the airport resulted from an unfortunate misunderstanding” and offered money and a sorry to ameliorate the situation. However, the more powerful course of action would have been for Jackson to use his fame and the magnified scrutiny of the moment to actually articulate the inherent bias at the root of this misunderstanding. To educate and to advocate rather than just pay and pay lip service.
Let’s be clear that Jackson wasn’t so much sorry for his bullying, taunting, mocking and shaming, but what he ended up sorry for was a misunderstanding. That is a very interesting distinction and he missed a huge opportunity to dwell on it. What he didn’t say is that he singled out Farrell because that young man didn’t happen to conform with Jackson’s idea of what “normal” behavior looks like or what a “normal” face looks like. What he didn’t say is that this is a great example of how we tend to shun and ridicule people who don’t conform to our ideas of “normal” regardless of how narrow or broad those ideas are. What he didn’t do is keep the fans and media outlets paying attention by starting a conversation because it is ultimately conversation that lasts longer than money.
Again, I am not saying that money is unimportant, but money without leadership is impotent. It has to be turned into something—led somewhere—to gain impact. Though it does seem that Jackson may have tried to lead the conversation a little. According to the The Huffington Post, Jackson stated in an email to them that, “I want to turn this misunderstanding into an understanding. There are people that are ignored, mistreated and neglected with disabilities that need our support. I am calling on my fellow musicians, actors, entertainers and all others who may not have fully considered this cause to join together to help in any way they can.” However, this statement too, while well meant, is not clear on what exactly is meant by “support.” The conversation here seems to have ended without anything actually substantive having been said and that is highly unfortunate.
At the end of the day there are relatively many people who have $100,000 to spare, but many fewer who have the ear of millions—and that is the most powerful currency when it comes to changing attitudes and truly making a difference.