Hold disappointing alumnus accountable

Diplo’s behavior does not represent the Temple community.

Humza IsmailThomas Pentz—better known as Diplo—is, without question, one of Temple’s most distinguished alumni.

Before the big game against Notre Dame in October, Temple’s Facebook page posted a video of him wishing the team good luck. My fellow Owls loved the recognition, but their praise of Diplo is misplaced.

The 37-year-old EDM artist and 2003 film grad has been making music—good music—for as long as I’ve been alive. People my age around the globe are swept up in the EDM phenomenon brought on by him and his peers. Diplo’s behavior—obnoxious, racist and dangerous in its nature—doesn’t deserve any kind of approval or encouragement from the Temple administration.

After arriving in Pakistan for a recent tour, he published many of tweets with racist undertones. One included a picture of him wearing a shalwar kameez (a sacred outfit common in South Asia) with the caption “Dropping bombs.” The images in some of his posts looked like they could have been on CNN, making him look like he was going to a war-torn part of the world to play a concert, bringing color to gray lives.

In another tweet he said, “Quatar (sic) lounge feels like a refugee camp for rich people. 100K square feet w people lined up for butter and sugar and no wifi.”

The flashes of personality Diplo shows through his social media are ugly and self-serving. Even though the comments he made were obviously out of line, the important—and primarily Desi-driven—feedback was never echoed by the public. He was never held accountable, and his public perception wasn’t even scratched.

Sherri Grasmuck, a sociology professor, agrees.

“I don’t think [black and white celebrities] are treated the same,” she said. “I think in general, black entertainers are expected to be skilled at what they do, because stereotypically it’s the only thing they’re expected to be good at. … If someone in a group works in a field they’re stereotypically skilled in, then they don’t get any credit for being good, even if they’re great.”

Grasmuck said a student studied the transition between players on a sports team with their management position after the initial career and it showed similarities to what we see with celebrities. Players of color went on to take less management or professional positions that are held at high regards than their white counterparts, just like we see with other people in public spotlight.

“I think there’s a lot of evidence to show that black entertainers are much more likely to be criticized if [they do] something unpopular, and pay a bigger price [for it],” she said. “Those stories circulate more, they’re talked about more.”

Diplo’s lack of public accountability grows much more apparent in the case of his abusive relationship with prominent Desi artist and activist, Mathangi Arulpragasam, better known as M.I.A.

By blending electronic music with political rap, she works to be a bridge between the people in South Asia and the West. She recently released the single “Borders” which focuses on the current refugee crisis in Syria and Yemen. The lyrics are rooted in part by her family’s background—they were uprooted from their homeland of Sri Lanka, and eventually settling in England, where Arulpragasam was born and raised. M.I.A. is the most important voice in the music industry today.

On her Twitter account in May 2015, she asked her 676,000 followers whether they felt her using footage of a village in her music video would be considered cultural appropriation. She consistently uses her fame to spark conversation and send messages about important issues, while maintaining a healthy sense of humility and respect for the people she talks about. Identity politics and geopolitics are the rapper’s forte, showcasing an intelligence and wit that Diplo—or even his more empathetic peers—will never match.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, M.I.A. recounted the abuse she underwent from Diplo during their five years together, specifically during her rise in popularity:

“When I got signed by Interscope, [Diplo] literally smashed my hotel room and broke all the furniture because he was so angry I got picked up by a major label,” she said. “I had this person on my shoulder the whole time saying, “you shouldn’t be in the magazines and you should not be going to interviews. … You should be an underground artist.”

When confronted about the alleged behavior in a Billboard interview, Diplo confirmed everything. As an explanation, he offered that he was jealous and sad; the couple fought, but they always made good music after.

His actions barely caused a ripple on social media, and M.I.A. had to discredit false claims Diplo made during the same interview. After that, however, she just had to lift her chin up and move forward. That is how the court of public opinion operates today.

We must start raising white celebrities to a higher standard, and refuse to be silent in the face of mediocre apologies. Temple, as a former home to this celebrity, needs to lead the way here and stop celebrating Diplo.

Humza Ismail can be reached at humza.ismail@temple.edu.

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