Keke Palmer: ‘I Have Waited for a Revolution My Entire Life’ (Guest Column)

Keke Palmer
Caitlin Cronenberg for Variety

I like following rules and doing what I’m told. As a kid, these rules stick with you. But even at a young age, I was taught to question the things that didn’t feel right to me. As little as 10 or 11, while on sets, I would be told by my mom that if the director tells me something that doesn’t make sense to me, to challenge him until we get to a place where I do understand. And if it doesn’t, we would go somewhere else.

Sometimes, going against authority is the only remedy for change, especially when we have seen, too often, those authority figures step over the line. So where do you draw the line? How do you know to draw the line? Is there a line?

I chose to join the protests in Los Angeles to bring as much awareness as we can to the injustices in America and fight against white supremacy and what it does to our nation. At one point, I spoke with National Guardsmen who were preventing us from marching past a certain point and challenged them to march with us. In my wildest dreams, they would all march with us without risk of punishment, in the same way that if the whole class walks out of school, no one gets detention for it. If enough of them felt moved to do this, it would offer so much inspiration and impact the movement in such a meaningful way.

They didn’t march with us, and while one offered to for a short stretch, he also said he had to “protect the businesses” and buildings in the area.

But what about the people who are actually dying? In that moment, I wasn’t thinking about who may or may not touch a building; I was thinking about how we’re out here, fighting for a call to protect human lives. And the government is telling you to protect a building? That doesn’t add up to me, and I wanted to challenge them with the question, “How does that add up to you?”

While a few guardsmen knelt, for me that isn’t enough. Kneeling has become a mockery of sorts. Kneeling on George Floyd’s neck is what killed him. Now we see police officers kneeling and then, moments later, attacking peaceful protesters. At this point, the kneeling has no meaning.

White supremacy is the longest-lasting oppression in America, but it is not the only one. We may not all share in the Black experience of this, but I can guarantee you, almost everyone in this country has been oppressed in some form or another. It’s the reality of what happens when the illness of racism becomes validated through the system. It creates even more division, desensitizes us to the humanity of others to the point that so many can be easily blind to sweeping social injustices.

I don’t know everything, but I know how to speak from my heart — at least I try to every day. I know there are others who are just like me. They don’t have the answers, but they are present and they know they can’t do it alone. They ignite the little fires everywhere that shine a light that casts out the darkness. This revelation is a fight for us all.

I have waited for a revolution, I believe, my entire life. I feel it’s like this for many millennials; messages about following rules and staying in line have since evolved into calls to stand up and get others to stand with you, to challenge authority and recognize different life experiences while gathering with others who are like-minded.

I truly believe that everything that has led us to this moment has prepared us for a revolution and a revelation: the dismantling and rebuilding of a system that is better, more equitable and representative of the people it claims to represent.

So while it may be scary, we were born for this: We were born to be leaders and grow out of just “following rules” because following rules isn’t enough.

We are now being called to challenge the rules and to challenge the character of those making them.

I’m a big believer that your fight is specific to you, and it must come from a real place or it simply will not work. I can’t ask anyone to do what they aren’t willing to do. However, I do ask everyone to ask themselves a question: “Where do I draw the line?” Because if not now, then when?

Keke Palmer is an actor, musician, daytime talk show host and emerging activist. She was recently nominated for a Daytime Emmy for “Strahan, Sara & Keke.”