Harry Belafonte Was Right About Jay-Z

Harry-Belafonte

Jay-ZWith the current controversy surrounding high-end retail store Barneys and racial profiling allegations, one thing stands evident. Harry Belafonte was right about Jay-Z. In the midst of this controversy, fans have called on Jay-Z to end his partnership with Barneys, in which his new holiday fashion line is going to be sold. Jay-Z’s response has been a calculated public relations effort in which he negates any real responsibility to his default, “I’m doing it for charity” statement. Currently, Jay-Z is continuing his partnership with Barneys with his collection set to launch next week.

This “doing it for charity” response only further highlights Jay-Z’s disconnect with the masses that he often claims to represent. This notion of accepting racism in exchange for charity is downright laughable. If a charity is supposed to be helping people, why work with a store that appears to marginalize his own fan base due to class and race perceptions. Now, Jay-Z claims he’s being demonized for his partnership with Barneys. He’s not being demonized. He’s being realized.

This is where Harry Belafonte comes in. Months ago Belafonte called on Jay-Z to play a more active role in social movements and help to drive social change. Jay-Z’s response was to refer to the 86-year old civil rights icon as “boy.” Jay-Z went on to state that due to his mega star status, his very presence was “charity.”

Harry Belafonte’s critiques were not superfluous statements. They were part of an insightful analysis of how star power can be used to affect societal movements. With over 50 years of civil rights activism, Belafonte can spot both genuine and superficial involvement. The latter, is what Jay-Z is often engaged in. This superficial support of “the people” is laden with corporate driven interests.

For example, during the height of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, Jay-Z decided to make a t-shirt line based on slogans from the movement. His plans changed, once Occupy Wall Street activists asked if he would share the profits. The idea of having to share the profits (which would have helped provide much needed financial support to activists) was unthinkable to the hip-hop mogul.

Then, there’s the controversy that surrounded 2010 tax records from The Shawn Carter Scholarship Fund. During that year he reportedly earned, over $63 million but only donated roughly $6,000 to his own charity. This is not a normal practice for charity founders, who often provide a large portion of their charities’ financial costs. Out of all donors, Jay-Z reportedly gave the lowest donation to his own cause.

Finally, there is the N*ggas in Paris fiasco in which his friend Gwyneth Paltrow, decided to tweet the title of the song after attending his concert. This resulted in Twitter backlash over her usage of the term. Jay-Z, who is an enthusiastic advocate for the usage of the N-word, was silent on the controversy. Having millions among his fan base embrace the N-word is a part of his crossover hood status appeal that provides further economic security.

According to the Recording Industry Association of America, in 2012 White/Caucasian audiences represented 79% of music buys, 81% of CD buyers and 80% of digital buyers. So don’t expect Jay-Z to engage in any significant dialogue with fans about using the word. With him it’s the same old, “people give words power” and “this is the least racist generation” excuse. It’s not economically feasible for him or any other corporately invested hip-hop artist to do anymore than brush off the issue. Yet this is someone people expect to fully grasp or care about race related issues?

The African American community  has to get beyond this belief that just because someone from our community attains fame or wealth, that they’re somehow intellectually superior, a role model and someone to be admired. The same can be said for Russell Simmons with his Rush Card, Blood Diamond, and Harriet Tubman controversies. And Kanye West, who often laments about racism but strives to uphold the same materialistic values that help drive economic disparities. Do you really expect any of them to be deeply invested in activism against a classist system from which they benefit?

Harry Belafonte was right. Jay-Z isn’t genuinely standing up against racism or classism because this activism may affect profit margin (something he learned while selling crack).

JamAllen2-nb-smallJessica Ann Mitchell is the founder of OurLegaci.com & BlackBloggersConnect.com. To reach JAM, email her at OurLegaci@gmail.com.

Follow OurLegaci on Facebook at Facebook.com/OurLegaci.

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750 thoughts on “Harry Belafonte Was Right About Jay-Z

  1. I know, I know like many have said, Jay Z is merely a rapper and basically has no obligation to anyone but himself and his family but don’t you just wonder what if he and many other black folks of prominence woke up one day and have a moment of clarity (kind of like Scrooge) and decide to use his immense wealth for the good of the people who got him there. Tupac was a rapper also but I’m pretty sure that if he were alive he’d either be in politics or would have become a civil rights leader.

    • Yeah…and if DMX was still alive, he’d be a preacher. (sarc) I think a lot of these folks already had their moments of clarity, which led to their success. The truth is that this isn’t Belafonte’s era anymore. The game has changed.

      • So wrong, the biggest lie you can tell yourself. If that was the case then cops would not be killing kids. Crack dealers would not be on the corner still since 88 REGAN. IF things were different the subject would not be the same since the 80′s then CRACKSPOT, today TRAPHOUSE. You better stay in line & continue to pump that poison and never that conscious or we will take back everything we gave you. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!! WE WILL NOT VOTE SO HOW HAS THINGS CHANGE FOR THE GOOD!!!

      • There are choices in this world…and there are cultures. Nobody would stand for what could be done to bring some of those things to an end. It’s gotta stop though. Blaming Jay Z for not preaching to Barney’s or putting limitations on his individual success isn’t going to bring it to an end. Jay Z is not THAT large. If he ever got Warren Buffet large, where his words and movements can faithfully influence global markets, then we could start to have this conversation.

      • This is definitely the SAME game. It is simply played differently. Belafonte and other civil rights activists were just as correct today as they were back then. Oppression is still here, just that some black like (cough JZ) have joined the oppression of those who’re already disadvantaged.

      • That’s the same old rhetoric that says that black people in positions of authority are working for the man…sellouts…like cops…overseer…officer. No-win situation or argument. There’s an achievable economic level in today’s world that did not exist in Belafonte’s era. That level isn’t color blind, but money talks. Jay Z is on the path to that level. Magic Johnson is on the path to that level. Oprah is on the path to that level. None of them are there yet. They are still vulnerable to race politics. When you are at that level, people can’t even see what you own…you’re everywhere, and not just at Barney’s or a headphone company.

      • Wrong the game never changes. Where have you been? Heard of Ferguson, Trayvon Martin, black poverty levels historically high, minority voting rights threatened, overcrowded prisons full of black men in a new version of slavery and servitude, more black men in prison or tied to the system than in college, affirmative action gutted, explosion of single parent households especially among blacks. The list goes on and on. The moment of clarity I speak of is reaching back, giving back not just an individual’s personal gains and success. A million dollars could pay for college for almost fifty black students while Dr. Dre gave 20 million to USC, a school that receives billions in endowments while black enrollment diminishes as HBCUs struggle. Wake up black people, come out of the wilderness,

      • You’re implying that every black person’s success is defined by his effectiveness at magically erasing all of these behaviors and outcomes…no matter what he accomplishes as a human being. That’s exactly how some have justified even denying President Obama the respect due to the President the United States. I have always said that the goal of the President’s opposition wasn’t to get his job, but to deny him the satisfaction of legitimate authority, respect, and the symbolic representation of black people.

        It’s going to be a never-ending cycle until the slave mentality dies. If a black man is conditioned and encouraged to believe that he’s standing on the corner selling drugs…or robbing and shooting other black people because the white man is forcing his hand or because Dr Dre gave money to the wrong school, that’s an irresponsible slave mentality.

      • The game hasn’t changed just the players and people who think that it’s ok to not effect change and not to have any unity will always be just pawns in the game.

      • Unity only when a successful black person is delivering the same old slave mentality messages. There’s a reason why Jesse Jackson got caught saying he wanted to castrate Barack Obama. It was because he felt Obama was going to mess up his money. Same reason that Cornell West became so enraged and against Barack Obama…besides not getting Inauguration tickets. They dog him even while the hard right accuses him of wealth redistribution and catering to blacks. You want to attack somebody prominent, you should have been going after the likes of Jesse Jackson, Tavis Smiley, Cornell West. AL Sharpton was the only one of their kind to have Obama’s back.

      • Yeah…DMX is not dead, and he did not become a preacher. Similarly, it shouldn’t be asserted that Pac would have become a civil rights activist or leader if he’d lived. Both of them had actions that didn’t match their words when they were in their primes.

      • You’re the who brought DMX into the discussion and also made the erroneous statement that the man is dead. As far as Tupac, he wasn’t perfect, no one is but there was a level of social consciousness in him that extended beyond his rap lyrics. Based on some his deeds and comments beyond the music I postulated that he might have grown to be something more than a rapper and eventually might have ascended to a position of leadership in the ongoing civil rights movement and the call for justice. Of course, he had an advantage that people like Carter didn’t have with his parents who were once part of the Black Panther Party and who instilled a sense of awareness in him.

      • The “game” of powers have not changed. Those in charge would want you to believe that so that they can continue in their disparaging ways. What has changed is the eyes and conscious of the masses, you included. You feel powerless because of a lack of strong leadership. If there was a stronger voice, you’d speak differently. But because you believe in the “hova hype” or baller status, you’ve missed the bigger picture. It’s not too late to open your eyes. HB was talking about you as well. May as well call you Jigga too.

    • Tupac was a civil rights leader! He just like NWA and Public Enemy told us what was going on. They had the courage to take the platform and speak! I listened!

    • My thoughts exactly ! PAC would frown soon cats like JZ . If he is doing nothing to help the people. He should be held accountable for it . PAC would have held him accountable.

  2. First off let him Kanye and all others get to the billionare status lets not break our own down b4 they get enough money to control everything they do!!! The big picture is their our next black billionares let them get real money (a white man would say) then see.. they still depend on others to make money so help build Jay z Puffy 50cent Birdman Kanye Dr. Dre so they in that top 5% of richest usa people so we can have control dont let the white man bait us to turn on our brothers because they all will change somthing just wait and thats when they will get there real power and money to back our mission…. K

    • But some of these that you mentioned, JZ, Kanye, could care less about what happens in the black community overall. Their behavior very much resembles the whites who have been oppressive to blacks, only its worst because they are black. Kanye and JZ getting more money does NOT – I repeat: Does NOT give blacks more control, it gives THEM, ONLY THEM control as individuals. JZ’s wealth is not helping 10 minorities outside of his own family.

      • Right! People worship these guys and i honestly don’t get it. They don’t care about the masses, they care about thselves. Listen to their music people, like they say it themselves.

  3. I don’t understand this concept of having to wait til a certain economic level to push fairness and justice. Sounds like a huge cop out. If this is the majority viewpoint of black America, then things really have changed. You don’t have to be rich to be an activist. You don’t have to be rich to do the right thing.
    Wake up.

  4. TRUE ” YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE RICH TO BE AN ACTIVIST ..YOU DONT HAVE TO BE RICH TO DO THE RIGHT THING” ….YOU HAVE TO BE RICH TO MAKE A CHANGE THOUGH!! ……A SERIOUS CHANGE

  5. I have a problem with a person or group telling a black person how, when and what to do. Help your people by ending this deal or you must repeat this line or criticizing the amount of his charity check. No! Stop! Its some suspect behavior in my book. Exactly what are the people that are pointing toward Jay Z doing… jack squat. Black folks need all types of black people from the bottom to the top doing things to improve our collective plight. We need artists, the businessman, the city worker, those in the hood, those on the farm.. we need each of us to do as much as possible in the name of freedom. If somebody isn’t doing anything or being a proud Negropean don’t call them out, focus and work with those who are positive. Don’t waste that precious energy. I think if your heart is in the right place you’d know these common sense basics. #AfricanAmericanWomenMatters

    • Thank you for saying that Lisa Warner. If these people feel so passionate about fixing problems in the black community, they should just donate their own time and money to organizations that effectively combat these issues.

      • You’re assuming that we don’t. It takes a village. There are thousands of us out here who donate our time and money to those we regard as less fortunate. Organizations like Hosea Feed the Hungry, Habitat for Humanity and various and countless homeless shelters, youth organizations and educational programs do not exist because government or corporations fund them exclusively. Many of us are volunteers and soldiers who devote time and whatever modest funds we can take away from our families to help our people in need. Are you doing your part? Do you care? Imagine if all the black millionaires in sports and entertainment joined in, not just with money but their time other those occasional photo ops when they’re handing out turkeys on Thanksgiving Day. Imagine if they would sacrifice just one Bentley out of the dozens of cars they own or instead of owning a 25 million dollar home buy a 20 million dollar one and donate the 5 million to help set up an educational foundation that could send 50 deserving kids to college. But in our world of greedy, self-centered materialism it’s about, “I got mine and I don’t care about you. I’m no role model and I don’t owe you people nothing.” Sad commentary.

      • I am doing my part. I do care. I do have my own not for profit organization. I do donate my time and money to the institutions that help me get where I am today. And I am not a wealthy individual by any means.

        Now that I answered your questions, let’s address “assumptions.” I don’t assume that “we” don’t donate time and money; I assume that “you” don’t. “You,” as in people who are concern about how another person spends their money and their time. However, you do engage in charity according to your comment, so I don’t understand why it’s any of your business what another person do with their time and money.

        Should other people, who didn’t place money in your checking account, have any opinion on what comes out your checking account? What is this fascination with being so opinionated about black athletes and black entertainers personal finances? Are these the only industries where black people have money? Do you know the percentage of black people in sports and entertainment that donate their time and money versus the amount that don’t? Where are you getting your information from to come to these conclusions?

      • I’m a lawyer and former sports and entertainment attorney. I’ve always pushed giving back as part of my advice and counsel to my clients. I see nothing wrong with people of means. particularly those who maintain high profile positions in our society, to give back and not just with money but their time, as well. The tax system allows tax breaks for some who do and when you are taxed in the 40% bracket I advise that the person take full advantage of the charitable deductions allowed by law. Unfortunately, I can’t force my clients to follow my advice. Some did and some didn’t. Some chose to foolishly waste money on material items, i.e. cars and jewelry and are broke today. I’ve had formerly well heeled clients reach out to me for money. As far as being concerned about what people do with their money, that’s my right and if I have an opportunity to get in someone’s ear with the hope that they’ll listen then it’s better than being silent or giving my tacit approval by my own inaction. It’s a global village. It’s too bad that people like you do not agree. Abolitionists like Frederick Douglas could have stepped back and said, “Hey, I’m free and I live well so the hell with the rest of them.” But he didn’t.

  6. Real wealth is not caught up in record sells, tv contacts nor any of that superficial stuff. Therefore they will never control anything. They must first invest into land, precious metals, and people to develop educated, conscious self aware folk and politicians and community leaders. But their money goes into developing their bank accounts not their people.

  7. this music that is being played right now does nothing to help the black culture. it is horrifyingly downgrading and makes the race situation even worse. just listen to the lyrics and look at where they’re going-right into the brain. We all know music is very powerful. If someone is listening to jayz 4 hours a day, that can be very destructive. change/dont support the music and you will see a change in black culture. i hate to say any person, white,black,yellow,purple go through suffering.

    we are all one and one person effects everybody. we see that often in todays society. if you want to change the results, look at the root cause. i firmly believe this music is one of the root causes.

  8. Pingback: Share-Worthy Link | The Noire Perspective
  9. I would not be the man I am today if I hadn’t borrowed bread, washing powder, ran errands and did chores from and for my neighbors. I learned compassion and accountability at a very young age. Was I happy about my family’s status in the neighborhood? No. Was I sometimes embarrassed to ask for help? Yes of course. But my neighbors never made me feel that way. They showed our family nothing but love and a genuine willingness to help. Something that seems to be talked about but not practiced much anymore in today’s society.
    If it is true that it takes a village then it is imperative that we hold each other accountable.

    Barack Obama. BEFORE he was president he inspired millions of people to take action and be involved in the political process. He realized he had a platform and an opportunity reflect change and whether he actually won or not, he knew that if he could get young minorities involved in the process it would impact our future.
    The president and Jay Z have one thing in common and it ain’t money.
    A VOICE.
    it doesn’t take money to inspire our youth, hold a door open for your fellow man, give up your seat to our elderly, carry a grocery bag or run an errand for a neighbor. Watch your language when there are children or our elderly within earshot of your conversations, say please, thank you, you’re welcome, or just plain be polite.

    Our children need us, and desperately want our attention and guidance.
    This is evident in the way they latch on to everything Nikki Minaj, Young Thug and others like them say and do. You know the saying “it starts in the home” ? Well it does, but that doesn’t let Jay Z or anyone else like them off the hook completely.
    They also have to be held accountable to some degree. but before we hang them out to dry we have to have our own house in order.
    Getting back to raising our kids as a community would be a great start.

    Just my two cents and by no means scientific.

    • Yours is probably the most lucid, thoughtful and accurate point of all the hundreds who have commented on the subject. Too many here have short memories or somehow believe they’ve ascended to a level where they live in a so-called post-racial society. We all have a responsibility to give back, to look back from the highest to the lowest. It’s the only way we can progress as a people. After all, white people have acted collectively to oppress and enslave us so why shouldn’t we act together to free ourselves and to lift us up as a people.

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