Sunday, October 27, 2013

Very Small of You, Jay Z

How lame was Jay Z’s statement about his collaboration with Barneys New York? It was so lame, that even the conservative New York Daily News took him to task. I did that when I posted yesterday. Today I’ll let the Daily News speak for itself.

“When he joined a partnership with upscale retailer Barneys, Shawn “Jay Z” Carter applied his celebrity, fashion sense and marketing savvy to raising large sums of money for his charitable foundation. All hail.

Certainly, Carter was shocked to read, via the Daily News front page, about mounting evidence of racial profiling by his chic collaborators.

First, he learned that store security had triggered the groundless arrest of a young African-American man who purchased a $350 belt with a debit card wrongly assumed to be fraudulent. Then, he learned that a similar false presumption brought detectives down on a young African-American woman.

Were he reading closely — and Carter and public relations aides surely were — he also saw that in 2013, Barneys had logged more than 50 calls to the NYPD alleging credit card fraud against specific individuals.

The store’s allegations produced a total of only 11 arrests, according to the police department, strongly suggesting that Barneys has overwhelmingly been siccing cops on consumers baselessly judged to have been criminals. How many were white, black or other? Neither the police nor Barneys will say.

None of this was Carter’s fault.

But it became his responsibility, because with power and the wealth that begets power come social obligations. These can be heavy for notables who become role models and even more onerous for those, like Carter, who rise to iconic stature. In this cultural stratosphere, he carries the dreams, allegiance and commercial support of the public, and the public, perhaps especially the black public, expects his allegiance in return.

Carter had long put forth the face of just that kind of generous, socially conscious figure. Now, in the aftermath of the racial profiling revelations, the public looks into the soul of a peevishly egotistical man who appears to have erased from memory his long-ago address in Brooklyn’s Marcy Houses.

After three days of why-are-you-bothering-me evasions, Carter on Saturday issued a statement that portrayed him — and not Barneys arrestees Trayon Christian and Kayla Phillips — as the mightily wronged party.

Twice his name appeared in the statement; never once theirs.

He complained of being “demonized and denounced”; they were swarmed by cops and held in custody.

He imagined “negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character.” There were none, but Christian and Phillips suffered the very real fear and humiliation of being held and interrogated by police, wondering whether their only offense was skin color.

Finally, in the eighth paragraph of 10 paragraphs of bitterness, Carter said that he had been working “to get to the bottom of these incidents,” wanted a “solution that doesn’t harm all those that stand to benefit from this collaboration,” and empathized with anyone who had been profiled.

Carter’s cry of victimization must be taken as the measure of the man, for he issued it not in the heat of the moment but after three days of consideration and consultation. The tone deafness of a man so musically talented is all the more glaring in comparison with the words and actions of the NYPD and Barneys.

While neither has been remotely forthcoming with facts, both have recognized the gravity of the Christian and Phillips cases. The cops who arrested Christian apologized, and the department has launched an Internal Affairs investigation. Barneys quickly brought in a civil rights lawyer to review its actions and policies.

And Carter felt aggrieved that anyone might hope to hear his voice reverberate for justice. The smallness of a big man is most shocking.”

Jay Z’s Presence at Barneys

“It’s what I call the re-niggerization of the Black professional class, where you have fear, you have a tremendous sense of being intimidated even though you have big money,” said West. “So you say to Brother Jay-Z, What are you risking? We don’t want to just see you successful, we appreciate it, we want to see you faithful to something bigger than you, and faith has to do with risking something. The only way you become de-niggerized and free is when you are willing to risk, when you’re willing to go against the grain, to show you’re not fearful, you’re not afraid. Unfortunately, Jay-Z at his worst is an example of folk who get so elevated that they don’t show courage and take a risk for something that is bigger than them.”
Cornel West on Black Agenda Report TV

“I think one of the great abuses of this modern time is that we should have had such high-profile artists, powerful celebrities. But they have turned their back on social responsibility,” he accused. “That goes for Jay-Z and Beyoncé, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.
Harry Belafonte

"I’m offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am. Just like Obama’s is."
Jay Z

Shawn Carter, aka Jay Z, is one of the most successful entertainers of this era. He is not only a top selling recording artist, but a businessman with stakes in sports, fashion and movies. He is also married to Beyonce Knowles, who is equally successful and a constant presence in every kind of media. They are a power couple, a brand in and of themselves.

Cornel West and Harry Belafonte sought in vain to engage the Carters in the kind of political activism which Belafonte and artists of his generation were known for. I admired the effort but knew that it was for naught. I never thought they had any interest in what West or Belafonte had to say and I've been proven right. Jay Z sold Occupy Wall Street themed t-shirts to make money, but didn't real think much of the OWS movement. He said he just didn't understand it.

He clearly didn't get it because he was quoted as saying that "we need less government" which is a strange statement coming from someone who directly profited from government intervention in getting the New York Nets a new stadium. The sad truth of the matter is that the day of the artist willing to take a stand on important issues has come to an end.

So unwilling is Mr. Carter, that he has been silent at a time when his name and reputation were linked to a business proven to have discriminated against black people. In the past week, two black people have come forward to report that after spending their money at the Barneys New York clothing store, they were stopped by and in one case detained by the police. They were both accused of using fake debit cards, asked where they got their money, where they lived and why they dared to cross the lilly white threshold of the luxury retailer.

The timing could not have been any worse for Jay Z. Barneys recently announced that their annual celebrity holiday shopping partner was, well guess who. A portion of the proceeds of the New York Holiday campaign would go to Carter's scholarship fund. The rest goes to Jay Z and Barneys.

Barneys was forced to issue not one, but two statements within 48 hours of the story breaking in the media. Jay Z took his time to respond on his website but when he did he sounded like the petulant injured party.

"I move and speak based on facts and not emotion. I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys. Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately? The negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character, intentions, and the spirit of this collaboration have forced me into a statement I didn’t want to make without the full facts. Making a decision prematurely to pull out of this project, wouldn’t hurt Barneys or Shawn Carter, but all the people that stand a chance at higher education. I have been working with my team ever since the situation was brought to my attention to get to the bottom of these incidents and at the same time find a solution that doesn’t harm all those that stand to benefit from this collaboration."

Defensive much? Despite Mr. Carter's assertions, the facts are quite clear. Black shoppers spent their money in Barneys only to be treated as if they were shop lifters. The only honorable thing for him to do is cancel his collaboration. If his mere presence is charity, then he can give scholarships without doing business with Barneys. All he has to do is write a check. Problem solved.

So Belafonte and West have been proven right. Jay Z is of the money, by the money and for the money. He has enough of it to give up this bad deal with Barneys but he won't. Jay Z doesn't care about black people.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Glen Ford Speaks about the Black "Mis-Leadership" Class

This is the first video from the Black Agenda Report fundraiser held on October 18th at the Riverside Church here in New York City. Glen Ford's opening remarks were followed by two panels which included Ajamu Baraka, Kevin Gray, Marsha Coleman Adebayo, Boyce Watkins, Bruce Dixon, Anthony Monteiro and yours truly. Maurice Carney of Friends of the Congo spoke on the upcoming Congo Week and Raymond "Nat" Turner provided beautiful spoken word.

If you are wondering whether Cory Booker will make a good senator for New Jersey, listen up. Glen answers the question in no uncertain terms.

Thanks to Stan Heller for the video. More to come.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Solomon Northup Reboot

I hope to see the new film 12 Years a Slave within the week. I was excited when I first heard about this project, which is based on Solomon Northup’s memoir. Northup was a free black man living in New York state who was deceived by an offer to perform in Washington DC. Instead he was kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana.

I am however curious about why no one points out that this is the second telling of Northup’s story. In 1984 Solomon Northup’s Odyssey was presented on PBS. The film starred Avery Brooks and was directed by Gordon Parks. It was later released on video with the title Half Slave, Half Free.

Director Steve McQueen said this in an NPR interview.

“It was the only firsthand account of a free black man who went into slavery and came out the other end — who actually regained his freedom. But then Uncle Tom's Cabin came out the year after and obliterated it, and it was buried. And I was really upset with myself that I did not know about this book. No one knew about this book. And it just became my passion, sort of — make this book into a film.”

I find it hard to believe that neither McQueen nor anyone else in the film industry was aware that Northup’s story had already been told on film. By all accounts this is an excellent movie and I look forward to seeing it, but I’m curious about why there seems to be a need to claim that this story was unknown after it had already been told on film.

As for McQueen’s assertion that there is no other account of a story of this kind, well I’m not sure that is true either.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

John Brown

"I believe that to have interfered as I have done as I have always freely admitted I have done in behalf of His despised poor, was not wrong, but right. Now, if it is deemed necessary that I should forfeit my life for the furtherance of the ends of justice, and mingle my blood further with the blood of my children and with the blood of millions in this slave country whose rights are disregarded by wicked, cruel, and unjust enactments, I submit; so let it be done!"

On this date in 1859 John Brown set out with a small group and headed to Harper's Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). His goal was to seize weapons from the federal arsenal and lead enslaved persons to freedom in the nearby mountains. He wanted this army  to grow until all of the enslaved persons in the southern states had gained their freedom too.

Brown's raid was considered a failure. He was captured and later hanged. Two of his sons were killed as were five others. His supporters denied him. One even committed himself to a mental hospital in order to escape punishment. Brown's captors included Robert E. Lee and Jeb Stewart and John Wilkes Booth was a witness to his hanging.

Despite those facts, Brown was a success. He started the civil war which was the only hope for the enslaved millions. This is a great day in history and must always be celebrated.

(It makes more sense than celebrating Columbus Day.)

Sunday, October 06, 2013

“You’re all illegal. We didn’t invite none of you here.”

Watch the video. I have nothing to add. This man says it all. I wish I knew his name so that I could acknowledge him properly.