Opinion: Has Barneys Turned Jay Z Into Bad Santa?

Features

By: / November 19, 2013

Move along window shoppers, there’s absolutely nothing to see here.

The Barneys crime scene seems to be over because Jay Z said so. With his statement last week, addressing Barneys racial-profiling accusations, he remixed the sentiment of a line spat in his verse for Kanye West’s 2005 remix of “Diamonds Are Forever,” “I’m a business…man, let me handle my business, damn.”

While Jay Z is fresh off of a Samsung-sponsored platinum album and new sports agency, truth is he’s been building a coup d’état reputation since leaving former Roc-A-Fella Records partners Damon Dash and Kareem Burke for the Def Jam Records presidency. So no one should be surprised at his decision to move forward with the Barneys New York deal, which initially saw 25 percent of all proceeds going to Jay’s Shawn Carter Scholarship Foundation. Since the controversy, which got Black America’s britches in a bunch, terms have since been restructured so that SCSF receives 110 percent of sales revenue and Hov gets a seat on Barneys board. Even the launch party was cancelled. All this under the condition that he has “a leadership role and seat on a council specifically convened to deal with the issue of racial profiling.”

“I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them, so I got rich and gave back, to me that’s the win-win.” —Jay Z, “Moment of Clarity”

Trayon Christian was nine-years-old when The Black Album came out. He was three when Jay said “I want money like Cosby, who wouldn’t?” A few years before the release of “Dead Presidents,” Bill Cosby attempted to buy the NBC network. NBC wouldn’t even give Bill a feather off of the peacock. Bill knows why his bid was rejected and if Jay really keeps “one eye open like CBS,” he does too. The transfer of wealth (money and wisdom) from generation to the next is crucial for collective empowerment. At a glance, you don’t judge the origin of a Blue Blood family’s financial status; you just know that they are white, so it doesn’t need to be questioned. Where others get to blend into the backdrop of white privilege, the protrusion of black and brown does not. Credit card scams run rampant throughout immigrant East European communities in New York City. Whether dressed in sweats or suits, their lack of melanin affords them a benefit of the doubt; their 19-year-olds aren’t side-eyed for buying an expensive belt. Let’s not forget, Trayon’s card was approved. So what’s in your wallet?

The belt Trayon bought cost $350. He said he wanted it because he saw Juelz Santana wearing it. I imagine him listening to Rick Ross proclaim, “[I spent a] stack on my belt” before police detoured his ride home. Has anyone asked Juelz or Ross for their opinion on the incident? Jay just happened to be in the building, but what if Rachel Roy was doing a similar deal with Barneys? Would anyone have asked her to boycott?

Somewhere, maybe in America, Harry Belafonte is smirking at the irony. This is his “light work” in the fight against poverty and injustice. Had Jay taken the time to not mistake Belafonte’s constructive criticism as a battle rap, this Barneys situation might have had a totally different face. The results may have appeared the same but the purpose and lessons learned may have been different. I trust Jay on 64 squares, but I’m not sure he knows how to move weight that isn’t measured on a scale or Billboard chart. Is being “Che Guevara with jewels on” really complex or just missing the point?

Just because Jay-Z comes from the ghetto doesn’t mean he fights against poverty in the same manner that Cornel West does. Many poor people don’t even understand their circumstances in a socio-political context. In the hood, they’re familiar more so with the “coke boys” than the Koch brothers. Since Jay beat the odds and others at their own game, he innately embodies something so precious to African-Americans: “us versus them.” We want his way to be our way, but capitalism has a bigger agenda. Jay is of the Frank White elk, not Guevara, Marx, Fanon, Zinn or Baldwin’s; nor does he have to be. What the masses aren’t seeing is that there are some things that Jay-Z takes, and others the powers that be allow him to have. The Nets have dozens of affluent owners. They never needed Jay’s fractional monetary investment. But it’s the people without money who think it’s all about money. The grandest problem here, though: in the cases of racial profiling, we’re all poor.

If there was ever an ounce of truth to Bill Cosby wanting to buy the rights to the Little Rascals for the sake of controlling the images of that Buckwheat era, then of course NBC wouldn’t give him the power to white wash American history’s skid marks. In his lifetime, Mr. Cosby has surely donated more money to black people and institutions than Mr. Carter. To a hustler, giving out turkeys in the hood on Thanksgiving is the ultimate act of ghetto love. The difference between charity and philanthropy is that one is usually temporal; the other is wider and a lifestyle.

We need our elders to help us help ourselves, even if we don’t agree with them. As an advocate of Mr. All Black Everything, I’m concerned that Jay Hova was more annoyed by the timing of his deal’s interruption than the actual transgressions by Barneys. Jay is doing a great job at manifesting his destiny and breaking down Cosby’s walls into Jay-E-L-L-O. He set out to build a black dynasty and accomplished that, yet his hard hat remains on. He doesn’t owe any of us an explanation for the ethics of his business. He knows the deeper you go into the vault, the more blood-covered money you find. Unfortunately, he’s on a level where the M’s no longer justify the means but doesn’t seem to realize it. So it is now up to the people to determine the real price of the sales tag. Hov is not God, and this Barneys debacle might be God’s sarcastic way of reminding us. —T. Better Baldwin