Jay-Z sparked controversy last month when it was announced Roc Nation would be embarking on a new entertainment deal with the NFL and the partnership would support social justice efforts.
Those of us who did not immediately jump to conclusions, sat back and waited to see how social justice would come into play.
Last week, Roc Nation launched a new platform called Inspire Change and signed on advocates Meek Mill and Rapsody who will perform in a free concert on September 5th to mark the NFL’s 2019 kick-off.
Just as concerns began to die down around the intentions of Roc Nation’s money moves, a clip resurfaced of Jay-Z from a January 2019 NFL panel in which he said the below on kids growing up in single-parent households:
“You think about the idea of growing up in a single-parent house - which I grew up in, which we grew up in, and having an adverse feeling for authority. Right, your fathers gone so you like, ‘I hate my dad. I don’t want nobody telling me what to do. I’m the man of the house.’ And then you hit the street and you run into a police officer and his first thing is, ‘put your hands up, freeze, shut up’ and you like - excuse my language to everybody - you like ‘fuck you’. Right, so that interaction causes people to lose lives.”
🔦Jan 2019 panel w/ Bob Kraft, Van Jones & others:— Resist Programming 🛰 (@RzstProgramming) August 31, 2019
JayZ says growing up in a single parent house causes people to have an “adverse feeling toward authority” which causes them to tell police “f*ck you” resulting in interactions that “causes people to lose lives.”
A few questions come to mind when listening to Jay-Z spout his theory on police brutality. First, one has to wonder how many Black men and women (and children) who ended up dead by the hands of the police said “f*ck you” right before their altercation.
Eric Garner said, “I can’t breathe.” Mike Brown said, “I don’t have a gun, stop shooting.” Kenneth Chamberlain said, “Officers, why do you have your guns out?” John Crawford said, “It's not real.”
It feels a bit nearsighted to make a blanket statement about the state of minds of those who have been victimized by the police, especially when you’re a man who has referenced the police negatively. Jay-Z memorialized Sean Bell, who was shot 50 times by police officers, in his remixed version of Lil Wayne’s ‘A Milli’.
“Shawn Carter, Sean Bell, what's the difference? Do tell
50 shots or 50 mill', ain't no difference go to hell.”
Jay-Z also founded a trust for Sean Bell’s children, so one has to assume he has some complex knowledge of how situations like this actually play out.
Sean Bell didn’t say “f*ck you” before dying either. It’s a bit more feasible, that any young person spouting “f*ck you” to a police officer is more influenced by Jay-Z’s lyrics than the absence of their father. And would Jay-Z be any more to blame than a single mother of a child who listens to his music if they’re wrongfully murdered by police?
Jay-Z is no stranger to the nuances of the streets or growing up in the hood. He’s also well-versed in growing up with a single mother and no father around to speak of. Single-parent families are not a monolith. Neither are the various mental states of Black children as they navigate their perspective of authority.
It is blanket statements and fear-building stereotypes that create disdain for police in our communities, not because we are not raised to respect authority, but because police too often approach us in ways which demean our humanity. “Put your hands up...freeze...shut up,” let’s start by asking why this is how authority figures assert themselves in the Black community.
Many celebrities and talking heads have placed blame on innocent parties when it comes to police brutality.
In 2017 retired NBA player, Charles Barkley asked the Black community to take responsibility for the nervousness police officers feel when they come into our neighborhoods trigger happy and emotionally charged. Geraldo Rivera famously blamed Hip Hop and the “us against them” mentality for the bad blood between Black youth and the police.
The narrative that seems to be missing is that blame, accountability, and responsibility should always be placed solely at the feet of those who pull the trigger, who use illegal chokeholds, who site “excessive force” as a catch all for physical abuse, who time and time get away with their antics under the guise they did what they had to do.
There is nothing necessary about shooting a civilian who is unarmed, mentally unwell, or otherwise not a lethal threat.
It is dangerous to suggest, especially in the political climate we currently exist in, that the people to blame are the ones who are oppressed. It is especially concerning to call out single-parent households, further reinforcing the stereotype that single parent homes are in anyway less valid, less supportive, less loving or less capable of raising respectful children.
As we watch this new chapter between Roc Nation and the NFL unfold, we may want to unclench our grasp of the idea that Jay-Z (or any celebrity) will be our social justice savior.
The real heroes don’t have lucrative deals with major corporations. They don’t get press releases and media coverage every time they make a statement, they risk their lives rallying against injustice and it is their actions that tend to hold slightly more weight than their words.
Jay-Z is a successful entertainer who is leveraging his resources to make a socially conscious and inclusive business choice, he is not the second coming of Martin Luther King.
Let’s just enjoy the music and keep fighting for our rights.