[News] Harry Belafonte Calls Out Jay-Z and Beyonce for Selfishness

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 10 12:33:08 EDT 2012

  Harry Belafonte Calls Out Jay-Z and Beyonce for Selfishness

Added by bowatkin <http://www.kulturekritic.com/author/bowatkin/> on 
August 8, 2012.

by Dr. Boyce Watkins, KultureKritic.com

Harry Belafonte, who did a great deal of work for the black community 
during the Civil Rights Movement, is making no secret of the fact that 
he's very disappointed in many young black celebrities when it comes to 
to social activism.  Speaking this week with the Hollywood Reporter 
Belafonte pointed out Jay-Z and Beyonce as prime examples of what he's 
talking about.

/THR: Back to the occasion of the award for your acting career. Are you 
happy with the image of members of minorities in Hollywood today?/

/Belafonte: Not at all. They have not told the history of our people, 
nothing of who we are. We are still looking. We are not determinated. We 
are not driven by some technology that says you can kill Afghanistans, 
the Iraquis or the Spanish. It is all -- excuse my French -- shit. It is 
sad. And 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. That goes for 
Jay-Z and Beyoncé, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now 
you're talking. I really think he is black. /

My friend Alexis Stodghill at TheGrio makes the point (in a news piece 
where she carefully cites both sides of the issue) that perhaps 
is off-base with his critique.  She notes that Beyonce has spoken up for 
her fellow recording artist Frank Ocean when he admitted that he was 
gay, and that Jay-Z has chumed it up with President Obama during his 
presidential campaign and supported him on the issue of gay marriage.

We must note that Beyonce and Jay-Z speaking up on gay marriage and 
homosexuality is little more than a political decision designed to 
remain in alignment with the Obama presidency.  If Barack had said 
nothing on the issue, Jay-Z would have said nothing.  So, we have to be 
sure not to mistake meaningful advocacy for elitist political 
shoulder-rubbing (wealthy famous people tend to take care of one another).

But when you look at the black aristocracy that is known as Jay-Z and 
Beyonce, one form of activism that is missing is anything that involves 
the words "poor black people." Also, when it comes to issues that affect 
the least of us, including poverty, mass incarceration, urban violence, 
unequal educational systems and the like, it's easy to say that Jay-Z 
and Beyonce have been effectively missing in action, unless it's time to 
show up and utilize this audience to sell albums.

One exception noted by Kirsten West Savali at NewsOne.com 
<http://newsone.com/2030015/jay-z-beyonce-harry-belafonte/> is the Shawn 
Carter foundation, created by Jay-Z and the people who work for him. 
  "According to the foundation's website, Since the Foundation's 
inception, over 750 students have received awards totaling over $1.3 
million dollars."

Jay-Z should certainly be commended for doing something he didn't have 
to do, but let's really think about this for a second, shall we?  First, 
most corporations have some kind of foundation.  Even Wal-Mart can claim 
to have sent thousands of kids to college, as they simultaneously strip 
workers of their rights around the world, drive small companies out of 
business and refuse to pay a living wage to their employees.  Secondly, 
if you divide the $1.3 million given away by the foundation by 750 
scholarship recipients, that's about $1,733 per child.  Please tell me 
what college in America has a tuition bill of $1,733.  Of course Jay-Z 
gives away more than most of us can afford, but even the local drug 
dealer can also afford to use heroin money give away turkeys at 
Chistmas.  The point here is that if I pillage half a billion dollars 
from the black community over a 10-year period, it's pretty easy for me 
to give back $1.3 million of it.

I noticed a line in Jay-Z's song "Niggaz in Paris," where he says, "Can 
you see the private jets flying over you?"  This line is part of a 
consistent message of black elitism that has become all-too prevalent in 
the entertainment industry. It is a statement which says, "I'm better 
than you, and I am not one of you.  Your job is to either worship me or 
hate on me, I don't care which one."

Beyond the "extensive" efforts of his foundation, Jay-Z is also the man 
who earned over $63 million dollars 
last year and only gave $6,000 to charity.  Unfortunately, this has 
become par for the course in a world where poor black people are not 
nearly as fashionable of a cause as gay white kids from the suburbs. 
  Poor black kids can't buy your records, rendering them effectively 

So, while Beyonce and Jay-Z speaking up on marriage equality is a 
politely cute form of activism, you have to agree with Belafonte that 
today's artists are taught not to care about anyone other than 
themselves.  At best, we might get a photo op at a charity event, but 
the real pressure to sacrifice for those who are suffering is lost as 
millions of us forgive celebrities for being unwilling to use their 
power to make the world a better place.  The rule is simple:  If you're 
rich, we love you.  It doesn't matter if you're a former crack dealer 
(Jay-Z), brag about murdering women and children (Lil Wayne) or sleep 
with middle school kids on the weekends (R. Kelly).  Money is used to 
wash away all sins, and people are quicker to disrespect an icon like 
Harry Belafonte than they are to challenge celebrities to do more than 
tweet pictures of their newborn baby.

By "social responsibility," I don't think that Belafonte is referring to 
charity concerts or speaking to Congress about saving dolphins.  He's 
talking about the kind of activism that requires BALLS.  He's talking 
about the black men and women during the 1960s who used their voices 
loud and clear to state that things need to change in America soon, or else.

Those days are long gone.  In the 1960s, oppression was much more 
rampant, so nearly every black person was banging on the door of 
equality.  Today, those who've been allowed access to predominantly 
white institutions are asked to sign a "Good negro forever" card, and 
disavow any meaningful political stands that might get them into trouble 
with a corporate sponsor or record label.  As a result, we have a group 
of celebrities who are very quick to build their brands off the "street 
cred" granted to them by impoverished African Americans, but don't feel 
compelled to use those brands to become anything other than 
corporate-sponsored slumlords.

So, a "gangsta rapper" can speak all day about his time in prison, but 
he dare not say anything about the fact that the United States 
incarcerates more of its citizens in the world, earning billions on the 
backs of black men and women, destroying millions of families in the 
process. He can rap all about "all his homies that done passed away," 
but he's better off staying away from a conversation about how gun 
violence is fueled by manufacturers who are happy to build profitable 
corporate tools to fund black male genocide.

It is the lack of acknowledgement of the deep and piercing artifacts of 
black oppression that bother Belafonte and others the most.  It's what 
bothers me too, for I've always been raised to believe that (to recite 
the words of Spiderman's Uncle Ben) great power comes with great 

Perhaps when Jay-Z really understands what wealth is all about, he can 
take a note from Warren Buffett, Oprah and others, who've convinced 
several billionaires to give half of their wealth 
<http://givingpledge.org/> to charity when they die.  A billion dollars 
is far more than enough for one family so why not use the rest of save 
1,000 families?   Is it nothing less than utterly shameful to have 10 
houses, 15 cars, 200 expensive suits and several private planes?  Maybe 
there is a point where such gluttony should not be celebrated by the 
rest of us, and instead be called out as pathetic in a world where 
millions of children are going to die this year from starvation.

Anyone who disagrees with me might want to consider the fact that there 
is nothing consistent with the teachings of Jesus about letting innocent 
people starve while you're burning money in your basement.  The 
principled stands by men like Muhammad Ali, who gave up everything for 
his principles, are virtually non-existence when our leading artists 
write songs about excessive materialism, getting high and drunk every 
day, killing other black men and unhealthy sexual promiscuity. 
  Belafonte is right on point and we should look to our elders to remind 
us of what it means to live a purposeful and righteous life.

Harry Belafonte, by speaking up at the age of 85, is effectively asking 
that young people pick up the baton that he's been running since Dr. 
King was a teenager.  But instead of picking up the baton, we've thrown 
it at his feet and signed ourselves up for corporate slavery. I 
congratulate Harry for taking a stand on this important issue, and I am 
hopeful that his courage can spark the cultural revolution necessary to 
make our people stronger as a result.

Way to go Harry, I respect you.

/*Dr. Boyce Watkins is a professor at Syracuse University 
<http://drboycewatkins.com/thesyracuseprofessor/> and founder of the 
Your Black World Coalition <http://yourblackworld.net/>. To have Dr. 
Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here. 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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