Should Celebrities be Held Accountable?
By Charlene Muhammad
Special to the NNPA from the Final Call
WASHINGTON – Star power, social responsibility and controversy surfaced again over a partnership between hip hop entrepreneur Jay Z a/k/a Shawn Carter and a high-end store accused of racially profiling customers and rapper-businessman Kanye West’s appropriation of the Confederate Stars and Bars flag for a clothing line.
Jay Z issued a statement Nov. 15 defending his decision to keep his product line partnership with Barney’s, despite lawsuits alleging the New York store racially profiled Black customers. One customer was arrested after using his own credit card to purchase a $350 belt.
“The easy position would have been to walk away and leave policy making to others hoping that someone addresses the problem. I will not leave the outcome to others. I will take this into my own hands with full power to recommend, review and revise policies and guidelines moving forward,” said Jay Z, in the statement posted to his website.
He explained, “As I previously stated, the collaboration with Barneys has always been about giving and The Shawn Carter Foundation. From this collection, the Foundation will receive not only 25 percent of sales, it will now receive the additional 75 percent of Barneys’ sales, totaling 100 percent of all sales from BNY SCC. Along with 100 percent of sales from the collaboration, the Foundation will receive an additional 10 percent of all retail sales from Barneys New York stores nationwide and Barneys.com on November 20th.
His Shawn Carter Foundation grants scholarships to single mothers, children in alternative schools, and others who generally don’t receive scholarships.
Kanye seemed less concerned about negative opinions during a recent radio interview in which he discussed the backlash. “Any energy is good energy. You know the Confederate flag represented slavery in a way – that’s my abstract take on what I know about it. So I made the song ‘New Slaves.’ So I took the Confederate flag and made it my flag. It’s my flag. Now what are you going to do?” he asked.
As entrepreneurs and brands connect with American corporations, should these rappers and other celebrities feel any sense of social responsibility?
Kanye, Jay Z and celebrities must understand there is a duty Black people and Black America must act on to make the young capitalists understand that, argued Ron Daniels, president of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century, which is devoted to the social, political, economic and cultural upliftment, and development of the global Black community.
“The other issue for me in terms of celebrity accountability and responsibility, which to me is so incredibly important, and we almost need an offensive around this, because for someone, an icon, like Kanye, who is so apolitical that they would go around and have merchandise in which they actually pedal the Confederate battle flag?
“I mean no self-respecting Jewish entrepreneur would allow his young people or anybody else to have paraphernalia that had a swastika on it. They just wouldn’t do that,” Daniels said. “They tell me that Jay Z is worth a half a billion. Well, when you reach that level who can hurt you? … And that even makes it more problematic because now you’re entering into a business deal that, do you need the money?”
George Fraser, CEO of FraserNet Inc., which works to increase opportunities, wealth and jobs for Blacks, said Blacks should socially isolate and ostracize those who don’t give back and reinvest in their own community and a lack of consciousness remains a problem for celebrities and their fans.
“So you could be a millionaire athlete or entertainer, rap singer or whatever it is. Don’t give a dime back to your own people and we still love on you. We still buy your records. We still hug you. We want to take pictures with you. We want your autograph and you don’t do a [GD] thing for your people,” he said.
Fraser sees a similar lack of consciousness with rapper-music producer Dr. Dre and music producer Jimmy Lovine donating $70 million to the University of Southern California and nothing to historically Black colleges.
“This is a brother that’s made his money selling Black cool and off the backs of Black people and White people … but not to have the consciousness to say, ‘Okay. I’m going to give some of my money to a White college that happens to be in my neighborhood in the Compton area of Los Angeles … I’m also going to give some of my money to the institutions that provided higher education to Black people when White people wouldn’t educate us, and institutions who are struggling to stay alive.’ It wasn’t either or—he could have done both.”
A knowledge of self and business is needed
“As Minister Louis Farrakhan states, no individual in his success, is the byproduct of their individual activity so all of us represent a ‘we’ or an unseen community that has shaped and produced us, invested in us, or in some way contributed to our evolutionary growth,” commented Cedric Muhammad, a monetary and political economist, author, and member of the Nation of Islam Research Group.
Some artists appear to be gaining the courage to stand up to the corporate goliaths.
Many cited Earvin “Magic” Johnson, former NBA player turned businessman, and others as good models of celebrities doing the right thing, making money and investing in their people but said such stars are the exception, not the rule.
George E. Curry, editor-in-chief of the NNPA News Service, thinks society places too much energy on celebrities, who are well known simply for being well known.
“Look at the few who actually got involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Harry Belafonte was an exception. Dick Gregory was an exception. People who stood up for civil rights like Bill Russell, they were exceptions.” Curry said.
According to Dave “Davey D” Cook, a California-based hip hop journalist, celebrity once meant a person had a platform with the potential to be a leader and was influential because of their visibility.
But that meant a certain expectation to uphold values that could be emulated by those who weren’t celebrities, he said. Today celebrity takes different forms and a certain mindset – stars are chosen because they’re not going to rock the boat, Davey D told The Final Call.
Energy going after wayward celebrities would be better spent elsewhere, such as highlighting those who are doing the right thing, such as Jasiri X, Talib Kweli, Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), and local artists, he said. That way you cultivate an audience using role models versus trying to change someone who has already taken positions to not-do-the-right-thing, Davey D said.
“There are people that didn’t do the liquor commercials. There are people that didn’t take the scripts, whether it was John Amos or the late Esther Roll or Harry Belafonte, Muhammad Ali, go ahead and start going down the list. Even James Brown, when he did his song, ‘America’s My Home,’ and people got mad at him, came back with ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud,’ ” he said.
Blacks shouldn’t support people who don’t support them, first and foremost, he said, hearkening back to Paul Robeson, Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone, Sam Cooke, Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and others.
“Can you imagine Harry Belafonte saying he’s going to reinterpret the Confederate flag? Can we imagine Nina Simone saying something like that and thinking it’s okay to do and just ignoring the history of our people around that flag and what has happened with racism in this country from the very beginning?” Davey D stated. ““It just says that we’re very confused in my opinion. Just because you’re famous and have millions and millions of dollars doesn’t mean that you are clear about why you’re on this planet.”
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