Jay-Z says that “capitalist” is a new slur to bring the Black community down.
Of course, some folks are upset about it. But it makes sense that he said what he said. Jay-Z is a billionaire capitalist. On an Aug. 31 Twitter Spaces conversation with DJ Khaled, Lenny S. and Rob Markman, Jay-Z said:
“Before it was the American Dream. ‘Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You can make it in America’ – all these lies that America told us our whole life. And then when we start getting it, they try to lock us out of it. They start inventing words like ‘capitalist’ and things like that… We’ve been called n****s and monkeys and s***. I don’t care what words y’all come up with. Y’all gotta come with stronger words… You know, we hustled, we f***ing killed ourselves to get to this space and now it’s like, ‘eat the rich.’ Man, we’re not stopping.”
His comments aren’t about defending Black people. These words are to defend himself and others like him — Black artists who’ve become rich, specifically those who’ve parlayed their artistry to engage in other endeavors.
It’s all in an attempt to leverage credibility as a Black artist from the hood to make OK his capitalist ambitions and exploits. I get why people are upset by the sentiment. Jay is one of those artists who believe in the structural ability of capitalism to pull the Black poor, as he once was, out of poverty and into power, privilege and prestige.
It’s a message promoted by Killer Mike and Steve Harvey.
Even more clever is Jay-Z’s ability to express how systemic racism facilitates Black poverty, thus driving Black youth into criminal activity for economic gain — activity that he once took part in but no longer does. He changed his life by way of his art and is now simply transferring the skills and knowledge used to survive in Brooklyn to Brooklyn boardrooms.
Who can hate on that? We live in a society racist to its core. Jay-Z simply chose a path that entices many and was lucky enough to turn that into a music career and now he has become a businessman and philanthropist. Isn’t that what America is all about, being afforded the chance to turn a negative into a net positive?
But here is the thing. Yes, I cannot blame Jay-Z for his choices per se and he made lemonade out of lemons. We can celebrate his drive and hard work. But he was a capitalist before he became a billionaire. He was a capitalist when he was “one of us.”
He had the two things you need to be a capitalist, whether rich or poor — the mindset of a capitalist and the opportunity to put the mindset to use to develop the ability. Many people have the mindset without the opportunity and we cannot take our turn to gain money, power and status. Opportunity is what separates the haves from the have-nots. What’s interesting is that, for Black folks, because of our anti-Black society, we expect that when you get the opportunity and make good on it, that you give back to Black folk.
Right, wrong or indifferent, we can forgive drug dealing. What we can’t forgive is one who turns their back on our community when they “make it out.”
In fairness to Jay-Z, he is a philanthropist who has given back to Black people. But that’s no different from any white philanthropist. Yet we hold him to a higher standard because he was “one of us.”
But he never was… his opportunity to make good showed us.
Don’t get mad when Jay-Z is who he is. Understand that’s who he has always been. Know that the Black capitalism he and others think will save Black people is simply white capitalism dressed in black.
How has white capitalism worked out for us?
Rann Miller is the director of anti-bias and DEI initiatives as well as a high school social studies teacher for a school district located in Southern New Jersey. He’s also a freelance writer and founder of the Urban Education Mixtape, supporting urban educators and parents of students in urban schools. He is the author of the upcoming book, Resistance Stories from Black History for Kids, with an anticipated release date of February 2023. You can follow him on Twitter @UrbanEdDJ .