Harry B and Jay-Z: Are We Missing the Point in this So-called “Beef”?

 

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What does the so-called “beef” between 86 year-old singer/actor/activist Harold George “Harry” Belafonte, Jr. (aka Harry B) and 44 year-old hip hopreneur and major cultural force Shawn Corey Carter (aka Jay-Z or Hov have to do with how we address the urgent issues consuming us today? .

First, a quick recap:

In August, 2012, Harry B was asked by The Hollywood Reporter if he was “happy with the image of members of minorities in Hollywood today.” He said,” 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 Beyonce, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.”

(Note: I have to give a Blewish side-eye to Harry B, trying to challenge Jay-Z’s “Blackness” when he left his Black wife and children to marry a White, Jewish woman).

Beyonce

The following week, Beyonce fact-checked Harry B via the Wall Street Journal with a list  of her charitable activities.

Harry B “declined to immediately return the [Wall Street] Journal’s request for a comment.

Jay-Z remained mum about his charitable deeds, listed in Look to the Stars.

Magna Carta Holy Grail

Nearly a year later, Jay-Z responded via lyric on the “Nickles and Dimes” track of his new “Magna Carta Holy Grail” CD:

“I’m just trying to find common ground/ ‘Fore Mr. Belafonte come and chop a n*gga down/ Mr. Day O, major fail/ Respect these youngins boy, it’s my time now/ Hublot homie two door homie/ You don’t know all the sh*t I do for the homies.”

Read the full lyrics here.

 

That lyric rekindled the public debate. In response, Hov said in an interview with RapRadar that, “I felt like Belafonte he just went about it wrong.Like the way he did it in the media, and then he big’d up Bruce Springsteen or somebody. And it was like, “whoa,” you just sent the wrong message all the way around…Bruce Springsteen is a great guy. You’re this Civil Rights activist and you just big’d up the white guy against me in the white media. And I’m not saying that in a racial way. I’m just saying what it is. The fact of what it was. And that was just the wrong way to go about it.

In that same interview, Hov explained his commitment, and respectfully extended the olive branch to Harry B and other elders:I have to challenge even our guys that have done so much for us…I have to challenge them to be honest and … to at least have the dialogue with us to understand. Of course you hear these buzz words, “Hublo homie,” … but you don’t understand …  this song is about dealing with survivor’s guilt and how to go about charity.  So let’s have that dialogue, period, and let’s hold each other accountable.  

He shared his approach to philanthropy, and his claim that “my presence is charity”:”Things that I feel are important, I help … sometimes it’s on TV, sometimes it’s not and that’s cool with me. I connect with the things that I think are important, I help in my way. This is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity: you know how many people are inspired by my story [of growing up poor in the projects].

Days later, a year after his initial jab, Harry B went on MSNBC singing a different tune: “I would hope with all my heart that Jay-Z not take personally what was said. I would like to … say to Jay Z and Beyonce: I’m wide open, my heart is filled with … hope and the promise that we can sit and have a one-on-one to understand each other.”

So while they’re at least talking about taking this to a higher level, what are WE doing to address the urgent issues (insert your own list here) threatening our non-celebrity lives?

Countless folk in social media have invested untold hours pontificating on this high-profile spat. But the real conversation isn’t about celebrity antics. If they can set aside their differences to potentially join forces for the greater good, then something useful might come of this situation.

There are urgent, life-and-death issues demanding our attention. We need to transcend this rush to bash-the-celebrity and let their antics fuel our own R/evolution.

We all have our differences. But if we can’t move beyond the ego-fueled obsession to be more “right” than the person who sees things differently, we are doomed.

If we can’t understand that true and lasting change, the kind that makes life better for people, comes ONLY when folk can “put their egos at the door,” and decide that their common cause is more powerful and important than the fact that have varying perspectives, then we’re giving in to the status quo.

It’s about priorities.

It’s about understanding the nature and requirements of social change.

It’s far too easy to be social media “keyboard activists,” squandering our time, talents, energy and emotion on knee-jerk social media responses to what celebrities say and do while our lives and futures are in danger.

I don’t care whether you think either of these public figures was right, wrong, or justified in their comments. They are relevant only as a mirror in which we can observe ourselves and opportunities to evolve, individually and in community.

We’re never going to agree or reach consensus on how we see the world or experience the many aspects of this life. Forget that! Better to study the REAL nature of social activism, of movements that have achieved positive change and contributed to tangible progress. In every case, folk agree that the larger cause is worth setting aside individual differences for the greater good.

Caricom

Witness the recent example of the leaders of 14 Caribbean countries joining forces to fight for slavery reparations and genocide, from France and the Netherlands. There are differences in their cultures, and perspectives, but they seem to be setting those differences aside in the name of justice.

If Harry B and Jay-Z can do the same, then every one of us—before we rush to choose “sides” in this or the next celebrity “beef,” should examine where OUR prejudices, biases, criticisms and judgments might be holding us—and our communities—back.

Martin and Malcolm

Just imagine if Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. had joined forces.

In the spirit and in tribute to WHOEVER you admire, and WHATEVER inspires you, let’s use celebrities as inspiration rather than distractions, and be about the business of saving our lives, our children, our families, our communities and our world.

Harriet Tubman if only they knew

Let’s not be the ones that Harriet Tubman described when she said:

I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more, if only they knew they were slaves.

Let’s KNOW what we have to do and set aside our differences to get it done. Otherwise we’ll be forever enslaved on the plantations of our minds.

Let’s NOT Talk About Race … Here’s Why

What would it be like to go a whole day without thinking, emoting or talking about race?

I can’t even imagine…

Sure, I might manage it if I were in some kind of retreat setting with zero access to external information and technology—probably some environment where everyone is restricted to a code of absolute silence. Maybe then.

But in the real world, especially for those of us who are finely-attuned to social/cultural/political issues and plugged into news and social media, that seems an impossible task.

Since the 2008 election of President Obama), it seems that race-related situations, stories, thoughts, feelings and opinions are more prevalent than ever.

Especially the last month or so: between the Paula Deen incident, Supreme Court rollbacks, and the trial of George Zimmerman for murdering Trayvon Martin, race-related everything seems to be in overdrive. This layered on top of the everyday tragedies of police-on-Black violence, Black-on-Black violence, the cradle-to-prison pipeline, substandard public schools, increasing attacks on women’s reproductive rights and bodies….and the list goes on.

Race remains central to our processing of these and other incidents, often in the online public sphere, where everyone is a pundit eager to share their views.

These conversations can become overwhelming, since they’re never neutral or objective. We all have strong views and feelings, and social media provides every opportunity for sharing, responding, debating, and processing in community.

Meanwhile, there are always well-meaning people who say that we need to keep talking about race.

I disagree.

I see no point in talking about race, not if the goal is real progress in the seemingly endless but still essential struggle for justice and equality. I’m not even sure that a constructive conversation about race is possible in these United States, or whether it ever has been.

So how do we address and grapple with issues of justice, equality and the ways in which identity and categories are used to maintain an imbalanced power structure?

I say we go to the root cause of the issues, the problems, the contradictions, the complexities and the conundrums.

Forget race. Let’s talk about racISM. And by ISM I mean Institutionalized, Systemic and Malignant oppression based on categories designed to ensure an unjust and unequal system.

A wise man, Ronald Steele, with whom I worked years ago, gently schooled me on what seems like a fine distinction: “It’s not race. It’s racISM that is the problem, the issue and the core of what’s wrong.”

That simple observation opened my awareness.

You’ll notice that there is nothing in the title or tagline of this blog that mentions “race.”

Yes, the focus includes things related to color, culture, identity and community. Which naturally include race. But since my goal is to create some positive change and contribute to whatever progress we can manage to engineer, I want us to focus on the REAL issue.

RacISM.

More recently, Ronald Steele took his guidance a step further and reminded me that the root cause of racISM is White Supremacy.

Again, he’s absolutely right.

The entire USA was founded and built on the notion of White Supremacy. It is at the core of every law, ruling, policy, institution and tradition in this land. RacISM is the system required to maintain White Supremacy. And race—which is now popularly dismissed as a “social construct” and therefore not something that really exists—is the concept required to feed the racISM machine.

Those same notions are part of every aspect of popular culture, entertainment, and the nation’s educational systems. All are strongly biased in favor of one group, and against those deemed not good enough to be part of that one group.

Those who encourage endless discussions of race seem to believe that the root of our problems is a blend of ignorance and prejudice, and that if we talk enough, if we share enough of our stories, our pains, our truths, our realities, the dominant group will have a giant Aha! moment, wake up and rush to right the wrongs of over 500 years.

How likely is that to really happen?

It’s human nature to be tribal. To be biased. To be prejudiced. And to discriminate. That isn’t going to change, and it’s not where the bulk of the real damage occurs. The real damage is in the institutionalization of that bias, prejudice and discrimination to limit the options, opportunities and quality of life for a specific group of people. If it’s gender, that’s sexISM (and I include discrimination based on sexuality in that category). If it’s age, that’s ageISM. And so on.

Talking about race never seems to contribute to real progress. Why?

1.       We’re not objective and tend to take everything personally, resulting in hurt feelings and endless, non-productive back-and-forth about who is good vs. who is bad; who is right vs. who is wrong; and who is the most victimized.

2.       There is no commonly agreed-upon language that allows for a useful conversation about “race.” The very labels and categories that define our society are both weapons and shields that contribute to a culture of conflict.

3.       People of all races compare wounds and victimization, going around and around in circles that leave everyone frustrated, drained and no more enlightened than they were before the conversation started.

4.       The categories of Black and White were created as opposing groups, and it is the tension in that inherent opposition that is the foundation of this entire nation, from governance to culture to everyday life. Others, such as Asians, Latinos, Native American Indians, etc., often complain that race is more than Black and White. They’re not acknowledging that unless and until the ongoing warfare that is inherently part of everything in the USA is confronted and changed, White vs. Black will always be the dominant dynamic, theme and topic of conversation.

5.       Few people—and none in the public arena—ever enter into discussions of race with the goal of honestly confronting the core issues and working towards solutions that actually advance justice and equality. The goal seems to be “winning” a debate rather than conversing with a common goal.

Truth is, most conversations on race seem to end up like Sly and the Faily Stone’s classic song, “Don’t Call Me N***er, Whitey. Don’t Call Me Whitey, N***er. So let’s forget talking about the surface symptoms and focus on root causes. Let’s stop trying to prove who’s right, who’s wrong, who’s the victim and who’s the villain, and acknowledge that we are all infected and affected by the disease that is racISM. Then, let’s gather those who are genuinely interested in finding solutions, and discuss how we can work together to find a “cure” for this insidious epidemic that controls our nation and rules our lives.

Now that is something I can imagine.

Can you?