My Presence Is Charity

"I’m offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am. Just like Obama’s is. Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, the hope that he provides for a nation, and outside of America is enough. Just being who he is. You’re the first black president. If he speaks on any issue or anything he should be left alone." 
 - Jay Z responds to Harry Belafonte's criticism that he has turned his back on social responsibility

Oh, JAYunhyphenatedZ. This was not a smart thing to say.

First of all, if I were Harry Belafonte, I could quickly think of 100 celebrities who deserve to be called out for not being socially responsible before Jay Z and Beyonce, so I did wonder about his initial criticism. But when Jay Z has the gall to retort, "My presence is charity," he's not refuting anything, just substantiating Belafonte's point.

Belafonte is a prime example of a man who uses his celebrity to promote his activism and positive social change; who can blame him for wishing more A-listers would use their fame for communal good?

Jay Z is of the belief that being a successful black man is doing America a service. You can trace that thought all the way back to "Izzo" when he raps "I do this for my culture/To let them know what a nigga look like when a nigga in a Roadster." Granted, it is progress for this country to have a millionaire African American who is publicly adored. However, that in itself is not being "socially responsible"; being an exception to the rule doesn't really do much to combat wealth inequality at large.

His comments on Obama are even more telling. Providing hope is certainly not "enough." The president is in a position to effect more change than anyone in the entire world. The problem with Obama is that it is all lip service - he talks the perfect progressive game, but his actions are far more regressive.

Offering hope is not social responsibility. It's naive to say "Well, I became a successful rapper and this dude became President, so we're all good." The American dream needs to be better than one-in-a-million of us can achieve our dreams. It may have worked out for Jay Z, but by pretending these opportunities are available to everyone, he's just bolstering the same hierarchical system that oppresses the many.

I still don't know that Jay Z deserves more criticism than the rest of top celebrities who focus the influence they wield on attaining more wealth rather than positively impacting society. But if he thinks living a life with unparalleled luxuries and privileges is in any way an act of charity, that shows just how out of touch he's become.

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