Jay-Z Is Right on Trump Racism—It’s About Respect, Not Money
Originally published at www.thedailybeast.com on January 29, 2018.
Over the weekend, rap mogul Jay-Z sat down with CNN’s Van Jones and the two spent most of their time discussing the complexities and struggles of marriage and parenthood. Regardless of his wealth and near-unlimited success, Jay-Z still has three children to raise, and has worked through well-documented marital issues.
It was a thoughtful, nuanced conversation, but all of that was cast aside the moment Jay-Z compared President Donald Trump to a “superbug” and didn’t praise the president over the decline in black unemployment.
As we know, Trump of course took to Twitter to air his petty grievances:
“Somebody please inform Jay-Z that because of my policies, Black Unemployment has just been reported to be at the LOWEST RATE EVER RECORDED!”
Now, there are factual issues with this tweet, (mostly pertaining to the amount of credit Trump deserves), but during the interview Jay-Z actually explained to Trump why the record-low black unemployment rate has not resonated with black voters:
“It is not about money at the end of the day. Money does not equate to happiness. You’re missing the whole point. You treat people like human beings…. Treat me bad and pay me well: it’s not going to lead to happiness.”
For Trump to win the support of black voters he needs to listen to us and treat the African American community with more respect. The condescending tone of his tweeted response to Jay-Z — which oozes a racism best described as paternalistic — will not ingratiate himself with the black community. His “shithole” comments and rampant disrespect of the black community that he’s voiced during his presidency, campaign, and prior to being a politician means that his money, or the money he claims to bestow upon us, means nothing to us.
Our values, our happiness, and our worldview aren’t defined by money and wealth, and this is clearly a foreign concept to Trump.
Not only has he built his business empire around gaudy, gold-plated displays of his wealth, but earlier this month, Trump’s son, Eric, defended his father against accusations of racism following his “shithole” comment by telling Fox & Friends, “My father sees one color: Green. That’s all he cares about.”
To the black community, only seeing green is flat-out not good enough. It demonstrates a dangerous level of ignorance that overlooks the severity of systemic racism in this country, and tacitly condones the structures that have kept black unemployment numbers so high.
Fewer employment opportunities, inadequate public education, a conservative ideology committed to undermining America’s social safety-net, and the existence of social structures that are the re-branded vestiges of Jim Crow and slavery heavily contribute to America’s high rates of black unemployment. Frankly, white America’s prioritization of money over the humanity of black bodies formed the foundation of chattel slavery in this country.
A rich, white man attempting to ply African Americans with his money while dismissing our humanity will never appeal to this community.
Additionally, Trump’s tweet is another example of a president hell-bent on destroying President Barack Obama’s legacy either by dismantling his laws and executive orders, or taking credit for his successes.
As Ben White at Politico, Joe Scarborough of Morning Joe, and many others pointed out, the decline in black unemployment follows a continuous reduction of black unemployment since 2010, so most of the credit for this landmark achievement should reside with Obama. But, of course, Trump gives Obama no credit.
Trump is such an unpredictable, insecure, ignorant, and short-sighted president that it is impossible to gauge the severity of his intent, but his cumulative actions indicate a concerted desire to reduce the social equality of black Americans. Trump might not view himself as a racist, but his actions speak louder than his erratic thoughts.
Social equality can be an amorphous concept, but it essentially means “having a seat at the table.” During Obama’s presidency, African Americans not only had a seat at the head of the table, but also many other seats at the table with the goal of creating a more socially inclusive and equitable American society. Jay-Z and Beyoncé were frequent visitors at the White House, and as a community we felt that our voices were being heard and could help reshape America for the better.
Trump has shown no desire to extend the social equality of the Obama presidency to the black community. When social equality declines the influence of your community’s voice grows fainter and your agency decreases. When you can’t help shape your society it becomes more inevitable that your economic and political influence will decrease too.
During Reconstruction emancipated blacks helped establish greater social equality for blacks, but since its fall America has consistently devised ways to diminish the social equality of blacks: black codes, Plessy v. Ferguson, Jim Crow, school choice policies, voter ID laws. A reduction in our social equality allowed for the creation of policies that that diminished our freedoms and economic opportunities.
As Trump ignores our voices, he clearly expects the black community to praise him, while also disregarding Obama’s accomplishments. He’s obviously grown indignant as he has not received the praise the feels he deserves.
Jay-Z, a celebrated and respected black celebrity and businessman, can inform President Trump on television that African Americans value our humanity more than money. In response, Trump feels entitled to paternalistically dismiss his statement, and instead declares that Jay-Z needs to be educated to Trump’s worldview that values money above everything else.
In 2016, Jay-Z had a seat at the table and a president who valued his views and those of the black community. In 2018, we have a president essentially calling him ignorant, and telling him that he should know his place. Also, Trump declares that Jay-Z and the black community should appreciate the economic bounty that Trump claims as his own: of course, ignoring the African American who actually deserves most of the credit. This is not a new dynamic for the black community.
Trump’s petulant tweet is more than just an ignorant president completely missing Jay-Z’s message, or the articulation of a dehumanizing worldview defined by money. It is our racist past attempting to define our present, and the black community refuses to sit idly by as Trump disregards our voices and overlooks our humanity.