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3 Aug 2013

Guest Commentary: Jay Z responds to Harry Belafonte’s challenge: ‘My presence is charity’ (my thoughts)

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August 3, 2013 Category: Entertainment Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Recording artists Beyonce’ and Jay-Z, second left, join Travon Martin’s mother Sybrina Fulton, second right, and Rev. Al Sharpton at the “Justice for Travon” vigil in New York, Saturday, July 20, 2013.


By Tambay A. Obenson

Shadow and Act


“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…I felt 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.”


My one-word reply: Sigh.


Well, actually, I have a lot more than one word to say about this.


While some would argue that maybe Harry Belafonte could have handled his public challenge to Jay Z and Beyonce differently, when you’ve lived for 86 years on this planet, fought through the many immense obstacles he and those of his generation had to on practically a daily basis, becoming a prominent face/figure, and fearless, unrelenting voice in the fight for civil, human and political rights globally, I’m willing to give him a pass.


Here are Belafonte’s words, spoken in 2012, taken out of context I’d say, that led to Jay Z’s reply, a year later, verbatim:


“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 Beyoncé, for example. Give me Bruce Springsteen, and now you’re talking. I really think he is black.”


This emerging “conflict,” as Mr Belafonte said in a recent interview with MSNBC, wasn’t a direct attack on Jay-Z and Beyonce. He was at a press conference in Switzerland, and the press who were present, asked him about the level of activism, political/social engagement of artists today, compared to artists of his (Belafonte’s) time, decades ago. And he made the observation that the power that lies in the collective black celebrity voice (with so many influential black celebrities today), was sadly not being utilized and exploited in bringing attention to matters that ail our community, as well as in acting decisively, communally against those injustices – certainly not the way his generation used their celebrity for social/political/economic activism, and did so absolutely.


And in response to what was essentially a call to action by Mr. Belafonte, a number of other black artists, like Jamie Foxx, Chuck D, and others, took his words in the spirit in which they were delivered, and have since gotten behind him on his various recent efforts to affect real change, hands-on, unlike Mr Jay Z here, who instead responds with insolence. And I’m not referring solely to the fatuity in the above quote; in a track called Nickles And Dimes on his new Magna Carta Holy Grail album, he reserved the following lyrics in response to Belafonte: 


Mr. Day O, major fail;


Respect these youngins boy, it’s my time now


My suggestion to Jay Z, no matter how relevant he might be, or believes he is, and the amount of money he’s reportedly given to charity, would be, simply: you can’t fight them all, so choose your battles wisely. And this is not one that I’d choose to fight – certainly not publicly, and definitely not in the manner and tone that he’s chosen to go about it.


“My presence is charity.” Really. And then you refer to him as “boy” on one of your tracks – something that’s going to be listened to, and repeated by likely many millions of your young fans?


Come on son! This certainly isn’t the way to win any votes in your favor. This isn’t a rap battle! Belafonte isn’t going to now rush into a recording studio, to put together a diss track in response to your diss. 


Or maybe you just don’t care.




Check your ego Hov. Swallow your pride. Respect these old folks, BOY. ‘Cause, without THEIR time, your “time now” may never have been realized.

Alright, so I’m no rapper, but you get the point!


And in response to Jay Z’s cry (yes, cry), Belafonte had this to say:


“I would hope with all my heart, that Jay Z not take personally what was said… I would like to take this opportunity to say to Jay Z and Beyonce: I’m wide open, my heart is filled with nothing but hope and the promise that we can sit and have a one-on-one to understand each other.”


After all, it’s not like they’ve never met, and conversed. The above photo of both men was taken in 2010, two years before Belafonte’s observation and call to action that started this so-called “conflict.”


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