Rapper and entrepreneur, JAY-Z, recently penned a deal with the NFL. While little is known of the details of the deal, JAY-Z and Roc Nation will be overseeing the NFL’s entertainment department, including music and Super Bowl performances, as well as Inspire Change, an initiative for social justice. In a press conference with commissioner Roger Goodell last week, JAY-Z stammered through an explanation of whether he will stand or take a knee during the National Anthem. The tricky question is made in reference to Colin Kaepernick and his unofficial blackballing from the NFL due to taking a knee during the National Anthem to protest police brutality and police killing people of color. “I think we’ve moved past kneeling,” JAY-Z said. He went on to insist people should start being more, “actionable,” but does not offer alternatives to kneeling.
The message in turn sounds like an appeal to stop kneeling without a solution in place of it. Just stop kneeling. “I think everyone knows what the issue is. We’re done with that,” JAY-Z says, hesitant to call police brutality by its name. The same rapper whose song credits include 99 Problems in which he raps at length about being pulled over by a white police officer who profiles him. The irony is glaring and sad. Police brutality is only a concern when it’s happening to JAY Z. When it seems to no longer be an issue to him, then, “we’re done with that.”
Jay-Z’s talk of the new deal lacked the “actionable items” of change he kept referencing. JAY-Z doesn’t mention how the new deal will provide more opportunities for black entertainers at the Super Bowl, or black players on the field. At face value the only change appears to be jingling in Jigga’s pockets. Critics expressed confused dismay over JAY-Z’s decision, after he supported Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee and criticized the Super Bowl for not providing the same opportunities for black artists during halftime shows. JAY-Z was called everything from a capitalist to an opportunist who leapt at the monetary opportunity of capitalizing on the void Kaepernick left. The NFL was in hot water from Kaepernick supporters who wanted the National Football League to combat systemic racism and from opposers who wanted the NFL to maintain the status quo. In swoops JAY-Z who appears to answer the NFL’s prayers of safely towing the line like a tightrope walker.
Supporters of JAY-Z’s decision cite that millions of citizens the country over watch football games every Sunday, effectively contributing to the success of the NFL while simultaneously criticizing JAY-Z. Some say there’s more than one way to attack the issue, and JAY-Z is working the system from within. One thing is true: JAY-Z is working within the system. Critics and supporters alike point to a glaring issue that goes well beyond JAY-Z: effective protesting has to be proactive and it has to come from citizens. Whether JAY-Z will actually effect actionable change for everyone or only himself remains to be seen.
But citizens cannot depend on JAY-Z, especially if he no longer views police brutality as an issue that concerns him. Unfortunately, people in positions of power who are seldom affected by certain issues cannot be depended on as an agent for change. JAY-Z cannot be depended on as an agent for change. Police brutality is a concern for citizens of color across the country. This means the ill-fated burden of dismantling systemic oppression lies unfairly on the people negatively impacted by systemic oppression.
A major way systemic oppression of many kinds (racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc.) is maintained is through legislation. Often when the public at large appears to agree that police brutality has taken place, particularly when altercations with police end in a citizen’s death, police officers are found not guilty, if they are charged at all. Learning local legislation that has favored cops walking away from police brutality charges and changing them can reduce loopholes. Power has always been with the people. While standing with Kaepernick, we should also stand with each other, and work together for a more just future.
The Juncture Mag staff