Jay-Z made quite a stir with his latest album 4:44, that dropped on June 30. It took me a few weeks to process the subtle and not so subtle lyrical jewels, but once processed a flood of reactions came over me. The omissions of cheating were no surprise, besides “Lemonade” I’m wondering if anyone ever listened to Beyoncé at all.
But the one line in the album that has the Jewish world mulling over the much talked about song “Story of O.J.” is what has people talking.
“You wanna know what’s more important than throwin’ away money at a strip club? Credit. You ever wonder why Jewish people own all the property in America? This how they did it,” which we all know “Jewish people own all the property in America” is not a true statement, but I believe his intentions are in the right place.
The line is not only a compliment to the Jewish people, but at the same time exalts Jews as an example of solidarity and financial empowerment or a “Light Unto Nations,” if you will.
The rapper has come under fire for mentioning Jews in the line, but I question the motives of his critics. In the song, the rapper highlighted Jewish success in America, a success that has come despite an attempted final solution. And while many would say the Jewish formula to success cannot possibly apply to Blacks…. I disagree. Race in the matter of money is a moot point…. money is green. While many believe the music mogul’s words incite anti-Semitism, I believe anti-Semitism was already there. In fact, we as Jews should not be afraid of being touted for our financial power and solidarity. Instead the Jewish people should help others achieve the same success of unity, benevolence and resourcefulness.
Jay-Z isn’t the first to take notice of Jewish esprit de corps, in Arnold Shankman’s “Atlanta Jewry 1900-1930” he quotes a gentile’s observation of Jews in the Southern city. Shankman states “Jews were highly esteemed in the community, and Christians envied their thrift, generosity, and home life.” He goes on to quote a unnamed non-Jew who, after observing the Jewish Community, found them to be a model for longevity.”They are prosperous . . . because they work hard and save their money. And yet. . . no people give more willingly to public enterprises and to charities [than do the Jews.]”
Jay-Z has always been outspoken about his respect and deep admiration for the Jewish people, even displaying a bust of Golda Meir in his office building. Then there was the line “Shoutout to old Jews with old rules, new Blacks with new stacks,” in “Somewhere in America,” a song touching on the financial success of the new millennial Blacks. Comparing Jews to Blacks is not a far comparison and when looking for a model of resilience, financial strength and solidarity, most people view Jews as exemplary. Not only did Jews overcome slavery, but many came to America, from Poland, Russia and Germany escaping the Holocaust with nothing but each other to help rebuild their lives.
In the aforementioned lyric Jay-Z is simply stating there is a need for a new way to develop wealth building and community building. Throwing away money at a strip club isn’t working and never worked, but “old rules” that have been tried, tested and are true do work.
There’s something to say about a hard reset and the ability to have one fundamental goal while understanding differences among a group, thought to be homogeneous.
And while some claim the Black intelligentsia is too critical of the Black community for doing the same things whites do, I am going to file that under white privilege. Yes, whites can kill each other, disrespect their women, and even target each other for ill will and it does not make a bit of difference. Blacks, on the other hand, don’t have the power or numbers to act out such a malicious privilege. But we do have another set of numbers that makes Jay-Z’s case even more relevant.
Black men are incarcerated at 5 times the rate of whites, Black women are evicted at the same rate, 60% of Black children are born to single mothers and Black women get paid $0.63 on the dollar paid to white men. Oppression is alive and well and Black people are not thriving under these conditions.
What Jay-Z is talking about is investing in our own neighborhoods, investing in technology companies, finally coming to grips with the fact that how a group treats it’s women is a stark reflection of the overall health of that community, and how financial power can protect the Black community from being vulnerable to oppression. Shawn Carter speaks the truth and it may behoove us as Black Americans to listen.
While Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe inhabited white skin, let us not forget the first Jews to come to America were Sephardic from Brazil. These Jews could not get the best jobs or the best pay. Despite this they stuck together, with Sephardic Jews now, being known among Jews as some of the most successful within the American Jewish community.
These Jews stuck together, took advantage of the educational opportunities and funneled money back into their community, many of them starting their businesses doing the most menial labor such as baking, shoe repair and butchers. This playbook of resourcefulness is proven to work regardless of skin color. It’s a set of rules and guidelines that can be applied to overcome oppression and maintain financial strength. Carter’s call to action is not a mistake, but a call that as been echoed since Marcus Garvey and later, Malcolm X.
In this hyper politically correct society we have a tendency to look at the reason why something won’t work and why it shouldn’t be said, rather than looking at the reasoning behind the statement.
To suggest the same strategy that worked for Jews won’t work for Blacks, because of racial injustice is equivalent to stating Black people should not take financial courses because Black women will always get paid $0.63 on the dollar, Blacks are bait for predatory loans, Black businesses don’t get enough funding and because credit isn’t available to Blacks. It is insulting. Simply put, it’s like stating Blacks can’t reach higher levels of success based on our own strength and resilience, or we’re not as intelligent or business savvy as our white counterparts…so why try.
The million dollars worth of game Jay-Z is spitting for $9.99 isn’t about credit; it’s about valuation. When we begin to see value in each other we will profit from that investment. But those with the resources must first see value in paying someone else’s college tuition, funding a small business, or even paying the rent of a kid who got a dope internship in New York, but can’t afford to work an entire summer without pay. There’s no reason any student who exhibits intelligence coupled with a strong work ethic should depend on student loans. If our country does not provide higher education for free, than our community should find a way to provide it.
Carter has taken a stand on many occasions by quietly bailing out Black Lives Matter protestors and recently posting bail for fathers on Father’s Day…he gets it. These are issues that matter and the more financial stability we as the Black community have, the less white supremacy affects the Black community. In my opinion fighting racism is a huge distraction. Racism has been and will always be a part of American culture.
The recipe to American Jewish success is in the common goal of the preservation of the Jewish people, benevolence and the knowledge that money when saved and spent appropriately leads to powerful results, even without credit.