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The Jay-Z-Belafonte controversy: Do blacks need more celebrity activism?

The 55th Annual GRAMMY Awards - Backstage And Audience

“My presence is charity …”

That sound bite from hip-hop superstar Jay-Z has resonated and reverberated throughout the blogosphere for days. In an interview for Life+Times, Jay was responding to criticisms from entertainer-activist Harry Belafonte; who blasted the rapper and his equally famous wife, Beyonce, for their lack of activism. The backlash against Jay’s arrogant comment was swift and severe — with many seeming to relish the opportunity to roast the famously cocky emcee over a spit for such blatant and disrespectful hubris.

The aftermath of conjecture and finger wagging has revealed what many already knew:  Many people really don’t like Jay-Z. But the initial criticism from Belafonte raises another question: Why do we believe our celebrities are obligated to become activists?

An activist is defined as one who is an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause — especially a political or social cause. The most celebrated and effective activists of the 20th century were especially devoted to their activism; it was their life’s work. Mr. Belafonte represents the rare celebrity whose life is as much about activism as it is entertaining — perhaps even more so.

However, his approach is a rare one.

Real activism requires time and effort and dedication. It isn’t a side gig or a hobby; which is why most successful businesspeople, athletes and entertainers aren’t activists. They dedicated their lives to their business or their sport or their acting or musical career. That’s their job. And if you’re one of the handfuls of people that can lay claim to being the “biggest” in your respective field — it’s safe to say that job takes a lot of your time and even more of your effort.

Most typical working people won’t even call out of a 30-hr a week job to attend a voter registration rally in their own town.

But many celebrities can still donate money and their name to various efforts. But those that do seem to still get blasted by critics for not doing “enough.” No matter how many different foundations or how many causes they contribute to. But money is the most necessary element of any movement (except for manpower.) Why do we dismiss financial contributions so easily?

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3 Comments

  1. Jullian Goodin on July 31, 2013 at 1:09 pm

    It’s like child support. Financial denominations are great..but that’s your reasonable service. The VERY VERY LEAST you could do, after these ppl are who vaulted you into the position..is to give back financially. What if Jayz gave 1 dollar from every record sold? He makes well over $1…what would you think that donation would be? But no one is asking for that. The harry Belafontes are some of the pioneers who cleared the pathways for ppl like jayz can be jayz and Beyonce. They put up with..and faught threw battles jay will never. But just because its easier…they still know that work needs to be done. Jay is able to reach ppl and places that ppl of Harry’s couldn’t. And Jay is one of the hardest working ppl in the industry. He WORKS. He can take time from business ventures..and put time in helping the ppl who helped him. He does some now. But he could do more. And should do more. 2 things listed in a 10yr timeframe is not good.

  2. Public_Programming on July 31, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Jay Z’s activism is keeping himself rich. He’s made murder and pimpin’ music for years and now we expect him to actually be an activist for the people he’s held down with verbal degredation? Gimme a break.

  3. popi on August 2, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    Is this a surprise to anyone. How can you expect someone so arrogant and refers to women as bitchs and whores show any interest in a cause that does not benefit him to the highest degree. He’s too selfish remember he raps about being better than god need I say more.