Jay Z and Barneys have managed to get into a pickle given their new partnership for the 2013 holiday collection: “BNY SCC Gallery” (standing for Barneys New York and Shawn Corey Carter). This probably would not be a point of contention or discussion if it weren’t for the recent racial profiling of aspirational black shoppers who desired to spend their earnings with the retailer the rapper aligned with.
In this examination, we should ask the tough questions about celebrities who partner with large corporations and if it serves their fans’ best interest. Do the celebrities ask themselves about the benefits to their community who support their music, endorsements and their craft? Are fans winning by supporting celebrities who don’t seek the answers to the myriad of questions about corporate citizenship?
Attacking Jay Z is not the proper response to achieve a collective community or retribution for these shoppers who are at the least “receipt shareholders.” The questions we should ask are does Barneys support the Urban League’s jobs program? Does Barneys have a diversity program in place for hiring managers of Hispanic and African American descent? Do they recruit at HBCUs? Will this be a one-time partnership? How much money do African Americans invest on an annual basis by shopping at Barneys? Does Barneys advertise with minority-owned media?
The real answer about job creation is that African American businesses must grow in order for unemployment to decrease. Are celebrities asking questions that will benefit more than themselves? Are their agents and handlers expressing to them the sentiment of community progress when renting a celebrity for a campaign? Will Barneys support Jay Z’s education initiatives? Does Barneys understand they’re segregating economics when they elect not to participate in both advertising with and employing minority vendors?
Organizations like BRAG, NAACP and Urban League are willing to develop celebrity criteria to benefit the African American community. There isn’t a community collective doctrine for progress. It should address issues like Jay Z’s collaborations with corporations like Samsung and Barneys. Was there a plan in place to advertise with African American-owned media outlets and firms, not just outlets that list us as a targeted demographic in their plan? The reinvestment should at least mirror 50 percent of our contribution.
This is the perfect time to have meaningful discussions and dialogue about discrepancies and contradictions in practice at retailers like Barneys. They pale in comparison to Macy’s commitment to diversity and corporate citizenship. The question isn’t can we spend money at Barneys? It’s, will Barneys decide to invest in and support initiatives in the African American and Hispanic communities. It’s great that Barneys has chosen Jay Z, but what does that mean for collegiate-focused organizations like UNCF?
The fallacy of the Barney-Jay Z press release is that there is no true beneficiary other than the individual brands. It’s a distortion of the truth to say that Shawn Corey Carter is not a beneficiary. Partnerships with major retailers beget future partnerships and opportunities. To the person who wrote Jay Z’s release addressing this matter: We are an intelligent community and know that there are qualitative and quantitative benefits for both parties. To Jay Z: You’ve started from the bottom and now you’re here? Peace.