The measuring stick for activism, namely black activism, has been been an oft debated subject. No one can agree on how much work is enough, too little or too radical. In the aftermath of the Zimmerman trial, this subject has been thrust into the public’s dialogue and it has been intense.
Jay-Z recently did an interview with Elliot Wilson where he expressed his thoughts about the trial and criticism he and Beyonce received about their lack of social responsibility from legendary actor and activist Harry Belafonte.
According to Hov, the verdict had a profound effect on him.
“I was really angry, I didn’t sleep for two days. I was really angry about it. We all knew there was still a bit of racism in America but for it to be so blatant… Ask yourself the question, ‘Didn’t Travyon have a right to stand his ground?’ He was being chased, he fought back. He may have won. That doesn’t mean he’s a criminal. He won. If you chase me and you try to attack me and I defend myself, how can I be in the wrong? How is that right? This guy went to get some skittles and go back to watch the All-Star game. He had plans. He had no intentions of robbing anyone’s home. […] It’s a thing where it’s like a reminder of, ‘We still got a long way to go.’ It’s beautiful because this generation right now, they don’t see color in that way. […] They’re funding George Zimmerman because they want to hold on to their guns. […] We all know it was wrong.”
He felt what many of us felt and the points he made in this quote definitely have some validity but the interview took a turn for the ignorant when he spoke of Belafonte.
I’m offended by that because first of all, this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am, [is charity], just like Obama is. Obama provides hope. Whether he does anything, that 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. […] Of course we want to challenge [Obama] to do better, but I felt like Belafonte just went about it wrong. The way he did it, within the media, and then he bigged up Bruce Springsteen. It was like, ‘Whoa, you just sent the wrong message all around. You just bigged up the white guy against me in the white media.’ I’m not saying that in a racial way. I’m saying what it was just the wrong way to go about it. […] My presence is charity! Just this guy who came from Marcy projects apartment 530C, to these places of me playing in Yankee stadium tonight.
I have my reservations about this comment but I also wonder why he felt the need to respond at all. What does he have to prove?
Frankly, If Jay-Z wanted to give a valid example of supporting his community, he could have used the following picture:
This picture was taken at a Trayvon Martin rally in New York. This, an image of prominent black people attending at a rally with black folks from all walks of life, is a display of social responsibility. He could have listed all of his other philanthropic acts such as meeting with former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to discuss water shortages and donations to Hurricane Katrina relief like his wife did after Belafonte’s comments were made public.
I have been in countless arguments with people and many of them have resulted in what I like to call conscious pissing contests. A conscious pissing contest is a discussion during which the participants list all of their community service efforts and displays of social responsibility in an effort to prove how conscious they are and how they’re more conscious than their opponents. I see these contests all the dang time and as much as I hate to admit it, I have provoked my share of contests. I used to have a very narrow view of what it means to be an activist and what made a person’s actions become activism. To old me, marching, sit-ins and rally were the beginning and end of activism. Then I read, joined organizations and talked to activists and realized that there are so many ways to be an activist and that a person shouldn’t have to prove themselves to be down with a cause. A cause shouldn’t have an hierarchy!
If you aren’t a marcher, there are so many other ways you can help. Writer Feminista Jones put together a nifty list of simple things a person can do to get involved and the point I agree with most is:
Stop disparaging each other’s efforts to make change, even if it’s small. EVERY effort will come together to bring about MAJOR change
Every little bit counts. No one shouldn’t be involved for show and cred, people should be involved because they want to bring forth change. As much as I respect Harry Belafonte and elders like him, I don’t think he or anyone else has the right to police other people’s activism and efforts.
What do you think of the Jay-Z/Belafonte feud and activism policing?