A few weeks ago many folks in New York City were in an uproar. First because a young man, who lives with his mom in Corona, Queens, is studying engineering at the New York City College of Technology, and has a work-study job was detained by law enforcement stemming from the purchase of a $349 Ferragamo belt at Barneys. Second because Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter refused to speak out on the issue. Jay-Z is launching a signature collection at Barneys and is receiving pressure to dissociate himself from Barneys.
For reasons I'm sure are different than Jay-Z's I chose not to make any comments until I saw how this whole thing played out. As I expected, in our world of instant gratification and information overload, this story is now buried somewhere in cyber space.
That doesn't mean the story is no longer newsworthy or there aren't some serious dynamics worthy of discussion. It only means the "wow factor" and the controversy the media was expecting to come out of it did not materialize.
Succumbing to the pressure Jay-Z finally commented on this issue:
"I move and speak based on facts and not emotion. I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys. Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately? The negligent, erroneous reports and attacks on my character, intentions, and the spirit of this collaboration have forced me into a statement I didn’t want to make without the full facts." --Life and Times: A Statement from Shawn "Jay-Z" Carter
Divide and Conquer
We all know the media thrives on controversy and makes a habit of sensationalism. That's the business they're in and readers drink it up like a glass of lemonade on a hot summer day. What I found interesting was the media seemed to focus more on Jay-Z and his affiliation with Barneys than the real issue. Is it possible the media saw a chink in Jay-Z's armor? Was this an opportunity of create a rift between Jay-Z and his loyal fans? History has proven that the media is not above exploiting an issue to polarize the masses. I am not making any accusations against the media (I have to be careful with my words) but I am questioning their motives.
How could you do this to me?
My first thought after reading Jay-Z's statement was "Does he not get it? Has he been away from Marcy that long?" My sense is Jay-Z was taken aback and was hurt by the backlash he was receiving. After all, he's one of us. He went from Marcy to Madison Square. He's a true success story. How could his loyal fans turn their backs on him this way? It's just not fair.
Jay-Z made it clear he wasn't making any money on this collaboration with Barneys. He also made it perfectly clear that some of the proceeds were being used to fund his foundation. He seems to be having a challenge understanding how raising money for an organization that is doing great things for people who are less fortunate can be a bad thing.
This is where Jay-Z and many other celebrities are missing the boat. They forget that perception is reality in the eyes of the perceiver. They can no longer connect the dots between cause and effect. They believe the ends justifies the means. After all if they build a school, or donate a million dollars, or create a foundation isn't that a good thing? It certainly is and I applaud Jay-Z and all the other celebs for all of their good work and philanthropy. I gives me great pleasure to know they haven't forgotten where they've come from.
That being said, sometimes you have to make a stand. Sometimes you have to make the sacrifice. Sometimes you have to consider how your acts are being perceived.
It's two weeks later and the story is somewhere in cyberspace. It is most likely that Jay-Z's collection will still be sold at Barneys. Money will be raised for the Shawn Carter Foundation and many individuals will be helped.
Did I forget to mention there's still a young man who went through an agonizing experience just because he wanted to buy a Ferragamo belt at Barneys?
It starts now, let's get this thing done...
Ernest R. Heyward is the Founder and President of the Marketplace for Social Awareness and Social Responsibility Inc.