Jay Z’s Fight With Harry Belafonte

Hova's confusion on the difference between capitalism and activism.

By Jamilah King Jul 29, 2013

Twitter reacted strongly after a video surfaced last week in which Jay Z said that his presence is charity. The comments came in response to criticism by civil rights pioneer Harry Belafonte, who said that today’s artists need to be more politically engaged.

An important theme that’s come up: there’s a big difference between charity and activism. It’s a point that’s been up for public debate, especially in light of Peter Buffet’s op-ed abut the charitable-industrial complex in the New York Times.

Colorlines.com Editorial Director Kai Wright wrote back in 2011 that Belafonte does a lot more than just show up for justice; he acts. 

Belafonte has spent decades helping to lead reform movements around the world. He’s not just leant his celebrity, but has played meaningful roles in several human rights struggles, most recently in the founding of the Gathering for Justice. His accumulated wisdom brings invaluable context to the ups and downs of electoral politics. Most importantly, Belafonte stresses that our concern needn’t be over President Obama’s political well being; our concern must be with building a people-driven movement for justice, to which any elected official must respond.

In the above video from 2010, Belafonte sat down with Colorlines publisher Rinku Sen to talk about race and politics. He speaks with an eloquence that resonates with many of today’s racial justice advocates. That’s one of the things that many people on Twitter reacted to last week after Jay Z’s comments went public. Our community engagement fellow Stacia L. Brown faciliated a pretty meaty conversation, most of which is captured below.