When speaking about police murders, Jay-Z—billionaire capitalist and self-described “hustler”— repeated a talking point often used by racists and police apologists: that single-parent households are to blame. Jay-Z was being interviewed by the NFL for their new “social justice” campaign when he suggested that absent fathers are the reason police brutality happens against Black people. In the interview, he said:
You think about the idea of growing up in a single parent house, which I grew up in … and having an adverse feeling for authority, right? Your fathers gone, so you’re like, “I hate my dad. Don’t nobody tell me what to do. I’m the man of the house.” And then you hit the streets and run into a police officer and he says, “Put your hands up, freeze, shut up,”’ and you’re like, “F**k you!” That interaction causes people to lose lives.
Jay-Z effectively blames Black people, particularly Black men, for being murdered by the police. This is ludicrous! Young Black men are not killed because of absent fathers. This is the result of racism, which affects the working class as a whole. The police know how to apprehend very dangerous, armed white people without shooting them; think of all the mass shooters who get arrested without incident. Now think of all the unarmed Black people that the police kill. Think of Eric Garner, unarmed, not saying “f**k you” to the police but rather, “I can’t breathe.”
Being distrustful of police is rooted in reality. On a daily basis, police harass and attack Black communities. Their ranks are filled with white supremacists. One of the leading causes of death for young Black men is the police.
Jay-Z’s statement is a slap in the face given the NFL’s attitude towards Black football players like Colin Kaepernick who have spoken up against police brutality and have been shunned by the sport. We should be clear: absent fathers don’t cause police brutality—racist police do. And “absent fathers” don’t occur in a vacuum: they are the product of hyper-policing of Black communities and the war on drugs. Jay-Z is a capitalist and defends a system that consistently criminalizes and blames working-class Black people for the misery created by a racist capitalist system.
What prompted Jay-Z taking such an obviously problematic position? Hov has announced he is partnering with the NFL to put on a concert about “social change”—complete with t-shirts and merchandise his company will profit from. Hov is hoping for tickets to “sell out” as he sells out Black people. This is the logic of “Black capitalism”: Exploit the Black working class, and then convince them to support Black capitalists getting rich as “representation.”
Absent Fathers Don’t Cause Police Brutality
The myth of the “absent father” leading to social problems has been quite popular for a long time.TV pundits and politicians have blamed the Black family, and particularly absent Black dads, for all kinds of social ills. Are Black kids struggling in school? Blame the Black family. Are Black kids getting locked up at exorbitant rates? The problem is absent Black dads. This allows the state to wash its hands of responsibility for underfunding schools while building prisons.
Now Jay-Z joins the chorus: absent Black fathers play a role in police violence. What he forgets to mention is the white supremacist cops, the discrepancies in how white and Black people are treated by police, and the long and racist history of the police. He also “forgets” to mention why some Black fathers aren’t around: namely because of the deliberate actions of the state to destroy the Black family.
The Phony “War on Drugs” Is to Blame
And why are these fathers absent? It has everything to do with the history of governmental policies aimed at destroying Black self-organization and tearing apart Black communities through the “war on drugs.”
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the CIA, FBI, and local law enforcement led a massive assault on Black political organizations. Programs like COINTELPRO targeted groups like the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. These agencies also assassinated leaders like Fred Hampton, Mark Clark, Melvin X, Tommy Lewis, Sandra “Red” Pratt, Robert Lawrence, and Steve Bartholomew, to name just a few.
After destroying the Panthers and creating paramilitary groups like SWAT teams, the U.S. government trafficked drugs like cocaine and crack into Black communities. Gangs like the CRIPS were used by police to attack any remaining Black revolutionary organizations. As gangs were encouraged and drugs brought into Black communities, addicts and their families suffered.
Having been responsible for supporting, both directly and indirectly, the introduction of drugs like crack into the Black community and the formation of gangs that would sell the drugs and kill over territory, the U.S. government began its “war on drugs.” This “war” lead to increased incarceration of Black people for minor crimes, mandatory minimum sentencing, gang injunctions, and racist enforcement of these “tough on crime” laws.
Under both Republican and Democratic administrations, the incarceration rate went up by 700% between the 1970s and the present. Hand in hand, the two parties separated families and made fathers “absent” by disappearing them behind bars. Then, that same government claims that the problems afflicting the Black community are a result of “absent fathers”—a moral failure, as opposed to a direct result of U.S. policies.
The Rap Music of the State Department
As the government annihilated Black leftist groups, Black gangs proliferated. The music industry was more than happy to both profit off and exacerbate the destruction of the Black community by promoting gang musical themes. Although many songs were a description of life in the hood—some denouncing the attacks on Black people—the songs and groups that glorified gangsta rap were granted record deals by capitalist labels. Politically conscious rap was sidelined.
Dominating air waves are songs about Black people killing other Black people, dehumanizing Black women as “b**ches and “h**s,” and selling drugs to other Black people. A subset is about “getting rich or die trying” themes. Rappers like Jay-Z make explicit their willingness to exploit the Black community (or anyone else) in order to make money. “Selling snow to an eskimo,” Jay Z has done well for himself as a now billionaire capitalist. This explains why his political stance has recently changed. He can’t condemn the police now because the NFL, his business partner, has taken a stand with the police. So Black people have to be blamed for their own executions.
When the Black Lives Matter movement was at its height, Jay-Z and super celebrity partner Beyoncé began making music videos and writing lyrics about police brutality. We could see Beyoncé sitting on a flooded cop car and her Black Panther-inspired outfits at the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, Jay-Z wrote “The New OJ” and pledged to boycott the NFL until they supported Kaepernick. So what happened? Why is Jay-Z now the spokesperson for the NFL, and why is he blaming Black people for police brutality?
Jay-Z’s shift is a shift in brand. It is no longer profitable to support Kaepernick (who is sponsored by Nike) and the anti-police brutality movements, so Hov left the movement rhetoric by the wayside and adopted that same old sad line about “absent fathers” as the bodies of victims of police murder continue to pile up.
The Problem With Black Capitalism
Jay-Z is a capitalist. If police brutality themes sell, he sells them. Now that the movement has waned and deals with the NFL are more lucrative, Jay-Z peddles the line of racists. We are too aggressive because our fathers are not around. Let’s ignore the fact that the state took our fathers away. The problem is “aggressive” Black behavior and absent fathers, not the racist institution of the police.
In truth, police brutality is linked to the oppression of Black people from the inception of the U.S., first as slaves, then as sharecroppers, and now as low-wage prison labor, super-exploited wage earners, and as a reserve army of the unemployed. The police have gone through a similar evolution: first they were slave catchers and now they are the armed defenders of the capitalist state. Many police are officially members of white supremacist organizations, and many more enforce white supremacy every day.
Historically there has been support for “building Black wealth,” i.e. Black capitalism and small businesses. Black capitalism has been fought tooth and nail by the state throughout history, and some people believe that expanding Black capitalism is the key to equality. But Black capitalism won’t lead to Black liberation. After slavery legally ended, many Blacks attempted to be self-sufficient. They built successful small businesses in places like the Greenwood Community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1921, Black affluence angered white neighbors in Greenwood, and under the false pretense of a white woman being raped by a Black man, white mobs tore through the town, setting fire to it and murdering close to 300 people.
This case is one of many. As a consequence, many Black people considered Black affluence and wealth as a way to rebuff white supremacy. Folks call it “representation”—Black people represented in the capitalist class. And it is true, racism has prevented the creation of Black capitalists. However, capitalism only serves a small class of individual capitalists, now including some Black capitalists, while the vast majority of Black people languish under this economic system.
Capitalism, including Black capitalism, relies on most people being impoverished while a select few are wealthy. It means that a tiny minority get rich off the labor of workers, often Black and Brown workers in the U.S. and abroad. While Jay-Z makes moves towards the NFL, discarding his prior anti-police stance, Beyoncé profits off sweatshops in Sri Lanka. Reports of workers being paid 64 cents an hour have not been refuted since it was first exposed in 2016. Claiming to be empowering women while actually exploiting women to get rich is how capitalists stay capitalist—from the Carter family to the Walton Family.
We Are the Leaders We Have Been Waiting For
Jay-Z and Beyoncé are not the only capitalists around, and this critique is not about a personal or moral failing. Capitalism is the problem, and capitalists such as the Carters exploit our problems for their financial gain. We should not look to capitalists to lead movements against their own financial interests. A few more Black people being millionaires or billionaires will not help the starving, suffering majority of Black people in the U.S. and around the globe. Capital depends on a small minority of people being rich while the majority languish.
Imagine if the billions of dollars wasted by capitalists were instead controlled by the working class and oppressed people! All people in the U.S. and around the world could be fed and housed. The solution must be to fight for workers’ democratic control of wealth—not for a few people to be “good examples.” The solution is not to move out of the hood, as many rappers aim to do. Like the revolutionaries of the 1960s and 1970s attempted, we must fight to improve living conditions in the hood. Our aim shouldn’t be to be a boss, but to get rid of bosses—not to be a landlord but get rid of landlords.
Capitalists such as Jay-Z are no friend to workers or Black people (except other capitalists). We can’t rely on him because we are just dollar signs to them. To fight the police we must fight racism and capitalism. As the Black Panther Fred Hampton said, “We don’t fight fire with fire; we fight fire with water. We don’t fight white capitalism with Black capitalism. We fight capitalism with socialism. We fight racism with solidarity.” We won’t find answers with capitalists but with ourselves: the working class and oppressed people.