Last summer, I was criticized by another writer for taking too long to write about a change in my relationship status. (My then girlfriend and I went our separate ways in October of 2011. I didn’t mention anything about it online until the next spring.) Since I write about dating and relationship-related topics, she (the writer) felt I had a duty to inform our readers of my new singledom, and stated that not doing so was dishonest. She also implied that the dishonesty was intentional. Basically, I didn’t say anything because the assumption that I was still in a relationship gave my work more credibility.
As I explained to her, the real reason behind my decision not to mention anything publicly was that I knew my ex and many of her friends and family still read the site. I also still had (and still have) a decent relationship with her and many of them, and I just didn’t think that writing about the breakup so soon would be a good idea.
She (the writer) listened to my explanation. But, she still went away from the conversation believing that, in this case, the duty to my fans/readers superseded whatever was going on in my personal life.
Sounds crazy, right? A person having the audacity to criticize you and your work because what they think you should be thinking about and who they think you should be doesn’t match up with what you’re actually thinking about and who you actually are.
When thinking of someone feeling that way about a person like me, it does seem insensitive and rather selfish. But, for some reason, when the level of status is greater, it’s perfectly acceptable, encouraged even, to play passenger seat Geppetto and scold someone for not meeting your expectation of who they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do…even if it completely obscures who they actually are.
We’re seeing this play out right now with the reaction to the increasingly bizarre feud between Jay Z and Harry Belafonte. Before I continue, I have to admit that taking Jay Z’s side in any dispute is like rooting for Wall Street, drone attacks, the bubbles in Pepsi cans, or the f*cking McRib. And, having the audacity to have a public tiff with someone like Harry Belafonte over something like philanthropy and activism makes the line separating right and wrong about as clear as it can be. Which brings up my next point. Where you stand on this debate likely depends on how you define right and wrong. Or, more specifically, which rights and wrongs you sympathize with more.
There is no doubt Harry Belafonte is “right” from a macro perspective. (Also, it cannot be understated that Jay Z is wrong for how dismissive of Belafonte he has been.) People like Jay Z and Beyonce should do more—“doing more” could be anything from donating more money to needed causes to using their statuses to affect more change—and them doing more would benefit the greater good. Aside from the Carters having a lighter collective pocketbook and a busier schedule, it’s hard to imagine any real negatives coming from that.
But, what those who believe Jay Z is completely in the wrong here are ultimately asking is for Jay Z to not be Jay Z. Basically, they want his presence, his influence, and his money, but they don’t actually want him. I mean, how could anyone with any knowledge of Jay Z’s history (and present) expect him to be anything but distilled capitalist? I get why people are upset about him stating his “presence is charity” in his interview with Elliot Wilson. But, really, what the hell else did you expect him to say? This is Jay Z. This negro just took a vacation to f*cking Cuba (Cuba!!!), and quickly recorded a very public “f*ck you” to anyone who had an issue with it. Just a month ago, he totally upstaged his protege and new BFF by basically saying “Yeah, I know your album is coming out in three days and needs all the buzz it can get, but it’s Samsung and the NBA finals, man.” He is going to sound arrogant and dismissive because arrogance and the ability to be completely dismissive is what made him him. You can put a suit on a shark and make him a salad, but he’s still going to, um, bite your neck off the first chance he gets.¹
I’m not saying that a person like Jay Z is unable to change. Just that we’re wrong for expecting him to and even more wrong for getting upset if he doesn’t fulfill an arbitrary expectation he never aspired to reach.
Getting back to the my “presence is charity” line, I actually don’t think he’s completely off-base there, either. Being an activist—a real activist, not someone who retweets Jasiri X and Maya Angelou once every other month—is a calling, a full-time vocation, and criticizing someone who just doesn’t have an activist heart or mindset minimizes the efforts of those who do. The people who are on the front lines have combined their inclination to do that type of work with years of developing the very specific skills and passions needed to be effective. Just as everyone can’t walk into a studio tomorrow and make a classic rap album, you can’t expect everyone to have the emotional capacity, stamina, and very specific sense of moral intelligence necessary to be a Belafonte.
You know, I actually did see where the writer who criticized my omission was coming from. She had no way of knowing my backstory. And, even with what was going on in my personal life, I still could have written about it. I mean, if I write and publish books about dating and relationships, wouldn’t a piece or two sharing details of my own personal break-up be very relevant? Thing is, at that point in my life, the lines between who I was expected to be and who I actually was were getting increasingly blurry, and I had to make a decision. Instead of choosing the expectation, I chose me. And, as much as I want to, I can’t really fault Jay Z for doing the same thing.
¹This sounded much better in my head.
—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)