Commentary

Profiling Charges Fuel Fury Over Jay Z's Barneys Deal

The rapper-turned-mogul Jay Z finds himself square in the middle of a tabloid and social media assault over his business association with Barneys New York, which has been accused by at least two customers of racial profiling.

The front page of the New York Daily News Friday was all Jay Z, with a picture of the glum-looking “hip-hop megastar” wrapped by a screaming headline: “Jay Z under pressure to drop his business deal with Barneys or else he’ll have … ZERO RESPECT,” with the Z in flaming red. “Fury from fans, leaders as race profile scandal rages, pages 4-6.” 

If you’ve missed the headlines, Barneys “has recently come under fire amidst separate accusations of racial profiling and discrimination at its Madison Avenue location,” Jay Balfour reports on HipHop DX. “The news brought with it criticisms of and protests against Jay Z’s planned holiday collection collaboration with the store. The collection, called ‘A New York Holiday,’ was announced in September and is scheduled to include limited edition clothing and accessories.”

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Barneys CEO Mark Lee issued a statement on Facebook Thursday stating that his company “has zero tolerance for any form of discrimination” and announcing a “thorough review of our practices and procedures” by “Michael Yaki, who also serves on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.”

“Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?” Jay Z, aka Shawn Carter, posted Saturday on the Life+Times website that he curates. “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.” 

He would be referring specifically to the News, which broke the racial profiling story last Tuesday and has been relentlessly following up, with the Friday paper attacking Jay Z for remaining silent on the issue.

The News continued to berate the rapper Saturday evening with a story by Rich Schapiro, Ryan Sit and Larry McShane that began: “Poor Jay. 

“Jay Z played the role of a victim Saturday in his first words on the Barneys controversy — releasing a whiny, self-serving statement that doesn’t once criticize the department store or mention the black customers it’s accused of racially profiling.

“Instead, the Brooklyn-born rapper cries about the attention he’s received in the press.”

Meanwhile, the arch-rival New York tabloid, the Post, reported Saturday that the Rev. Al Sharpton told reporters gathered at his National Action Network (NAN) offices in Brooklyn that the “rising social media clamor for the rapper to pull out of the deal” was off target. 

“‘Some people want to make this about Jay-Z,’ Sharpton said. ‘No, this is about Barneys first,’” report Sabrina Ford and Laura Italiano.

Kirsten John Foy, who heads NAN’s Brooklyn office, joined Sharpton in maintaining that Jay Z is not NAN’s target.

“There’s a lot of talk about whether or not Barneys should be doing business with certain black people,” said Foy. “I think it’s a racist notion to assume that the only black person Barneys does business with is Jay Z. We’re not there to focus on Jay Z.

Indeed, the focus is expanding to practices at other department stores as well. The News yesterday ran a piece about a 56-year-old fitness trainer who “says he was surrounded by cops after a legitimate purchase at Macy’s Herald Square in New York.” That follows a story about Robert Brown, an actor on HBO’s “Treme,” filing a suit against Macy’s Friday for an incident in June in which he says he was “paraded while handcuffed” for alleged credit card fraud. 

Blogging on Huffington Post, Vincent Intondi, an associate professor of African American history at Montgomery College, writes that “Jay Z is one of the few individuals who has the influence and power to send a clear message to corporate America that racial equality, not the dollar, is the real Holy Grail. As a Jay Z fan and a civil rights activist, I truly hope he does the right thing.”

Meanwhile, a Change.org petition started by a Brooklyn man calls on Jay Z to end his partnership with Barneys. Derek Bowers, who created the petition, runs a company that has created an anti-Barneys t-shirt that crosses out the “York” in the store’s logo so it reads “Barneys New Slaves.”

“All profits from this sale will be donated to The Boys and Girls Club of America,” the website states. “This is our response. As Kanye [West] so elegantly put it, 'F**k you and your corporation.'”

Let the dialogue continue.

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