Jennifer Donahue: Jay-Z: “Every Step You Take, They Remind You, You Ghetto”

At the Grammy’s, Jay-Z rapped with Coldplay in the song “Lost,” and what he said bears repeating:

“It’s only half if they like you. There ain’t even the half what they might do.
Don’t believe me, ask Michael. See Martin, see Malcolm…
See success and it’s outcome.
See Jesus, see Judas. See Caesar, see Brutus.
See success is like suicide. Suicide is a suicide.
If you succeed, prepare to be crucified.
Media mettles. Yea, they sue you , you settle.
Every step you take, they remind you you ghetto.
So it’s tough being Bobby Brown, to be Bobby then, you have to be Bobby now.
Now the question is, is to have had and lost better than not having at all.”

President Obama was wise to reach out to Sergeant Crowley after rushing to defend his friend, Professor Gates. No one is right, no one is wrong. If Crowley had gone to law school with Gates, he would have known not to arrest him too. Any person, white or black, who harshes out on an officer knows there’s a downside.

The problem is this: if Professor Gates were not a well-known Harvard Professor, would anyone have defended him? Cambridge is not the liberal mecca many think it is: it is a medium safe neighborhood filled with the world’s elite teachers and students, as well as a collection of drug-addicts, hangers-on, and families who like the neighborhood. So what if you were a couple miles away in a bad neighborhood in Boston, and the person on the porch jiggering the door were not part of America’s cultural elite? Or what if the person were in a different state altogether?

The problem isn’t so much what happened with Crowley and Gates, although that has helped bring racial tension to light and could be productive to jiggering the conversation apart. A greater problem is the divide between famous and easily identifiable people of color and those with no defense. There should not be two different world’s for people of color. But there is: there’s the one we just saw play out in the media, and another you never hear about, much bigger in population, and much less privileged.

I’d say it is the latter we should be the most concerned about giving voice to now that the conversation’s going.

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