Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Jay-Z Empire: West of a Stateless Mind

by clairmont chung



Barclays Center moored on Atlantic Avenue (Getty Images)
The subway train shook me from my half-sleep as we jerked to a stop. It was as if it wanted to show me something. Then I read in bold letters on the station’s walls: Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center. At first, I did not understand what was happening. This was some kind of trick, payback for the things I said about capitalism. Maybe I had made a mistake and taken the wrong train. I had never heard of a station by that name in New York or anywhere. The underground dimness looked familiar. Then the conductor’s cackle announced that we were on the “2 train to Flatbush”. I relaxed a little, even smiled. This was no mistake. Then he said the name of the stop, “Barclays Center, Atlantic”. It felt like a slap so hard that I did not hear the name of the next stop: Barclays-Bergen. I was fully awake then, but train sick. Imagine, not one but, two stops in Brooklyn renamed Barclays in 2012. Barclays Bank was now back, on the Atlantic, naming stops as its debtors did during slavery. Except now it added other property: A building that looked like a ship and Jay-Z.

Down below  (c) rootsandculture
I paid little attention to the building of the new entertainment arena for the Brooklyn Nets. I treat some of these developments like the presidential elections. They are like trucks rolling down the highway, or oil tankers at sea, and you get the sense that getting in the way brings worse and so I follow at a healthy distance. But this required more scrutiny. With the city’s help, the developer used the powerful legal tool of eminent domain to clear out residents and businesses for the needed space. A bar I visited from time to time closed so that the stadium could be built. Barclays Bank paid the developer, a kind of rental fee, to place its name on the arena: but has no direct interest in developing the Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets basketball team, that calls it home, or with Jay Z. Even the refurbished and renamed subway station was paid for by the developer. So Barclays does not actually own the ship nor does its own Jay-Z, actually.

I can understand one corporation making a deal with another, but the subway was not owned by a corporation. Is it?[1]  How much did it cost Barclays to change the name of a subway stop and who received the money?[2] Who knew downtown Brooklyn was sufficiently blighted for the state’s highest court to find just that and order private property demolished? As it turns out, Bruce Ratner, the developer, bore the cost of the naming rights and the $76 million for refurbishing the stop[3]. In exchange for the latter he received the rights to the airspace above his ship: seriously. The naming rights to the stop is to last the same 20 years as the lease to name the center. Evidently, Atlantic-Ratner, or Roc- A- Fella[4]-Atlantic does not have the same bouquet as Atlantic-Barclays.

Somewhere I had read that Jay Z owned an interest in a basketball team. I never really followed Jay Z’s career, he came much after hip hop’s originators, and I stopped following Pro basketball some years ago, after watching a Nets versus Knicks game at the Continental Arena in Jersey. The four tickets included valet parking and cost close to eight hundred dollars. It was a gift and did not include the twelve dollar beer. The game was a sham. In my view the athletes under-performed  some deliberately. I had seen better games at the summer tournaments at Rucker in Harlem and Wingate in Brooklyn. It seemed more like worker action, a go –slow, against the owners. That was the only way I could justify that, but attending another NBA game, even for free, was out of the question. So, the New Jersey Nets moving to Brooklyn was background noise to me. But a ship named Barclays in the middle of downtown Brooklyn, with Jay-Z as the launching act, required a closer. 
 
Barclays flagship under construction (c) Nelson Brakerman
NY Daily News
Unlike Barclays, in the US, Jay Z has never been far from media cameras and our consciousness. He laid-down great beats, added serious flow with clever lyrics and created major influence. But his subject matter, though creatively delivered, remained mired in the brag and boast genre and without the promise of conscious music early Hip Hop offered through KRS 1 and others. Wikipedia says Jay-Z’s interest in the Nets basketball team is about one-fifteenth of one percent and that he paid 4.5 million for it. It isn't that Jay-Z needed another ten, or even twenty, percent return on this investment. He has a huge public persona, and a bank account to match, separate and apart from the Nets. It certainly was not intended to give Jay any control over the operation. His minute ownership interest combined with the use of the Barclays’ name in exchange for a payment, and with no ownership interest,  is proof that it is a publicity stunt for all the players but more so for Barclays and Jay Z: both of whom owned little else in the deal.

Jay-Z’s interest may be microscopic but hardly invisible. It’s the convergence of diverse backgrounds in the interest of making more money. But it reflected something worse: a return to a time when Barclays financed the trade of human cargo whose entrepreneurs sought the help of some local chiefs to execute its plan. Once that cargo reached its destination, it was resold and branded. Today, Barclays, unwilling to slink quietly into the past, instead, pays a rent -$400 million over 20 years- for its name to sit on the building and on letterheads and foreheads like a reminder: a bold brand. It has denied any involvement in the slave trade. But to now join its name, Barclays, to Atlantic is beyond bold.

Barclays’ history in the slave trade dates back to 1690. It has defended itself against these accusations by pointing out that there is no documentary, no paper, evidence of its involvement in the human trade.  But we ought to compare the trade in captives to today’s drug trade. Many have no direct involvement, but enjoy its benefits. The slave trade was the drug trade of that day. Huge investments made huge profits and banks in Europe and America made millions investing directly or indirectly in the trade of human cargo. The test should not be whether there is any documentary evidence of involvement, there is, but whether there is any documentary evidence of repudiation at the time. Where none can be provided, we can safely conclude banks and other financiers were involved in the trade and that Barclays was one of them.

Moreover, one of our preeminent historians, Eric Williams, in his Capitalism and Slavery,[5] squarely placed banks and Barclays at the table of human flesh. Its most famous officer, David Barclay, even owned a plantation in Jamaica.[6] His father is said to have owned one of the fanciest mansions in London reputed to have hosted royalty.  Williams painstakingly described the importance of banks in the trade of human cargo. Little has changed since.

Penn Station home to a growing population (c) Niko
The cargo is not as mobile as before. Some sit and stare, chronically unemployed, some addicted, some homeless, some exhibiting signs of madness, in states of despair, in poor health, stateless, all invisible. Take a nighttime walk through Penn Station, under that other New York arena, Madison Square Garden. Maybe you will see the future Barclays promises.

HSBC recently paid US $ 1.9 Billion in penalties and fines to the US Department of Justice for its admitted role in laundering drug money from Mexican and Colombian drug cartels. Banks in Mexico would load up raw cash and deliver to HSBC. Banks do not exist singularly. They operate as a cartel themselves: loaning money to each other at rates they themselves set. One example is the LIBOR which is an interest rate for banks to loan to other banks and set by a group of London based bankers which includes Barclays. So, whatever money HSBC used from the drug cartels would be of no value to it if it could not sell and share that money with its fellow bankers at rates set by Barclays and its friends in London. Even we indirectly used that money as loans and other credit purchases we now find difficult to repay. The sub-prime mortgage scam that targeted people of African descent was largely financed from this money.  Those loan rates too depended on that LIBOR rate. And the high rates we paid generated exorbitant profits off the low rates set by Barclays and friends in London. Even a fraction of a percentage point could generate millions, daily. So, much like HSBC, most other banks were involved directly or indirectly in laundering drug money and the sub-prime mortgage scam. Not so long ago, Barclays and its friends depended on the trade in captured Africans to sustain themselves. The formula still works. 
 
Much is made of the involvement of Africans in Africa in the capture and sale of their own people. Some of this I find unfair. Not enough attention is paid to where and whom originated the idea of a slave trade to the Americas, nor much written about African resistance to the trade. The Africans that benefited probably demanded silence and as a sign of unity. Yet, the suffering is well documented. Similarly, Africans today, the descendants of those captives now involved in the drug trade receive little of the benefits that accrue to the banks that launder the proceeds from the trade. On the contrary, they suffer all the pain beginning with surveillance, constitutional violations, and imprisonment: mass incarceration. Then the money they do borrow comes at unsustainable rates of interest. Jay-Z’s role is to legitimize all of that. But the idea is Barclays’. This system of crony capitalism does not permit the captive to own the plantation. It seeks to put the name of the most commercially successful hip hop personality on a product bought on misery and suffering, ultimately a losing proposition, yet seeking youthful and cultural relevance.

1862 Capt. Nathaniel Gordon hanged in NYC for piracy: the illegal
importation of Africans . The importation of Africans was banned in
1807. Gordon used Brooklyn Navy Yard to outfit his ships 
Barclays, with no retail banking operations in the United States, would pay several hundred million to place its name on a building and a subway station in Brooklyn without any ownership interest transferred to it in exchange. For a bank with no retail account holders, no street level banks, in the US, this means more. We know what Jay is trying to leave behind. But is Barclays trying to leave its role in the slave trade behind. Did Barclays not finance the slavers and help build their ships that brought Jay’s ancestors across the Atlantic. Many of those ships were built and outfitted right there at the Brooklyn Navy Yard: a stone’s throw from Jay-Z’s Marcy Projects childhood home and Barclays Center.

Now, I thought long and hard about writing this article. Some would argue not long or hard enough. I wanted to avoid sounding like a spoiled crab, jealous of the success of another African: angry that I am not sitting at the table with Jay-Z, political heavies, Barclays and company. Often, it is only after the very corporate power structure rejects us that we find the radical-self and the politicization needed to understand what we are experiencing. After we have done everything they asked and still are not allowed at the table, often only then we suddenly see the table for what it is: the last supper.

In reality, you are only permitted at the table when you demonstrate you know nothing. For example, some fall-out followed Dr. Cornel West’s remarks about Jay-Z’s minute ownership interest in the Nets. Most of it attacked West as that self-hating Thomas seemingly bent on destroying and attacking the African community’s recent symbols of success. Some went even further and called West’s comments racist. West had called on Jay-Z to reveal his true relationship with the Nets. Yet others decry the reason African descended people attack each other when we are supposed to be uniting in common defense. Too often, this is code for ‘shut up’. 

This is not an attack on Jay-Z nor is it an attempt to defend Dr. West. He is well equipped to do so himself. But I think this willingness to advocate for West’s silence whenever the object of his critique is of African descent is a very dangerous position. It tells us that all is not well and the merger of Barclays and Jay Z is not one of equality. It is one of the major foundations of dictatorial behavior, which permits the abuse of the rights of Africans in the name of some kind of nationalism. Silence is supposedly justified when the intended object of critique is of African descent: and in the name of unity. This can’t be acceptable. There is a long history of public debates among Africans throughout history on the issues; Du Bois and Garvey, Du Bois and Washington come to mind. Whatever the respective positions, the positions must be aired and debated. The alternative is the kind of shackles that remain on our minds: and increasingly around our bodies. The notion of unity is too often abused into meaning silence: a silence that is too often a license to do the same things we all agree are wrong when done by others.
   
We know Jay was a petty hustler running cocaine from Harlem to his block in Brooklyn. Then he expanded to places along the I-95. He told us this. It’s not a secret. We never held his past dealings against him. We understand the forces that drive many to the underground economies. He called his album and himself the American Gangster. He was inspired, he said, by the film of the same name and starring Denzel. In one iconic turn, the American gangster had suddenly turned black: of African descent. A documentary series followed, of the same name, which featured only gangsters of African descent. The people who came and pushed out the Native peoples, by force, seized and renamed the land, enslaved them and others, brought African people to build a system that is beginning to feed on itself, are no longer the American gangsters. The ones they enslaved are now the gangsters. We are supposed to remain silent, because Jay-Z is ‘successful’. And now, the system builders have engaged Jay-Z to reinforce that message.

Rather than sit back quietly, and enjoy the illegal gains, the largesse from illegal actions, past and present, benefiting from public ignorance, Barclays decided to engage with Jay-Z: to recapture its name and continue its practice. But then again, its history should explain its reasoning. In its most recent dabbling debacle Barclays is charged with influencing the setting of LIBOR. Robert Reich, Former Secretary of Labor under US President Clinton, called it Wall Street’s ultimate scandal and scandal of scandals[7]. He estimates the money lost, as a result, at 5 to 6 Trillion. This dwarfs the 3 Trillion of our money used between Presidents Bush and Obama to bail failing banks and businesses. When we combine the two scams, we get an idea of what has happened to poor communities and particularly African American communities. Understand, the failure was as a result of mortgages targeting Africans disproportionately among other working class communities. The low interest rates cooked-up in London gave the mistaken view of liquidity upon which the sub-prime mortgages were made; albeit with inflated rates of interest. The LIBOR is based in London but its effects are global and its members have redrawn, with indelible ink, the old triad of the trade in people: London, the Americas, and Africans at home and now abroad.

In the US, the Department of Justice (DOJ) recently offered a deal to Barclays without any trial or official finding of wrongdoing: that if it paid 169 million dollars and signed a document that it was involved in wrongdoing then the matter of its involvement in the LIBOR scandal would be considered over. This is the same Department of Justice in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that, for much less, deported 400,000 people from the US in 2010 and again in 2011 and 2012.[8]  After disbursing more funds to local police departments through its Secure Communities program (SCom), together these Departments share the spoils of actual bodies off the top, for deportation. Detainees are held mostly in private prisons at exorbitant rents and then repatriated to countries south. The stops and frisks by the New York Police Department is part of that national policy and targets young African men. Do you see the turn around? The triad of Europe, Africa and the Americas has been turned on its head but the result is the same. They are returning African descendants home where possible, and destroying the homes and wealth of those remaining in the US, but the money stays among the wealth class in Europe and America. We are not supposed to say anything because they and Jay Z are now friends. We are left scrambling for the crumbs from that table.

Optimistic OWS  protester (c) rootsandculture
They no longer need to move the people to labor camps, they move them out of the labor statistics, they don’t even exist anymore, and instead they indebt the people, the survivors, descendants of captive labor, with unsustainable mortgages way above the value of their modest houses. The result is increased poverty, homelessness and despair. The African American community includes people from all over the diaspora. Foreclosures as a result of the sub-prime debacle affect 2.5 times more African homeowners than European Americans[9].  It is estimated that between 72 and $93 billion of African American wealth was lost as a result of the sub-prime scam: a significant percent of total wealth since home ownership forms a larger percentage of African American wealth than of Whites. This figure does not include the cost of deferred small business development using home equity, or deferred educations, lost retirement plans, neglected health and related debt management. This will eventually run into several trillion.

The Department of Justice and has treated Barclays in much the same way it treats thousands of its detainees: offered a deal. Barclays also paid $200 million in fines to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and £59.5 million to the Financial Services Authority. The difference is that for Barclays it’s a slap on the wrist, for us it’s our lives. If you are deportable, and sometimes even if not, you are asked to sign a non-contestation agreement, saying that the allegations are true and that you would prefer to be returned home. Sometimes this comes after serving time for a crime at the state or federal level. Sometimes the defendant would avoid jail by admitting wrongdoing without a trial: like Barclays did here. Barclays went further and offered to tell what it knows about the involvement of other banks. The reward is an arena and a subway station or two.

Banks are what they are; a cash-vac. HSBC admitted to money laundering. They are part of a system that denies any ties to organised crime and decries any attempt to associate them with money laundering. Barclays has not yet been accused of laundering drug money. But it’s like their refusal to admit involvement in the slave trade: not to be taken seriously. You may not have kidnapped a tribeswoman from Dahomey[10], placed her on a ship and sold her in Barbados. But the money derived from that trade was placed in your banks. In fact, you loaned that same money to other entrepreneurs engaged in the trade. Like HSBC, you need to admit your role.

It’s been reported that neighborhood entrepreneurs have welcomed the Barclays Center in anticipation of the development it would initiate. These entrepreneurs would not have read any of the current science on this phenomenon and moreover cannot point to any example to explain and support their enthusiasms. The fact is that Atlantic City, as an example, the resort with gambling, has done nothing for the Atlantic City proper. Just a few short blocks from the casinos and you are face to face with the old depressed Atlantic City. This is the same misguided enthusiasm of trickle-down economics. The spate of casinos on Indian lands has done nothing for the Indians. On and on big-business thinks building a cash cow in a depressed area lifts the area. The opposite is true. It simply sucks value from the neighborhood while sending the real estate prices and rents up and beyond the reach of current residents. The jobs offered are not career builders but simply the unskilled labor that big-business has always craved. You don’t need an education for those.

Similarly, Brooklyn, ravaged by recession and the mortgage scam, has lost more people than any other American city. Ratner claimed the presence of urban blight as the basis for his eminent domain claim. Many groups came out in protest, but some seem to have been quieted with more promises. Others have continued with protest. But this borough is just a shell of itself. At no time was this more evident than in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. And even as I write, there are still people without homes, without lights, without jobs, and sufficient food and all because of the city's inability to deal with the disaster. The insurance companies all caught in the ongoing subprime and LIBOR debacle are slow to respond. The hidden story is how the wealthiest city in the world is incapable of handling a disaster that some Caribbean islands experience on a regular basis. The result would be more applicants to that parallel underground economy.

Jay-Z seems unaware of the forces that drove him and others to that economy, away from the path his friend President Obama took, and instead towards the enterprise of cocaine and crack sales. The other path is one of formal education and a promised, steady, good job at a good university, bank, or similar institution or even the presidency: success. Though we can now touch it, it is actually further away. It now seems conflated into one confused mess. Jay-Z like many around the country around the world, denied a competitive education, used his innate business skills to develop and expand his empire. But seems to forget the forces that drove him, the reasons why he entered that underground economy in the first instance. As he described in the 1990s,

Blame Reagan for making me to into a monster
Blame Oliver North and Iran-Contra
I ran contraband that they sponsored
Before this rhymin' stuff we was in concert.[11]

His are not words of protest. Instead, now we are asked to cheer his eventual entry into the 1 percent albeit with the same suspects: still in concert with those who continue to sell and profit off his people.

@ 40/40/ Club, NYC (Rolling Stone
In the recently concluded presidential elections, even the debates intended to educate the voter about their choice became obfuscated into some competition as if in high school. Like gladiators the candidates matched strengths in a ring where neither seemed aware they are trapped and where the winner is determined by a voice on high from a flickering image. But like the coliseums of old, in the arena, you are only the winner for so long. There is no loyalty: not that that ever made anything better. Soon the winners turn will come from somewhere, younger, stronger and better looking. The weak questions from the press, the people’s representatives in this process, reflect a similar high-schoolish understanding of power and with no follow-up questions allowed, one is left wondering whether that is the best this country can do.  Don’t get me wrong African history longs for figures of power and poise. There is no more cheered example than President Obama. But this longing for, and paucity of, figures have left us silent. It seems to have actually restructured and restricted our power. We can’t even ask a sensible question: even of Jay Z.
 
We seem to see none of this because we are so invested in the image of who we might be. Euros and Afros alike, but Afros, way more so, imprinted and inundated with racial hatred and oppression, seek any glimmer of redemption and so we debate on who won instead of the issues. Obama is it. But the things on the menu for discussion are not about the high percentage of prisoners and higher percentage of African descended ones, LIBOR, subprime loans, global warming and their relation. And by extension, why was Jay-Z involved in selling, whites, white lady, kane, roc: one time street names for cocaine and its derivatives. How come immigration is about who is coming and not who is going out?
Only in America, and its peculiar sense of freedom, can someone boast about the ways in which they broke the law, the amount of cocaine they sold, and become rich on those boasts. It is conceivable that had Jay- Z directed his talents at math or science he could have contributed something really important to our society. Maybe he would have risen to the top at Barclays, or created his own, and changed it for the better by admitting past wrongdoings and plotting a course of reparations and social responsibility. Perhaps that is still in his future,

For now, he is part owner of a team housed under the Barclays brand. But that was not his only achievement. He is primed for much more. He was able to send for, and have the President of the United States meet him at his house: the 40/40 club. Now, that is power: royalty. The President came to visit; and to collect the $4 million contribution Jay Z raised among his equally dazzling friends. One is left to wonder, who is guesting on whose production? Who is hype man for whom? So when the President sat down with Jay-Z we can only guess about the conversation topics. It would not be about stop and frisk. Had it been exercised with the same intensity when Jay-Z was a street hustler, he may have been in a different place. It would not be about mass incarceration and deportation, not even about the 99%, or the rudiments and origin of hip hop. Perhaps it would be about their African descended children and which financial instruments offered by which bank would best protect them from want, hunger, poverty, poor healthcare, police brutality, and unreasonable stops and searches.

Only their children would be able to afford tickets to anything at the Barclays Center. Even the subway fare has increased, its fourth increase in the last five years, and the tolls to enter New York are at an unbelievable $13.00. So those Nets fans from Jersey will have to add $50 to their tickets prices and that is just for tolls, parking and gas. Soon those within the city will be unable to leave, unless it’s permanently. Those outside will have to remain so. All this in a city that saw its income disparity outstrip national numbers and lost 23,000 manufacturing jobs in the last decade[12]. Perhaps all this is to cover the real cost of the tax breaks and subsidies given to the Barclays Center development. New York City Transit’s man on the deal, Joseph Lhota, has mayoral ambitions. Perhaps to oversee the promises made to Mr. Ratner. While the city’s current mayor exhibits national ambitions.

In 2011 New York police made 684,300 stops and frisks[13] many just blocks from Jay-Z’s 40/40 club’s second location in the Barclays Center. While in Brownsville, East New York, Crown Heights, Red Hook, and the ‘Bush’ unemployment is rampant and infant mortality on par with underdeveloped countries[14]. More than likely Jay-Z would be kicked to the curb like Reverend Jeremiah Wright should he include in his rhymes anything about reparations or the revolt of African descendants: Jay-Z unchained. Past drug sales is fine. But any rhyme of resistance is unlikely because Jay Z has made his past quite clear and his politics clearer: he cannot even understand the need for Occupy Wall Street: as he was reported to have quipped after a reluctant visit to the Liberty Plaza Park home of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

As if not enough, his empire of style and music boasts some derivative of the name Rockefeller: more accurately, Rocawear and Roc-A-Fella. The Rockefeller name just happens to be one of the central names in banking, investment and government history. You can’t wear that name and understand the 99% rhetoric. Still not satisfied, the Rockefeller name graces that law that continues to send our young men to jail in those ever increasing and disproportionate numbers. The Rockefeller drug laws are also referred to as the three strikes rule, where mostly African Americans are sent to prison for as much as twenty five years for as little as three non-violent offenses. In most cases the three offenses if treated individually would not result in any jail time. But together, its Rockefeller time, it’s a kind of death. And of course there was Attica[15]. This is what we are living under. Yet we run around with these symbols on our chests.

After prison, these young men and women, the deportees, are returned to what have essentially become Bantustans: a throwback to the apartheid era. Some of the communities are right here in the US as Ishmael Reed declared them internal colonies.[16] Gentrification is the new colonization. When viewed together, gentrification, internal colonization, stop and frisk and deportation, then add, unemployment, low wages and high subway fares a picture should emerge: of a divided Brooklyn. The minimum wage employees at the Barclays Center would have to work an hour to pay the subway fare to and from work. As for tickets, even Jay-Z implicitly acknowledged the situation by awarding free tickets to some lucky Brooklynites for his opening concert at the Barclays Center.

Of course, some of these Bantustans are actual countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa with no access to power, no access to Markets, and no access to jobs. The few jobs available include making Rocawear and similar celebrity brands.[17] Even when they work, they are unable to set the price for the things they produce or their labor and instead live on the largesse of the developed world and its agencies: hush money to governments. The governments are often placed there with the help of the US and its allies. They live on landmasses named by others and speak an official language not native to that landmass. While the US continues in open support of another famous Bantustan that has corralled brown people into an unsustainable and barren landmass and politicos make the support of Israel part of their campaign platform.

We are left to contemplate its only redeemable argument: that under Romney things would be worse. This has silenced us: we the people who waged war against slavery; waged war for the right to vote, raised our voices against all injustice, at home and abroad, are now asked to be silent. This is the height of selfishness and self-indulgence. Because what it means is that they are unable to identify their world, care little about others in the rest of the world, and those not in their world, but misguidedly do what they feel is best for ‘me’.

There was a time when the sight of an armed man on a horse caused real fear: fear of capture and return. Even now, flashing police lights and presence generate a similar fear in those who have been there: while we wear outfits, with a man on a galloping horse, and with a stick in his hand, emblazoned on our chests, as a symbol of our successful enterprise. Jay-Z’s cohorts, not to be outdone, rent their images to clothing, and vodkas and champagnes with strange names.
  
It's unfortunate that our own self-interest is used against us, under the guise of unity, and blinds us to atrocities committed in our name and to us. It is not a problem peculiar to African Americans. All  groups are vulnerable. Communists, Marxists, democrats, tea partyers, even capitalists: all are vulnerable and it takes real courage to resist. This transcends and includes race, ethnicity, nationality and religion. You can’t criticize the group. You’ll be branded a traitor or worse: a hater. Despite the daily atrocities meted out to the Palestinian people, many Jews remain, quiet, if not supportive. Some in the African community see this example as a model of the kind of unity needed. Now, with President Obama's resounding support of America's foremost ally, all Americans are drawn into tacit support. More peculiar is the silence from African descendants whom history has judged harshly: given that peculiar history. The majority of humans seem incapable of adhering to that overused tenet ‘do unto others’.

It’s either that I am blind and cannot see that finger on a dark hand beckoning me towards freedom or that I am right. If I am right, then that sets off a series of realizations that end badly for us all. We simply don't seem to have the capacity for the kind of fight true equality demands. I’d rather be wrong. I have my doubts. Instead we band together in groups seeking an advantage like some game of basketball or maybe Survivor; the larger the better. Those standing, or sitting on benches, bent over machines and screens should be feeling that new pain all over their backs, feet and eyes. We fight for spots in the factory knowing a step down leads to the bowels of Madison Square Garden.
Protest outside Barclays Center (c)S.Platt
getty images

Jay visited and performed across Africa. In his role as humanitarian, he joined the UN in a project to bring Africa’s water woes to world attention and was reportedly en-stooled as a Chief in Kwara State, Nigeria. The state named a street after him. We should take this as his understanding of the dynamics of power and not an opportunity to exchange trinkets. His lyrics in Oh My God suggests he was crowned King with,
I got crowned King down in Africa
Down in Nigeria do you have any idea.

Whatever the title, we should all take note of the old alliance. It is now full circle: Barclays, Atlantic, and an African Chief.

Eric Williams recounted a story involving the role of rum in the trade of humans. Rum was valuable cargo and often used to ply African chiefs, middle-persons, in negotiating price. Having already received his payment in gold coins, a ‘negro trader’ was invited aboard a ship and feted by its captain. He awoke from his drunkenness the next day to find himself branded and chained with the rest of his human goods.[18] More than likely he survived and made it to the new world. He was not the only one. Like Barclays and the other banks, these chiefs are engaged in similar practices. Are we to be accused of participating in this trade from West Europe, to West Africa, to West Indies and to the world? They are not done selling. You are sold a different image of yourself. It’s a different kind of crack: fame and fortune. The whole thing must go.

Just say no. Just say something.



[1] Metropolitan Transit Authority operates almost all the trains, toll bridges and tunnels within, and connecting to, the city of New York. It is described as a public benefit corporation: a quasi-corporation operated for our benefit with support from government, fares, tolls and property taxes. The real estate fiasco precipitated by the subprime crisis led to reduced tax contributions and increased deficits.  
[2] Wikipedia states that,  “In June 2009, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority sold the naming rights of the station complex to Forest City Ratner for 20 years at $200,000 per year”. Forest City Ratner is the developer of Barclays Center and headed by Bruce Ratner. The sale did not prevent the seemingly annual rise in subways fares a few short months after the center opened.
[3] Jason Sheftell, First Look at the $76 million Barclays Center Subway Station, New York Daily News (September 14, 2012)
[4] Jay-Z formed the independent label Roc-A-Fella Records in 1995 with former Partners Damon Dash and Kareem Biggs
[5] Eric Williams,  Capitalism and Slavery,  (Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1944) p.48
[6] Ibid, p.101. It appears Unity Valley Pen in St. Anns and its 30 captured Africans came under Barclay control through unpaid debts. At the time of the emancipation John Barclay had died and his executor, David Barclay, was of advanced age. All but 2 of the Africans were brought to Philadelphia, USA and trained in various trades.
[7] Robert Reich, The Wall Street Scandal of Scandals (July 7, 2012)
[8] From the Departments of Homeland Security website, “ Between fiscal years 2008 and 2011, ICE removed more convicted criminal aliens from our country than ever before, with the number of convicted criminals that ICE removed from the United States increasing by 89 percent, while the number of non-criminals removed dropped by 29 percent.” How is it Barclays and HSBC never get deported are they not convicted criminals too.
[9] Melvin Oliver, Sub-Prime as a Black Catastrophe, The American Prospect, (September 20, 2008)
[10] An African kingdom centered near present-day Republic of Benin and a major source of captured Africans for labor in the Americas.
[11] Blue Magic, Roc- A- Fella Records
[13] Sean Gardiner, Stops and Frisks Hit Record High in 2011 , Wall Street Journal, (February 14, 2012)
[14] Jay-Z’s Bedford Stuyvesant, a stone’s throw from Barclays Center boasts an infant mortality rate of 14 deaths per 1000 births. In the Caribbean, Jamaica is at 14.3, Antigua is about the same and Barbados about 11.5. Guyana needs an investigation at 35 deaths. By comparison national US numbers are 7.2 deaths. These numbers are sourced from the CIA Factbook. See also , Mundi,  and,  Jennifer Steinhauer,  High Infant Mortality Rates In Brooklyn Mystify Experts, NY Times, a 2000 study but shows the lack of improvement over the past decade. Mario Sims, Tammy L. Sims, and Marino A. Bruce, Urban Poverty and Infant Mortality Rate Disparities, Journal of the National Medical Association, 2007 April; 99(4): 349–356.
[15] In 1971 New York State Governor, Nelson D. Rockefeller launched an attack to retake Attica Correctional Facility, from protesting prisoners, and in the process killed 39 people including 10 guards and civilian employees.
[16] Chris Hedges, The Idol Smasher, Thruthdig December 30, 2012
[17] In 2003 a major report showed that both P. Diddy’s Sean John lines and Rocawear were using sweatshop labor in Honduras where conditions and pay were slavelike. See Jonathan Cunningham, Sweatshop Labour in Hip-Hop Apparel, Word Magazine, Reprinted News and Press(July, 2005) 
[18] Capitalism and Slavery, p 123.