What Jay Z’s Meltdown Shows Us About Capitalism
A few weeks ago, Jay Z got it in his head that ‘capitalist’ was just a ‘new slur they invented to keep the black man down’ or whatever.
Why would he think this?
As someone with so much money and resources, it would only take a quick search to see that ‘capitalist’ was a term for well over two hundred years. Up until the 80s or so, it was a well-known pejorative term for greedy people. Rightfully so! It was the capitalists after all that caused the Great Depression way back then. It was capitalists that caused the massive pollution and poverty that we still deal with today. It was capitalists that normalized child labor in factories. It was capitalists that knew they were causing Climate Change decades before it was a big issue, but kept going, kept mining, kept extracting and polluting.
Jay Z should easily be able to verify these facts. But instead, he deluded himself into thinking people calling him ‘capitalist’ was simply because they’re haters. This delusion shows one of the biggest problems with partaking in capitalism and being one of the ‘winners’…. you buy into the delusion.
Many of us raised in rough neighborhoods have necessarily learned the ‘hustle mentality’. Such a mindset is core to hip-hop culture. It’s understandable why. That’s the only way we really have to achieve any sort of success. And we do have success stories. So very many. Countless athletes, artists, and entrepreneurs have built up amazing wealth by hustling and becoming capitalists.
But here’s the problem. Ask yourself this: with all these successes… Why aren’t we all living better lives? Where’s the new black cities? Where’s the new black wall street? Or Tulsa? Where’s Wakanda?
Out of the 2,000 billionaires in the world, 15 of them are black. There are 22 MILLION millionaires in America alone. About 8% (or 1.7Million) of them are black. There are over 200,000 millionaires living in Georgia. Many of which live in Atlanta. It’s not clear how many of them are black (most likely 6-8%, so there are possibly 12,000 black millionaires in Georgia).
Atlanta is known as the ‘Black Mecca’, and yet, Atlanta has one of the highest rates of poverty in America at about 20% (meaning 1 in every 4-5 people are impoverished). 33% of black people are impoverished (1 in every 3 people). Only roughly 4% of black people in Atlanta actually make it out of poverty.
That’s the thing many love to ignore about all these ‘success stories’… they are the exception to the rule. For every Jay Z, there are thousands, if not millions of young people that died, got locked up, or just got stuck in poverty instead. Capitalism does not allow for everyone to win.
Even if you are a hustler, there’s no guarantee that will be enough, because a huge part of ‘success’ under capitalism is pure luck and/or privilege (which is itself luck carried over from past generations). Then, even if you have made it out of poverty, but aren’t quite a millionaire (and sometimes even then), you could still be living paycheck-to-paycheck, you could still become impoverished if you get one to many hospital bills, your children may not be able to inherit your wealth due to inflation.
Then of course there is Climate Change which is making many billionaires fear for their future, so they are trying to build bunkers, space colonies, and ocean bases to hide away from the consequences of their actions.
If we ever want to live in a world where we are not constantly scrabbling for scraps and having to hustle out of poverty, or worse, then we have to move beyond capitalism.
Folks like Jay Z can give millions back to the community, covering college tuition and more for thousands of kids… but that’s unfortunately just a drop in a bucket compared to the millions stuck in poverty, not to mention the billions around the world who have it even worse thanks to their country’s wealth being extracted by people in America and the West trying to become ever richer.
For those interested, we now have hard evidence that shows the ‘prosperity’ of capitalism over the last few hundred years was a lie. The idea that ‘capitalism brought the most people out of poverty’ has been shown to be complete propaganda. In reality, capitalism stole the land, resources, and intimate community that most people enjoyed in order to privatize and sell it back as soulless commodities. Poverty actually increased under capitalism, as well as early mortality. Health declined so drastically that the average height of people fell as a result of chronic malnutrition. It wasn’t until the anti-colonial and socialist policies (many of which were spearheaded by anarchists and abolitionists) that people began to recover.
Just 100 years ago, most of us would have lived in self-sustainable communities where we could easily walk to the store for groceries or grow our own food. We would have known everybody in our community, and owned the shops in our neighborhoods too. Yes, even black folks had many towns like this, before the race riots. But now, thanks to the automobile industry and other (usually racist) billionaires, we are stuck in these car-centric suburbs where it’s not safe (or fun) for kids to play outside, where the closest grocery is a big box store we can’t easily walk to owned by someone none of us will ever meet. All the while, our air is being poisoned, our streets are being flooded, our food is being filled with plastic and chemicals, and our communities feel more alone, with social media a poor substitute. All along, they make us pay for the ‘convenience.’
This is the legacy of capitalism.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Simply hustling to win capitalism won’t solve these problems. 100 years of this shows that winning capitalism just makes the problems worse for everyone else. It doesn’t matter what color the people are who have a seat at the table when the whole house is built out of the suffering of countless people, animals, and other life.
If Jay Z really wanted to help, he would use those billions to buy huge plots of land, then give ownership of that land to people who live on it. The people who live on that land can then build their own houses, grow their own food, and more without having to pay for it. Why do this? Why ‘waste’ so much money? Because true wealth is not money. Money is temporary, money is a fiction we all (are forced to) believe in. Even ‘assets’ like property and other investments shrivel away into nothingness when the world changes (like it has many times throughout history). True wealth is people able to live off the land for hundreds or even thousands of years.
If any billionaire truly wanted to help people, they could sink those billions back into the land and stop participating in the markets. Stop capitalizing at all.
But they won’t do that. Because becoming a billionaire, hustling to gain so much wealth, requires you to participate in the terribly exploitative system of capitalism. It requires you to buy into the delusion that you are really the ‘good guy’, when in reality, your actions are directly leading to the misery of so many more people and destroying the environment. It rewards you for abusing the ‘rules’ so long as you can get away with a ‘competitive’ advantage.
I feel for Jay Z… Coming from where he came from, it makes perfect sense to feel like he’s earned what he has. It makes sense to feel like capitalism is a good thing when he’s benefitted so much from it. And it makes sense that he’d consciously or even subconsciously ignore all the suffering it causes the environment and the community as a result.
But that will never solve the problem. And, as you can see with Jay Z, even when you get to the top, you will feel so very alone and attacked… and even powerless to make meaningful change. Because that’s what capitalism does.
MLK and Huey Newton knew this. Jay Z calling himself the new Huey P Newton is a slap in the face to their work. They knew that you had to build a world that broke away from capitalism. They knew we would have to build dual power that allowed people to live without depending on the state or the market economy.
We have to realize this truth and seek to (re)build real communities that completely bypass or break capitalism. We need to form our own economies that don’t use any currency that capitalism can privatize. Some examples are like the gift economies of pre-agricultural humans that last for over 100,000 years; or newer ideas of the commons, mutual aid, and a library economy.
We have to teach ourselves that true wealth and success can only be found by building communities where nobody has to spend money to live, or own property to thrive. Real wealth is being able to live free… free from poverty, free from hierarchies, free from bills, free to be our best selves.
There’s ample technologies, resources, and people to live in abundance. There always has been. We just have to learn to use them sustainably, and communally.
Here’s some other great sources and ideas around this topic:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U8O0czhT4F8 – Jay Z playing in our faces about capitalism
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uxCvOGOh1Y – Jay Z and capitalism, a conversation
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=35Ax-psPZ1g – How capitalism robs the developing world
https://publicseminar.org/2015/08/slaves-the-capital-that-made-capitalism/ – Slaves made capitalism
https://dsa-lsc.org/2018/12/31/dual-power-a-strategy-to-build-socialism-in-our-time/ – Dual Power, a strategy for socialism
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOYa3YzVtyk – Why we need a library economy
By Elijah Claude
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