Jay-Z Got Paid to Be the NFL’s Black Boyfriend

Illustration for article titled Jay-Z Got Paid to Be the NFL’s Black Boyfriend
Photo: Greg Allen/Invision/AP (AP Images)

It begins the same way each time.

Something with a hint of scattered racial flurries happens. Next comes a conversation about said thing, where (usually black) people articulate exactly why the racist thing was racist. And then either the (white) person accused of the act or a (white) person defending the accused will attempt to explain themselves. It will go badly. But as a response to this failure, they’ll reveal what they believe to be their big joker.


“I can’t be racist. I have a black girlfriend/boyfriend/wife/husband/kid.”

I remember, 13 years ago now, while working at a YMCA in McKeesport, Pa., overhearing a conversation between a 20-something (white) woman on an elliptical and her (also white) friend standing next to her. They were discussing something dumb that happened—and I know it was something dumb because these were the sort of people who have dumb things happen to them—and elliptical woman’s response was “But I’ve been dating Jalen, so that gives me a hood pass.”

Now, whether this Jalen person was aware that Elliptical Becky believed he was her Golden Hood Ticket is inconsequential; as is whether this ticket even existed anywhere other than her brain. What mattered was that she believed it did, and that belief that she had special privileges because of him—and could act with impunity—was emboldening. Reassuring. Validating. Dangerous.

Anyway, I won’t delve into the sincerity of Jay-Z’s motives for partnering with the NFL. Other people have already done that, and I think we should know enough about him by now for you to make whichever judgments that decades of very available and very public evidence compel you to make. Do what your heart leads you to do. You don’t need my help.

But regardless of what compelled him to pursue this partnership, what’s clear is that he’s made himself—unwillingly or intentionally—the Jalen to the NFL’s Elliptical Becky; the trump card they believe they can wield to defend themselves against any accusation of an active antagonism towards social justice and any other race-related charge lobbed their way. “But we’re dating Jay-Z now, so that gives us a hood pass.

Of course, defenders of Jay-Z and this deal will point to both his business acumen and his recent forays into criminal justice reform as proof that we should give him the benefit of the doubt. And to that, I say, be my guest! Give him all the benefits of all the doubts! Has he proved, repeatedly, that his most singular talent is to convince people that his transcendent skill of rapping about having/making money means that they should give him more money? Maybe! But, again, all the benefits and all the doubts! Just know that your favorite “business, man” just got paid to be the NFL’s help.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)



Maybe, just maybe, Rapitalism isn't the vehicle for black liberation.