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It’s not even November, but Jay Z is already feeling the strain of the holiday season.
Ever since a pair of lawsuits accused Barneys New York of specifically discriminating against black shoppers, the rapper has faced an onslaught of pressure to pull out of his high-profile Christmastime collaboration with the luxury retailer.
The potentially damning details came to light two weeks ago when Trayon Christian claimed police wrongly detained him on his way out of Barneys’ Madison Avenue flagship this past April. The nineteen-year-old’s purportedly suspicious activity? The allegation that he purchased a $349 Ferragamo belt with a “fake debit card.” Days later, 21-year-old Kayla Phillips sued the department store on similar grounds. According to the nursing student, four undercover cops accused her of fraud after she left the same Madison Avenue location with a $2,500 Céline bag. In both cases, police reportedly wanted to know just how the duo managed to afford such expensive items.
For its part, Barneys has adamantly denied allegations that its salespeople called the police on Christian and Phillips. Not only did the company’s Facebook page address the situation in asserting its “zero tolerance for any form of discrimination” and “long history in support of all human rights,” but company CEO Mark Lee also said the following on the retailer’s behalf: “We believe that no Barneys employees were involved in those incidents. No one from Barneys brought them to the attention of our internal security and no one from Barneys reached out to external authorities.”
Of course, Barneys’ declaration of innocence did little to quiet an outraged public. Over the weekend, Jay Z attempted to speak to the outcry in publishing a personal testimony on his website. The icon wrote:
I move and speak based on facts and not emotion. I haven’t made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys. Why am I being demonized, denounced and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately? . . . I am against discrimination of any kind, but if I make snap [judgments] . . . aren’t I committing the same sin as someone who profiles? I am no stranger to being profiled and I truly empathize with anyone that has been put in that position. Hopefully this brings forth a dialogue to effect real change.
Politicians, take note. This is what tact looks like.
In his expert handling, Jay Z raises a perhaps unsurprisingly nuanced point. The purported racial profiling isn’t the only example of discrimination up for discussion. Of equal relevance is the question that asks whether Jay Z himself is being unfairly targeted. Meaning: would another celebrity be subject to the same scrutiny under these circumstances? Is arguing that Jay Z has a different responsibility as an African-American its own kind of bias?
As the rapper himself implies — whether or not the department store is culpable in these instances is far less important than the renewed attention that the charges bring to a very uncomfortable subject.
Let’s talk about it. (After all, Jay Z asked us to.)