/ 25 October 2013

Is racism Jay Z’s 99th problem?

Rapper Jay Z.
Rapper Jay Z. (AP)

We all know what problems Jay Z doesn't have, but racism may have just entered the score.

The rapper has relations with Barneys New York, a department store known for its designer gear and, well, designer prices – and now the hip-hop mogul/businessperson may have to cut ties with the high-brow Barney's, which has been accused of racial profiling.

Twenty-one-year-old Kayla Phillips walked into the store one fine day and paid for a $2 500 orange Céline handbag with her debit card. According to the New York Daily News, the nursing student student from Canarsie had long coveted the suede bag. She was not harrasssed at the till, and walked out with her purchase with ease, only to find that three blocks later, at the subway station, four cops dressed as civilians started interrogating her and asking her for ID. 

"There were three men and a woman," she told New York Daily News. "Two of them attacked me and pushed me against a wall, and the other two appeared in front of me, blocking the turnstile.”

The cops started peppering her with questions and demanding to see her ID.

The paper reports that Kayla has since filed a $5-million notice of claim with the city of her intention to sue the New York Police Department. "They kept asking me what I bought and saying, 'Show us your card.' I didn’t know what was happening.”

This allegedly is not an isolated incident at the store. Not so long ago, 19-year-old Trayon Christian filed a discrimination suit against the store accusing them of racial profiling. His purchase? A $349 Ferragamo belt. His circumstances? Pretty much the same. The Daily News reports that Trayon said he was also followed by undercover cops who accused him of fraud after his purchase.

It's about to become a hard knock life for Jay Z, it seems. The incidents have caused an outrage amongst his massive support base. Should a prolific rapper be teaming up with designers and supplying what they deem to be a racist store?

Jay Z has worked with designers such as Balenciaga to produce an exclusive limited edition line of clothes and jewellery for Barneys that are meant to go on sale on November 20 this year. The deluxe range of goods includes a Shawn Carter by Hublot watch with black alligator straps at an eye-popping $33 900.

The change.org petition, which has been drawn up by Derick Bowers from Brooklyn, New York, is headlined by this amended Barneys banner (see below).

It calls on Jay Z to withdraw his support from Barneys New York because of discrimination. It also outlines the two incidents as mentioned above and states:

"We can no longer tolerate blatant prejudice and discrimination. It is clear that the minority buying power is devalued by some. We must withdraw support to those who will not support us. I've been a life-long Jay Z fan. Jay Z is currently in partnership with Barneys New York for the release of his holiday collection – called "A New York Holiday" [or BNY SCC]. Barneys lacks any connection with the black and hip-hop community. And without his vast wealth and brand power, they would see him the same as they see Trayon Christian. Jay Z should be appalled by Barneys actions, and withdraw all support from them. If he does this, he will send a clear message to all corporations that are likeminded, that this behavior cannot be tolerated any longer."

Tough times call for tough measures. There's only one thing left to say: W.W.J.D (Jay, not Jesus)?